Even after only a few hours of wandering there was something strangely alluring about Trento. When the time came to leave we were already planning our permanent relocation to this historic Alpine town. In truth, we hadn’t planned to stop in Trento and only did so because we weren’t yet willing to abandon our Italian road trip and return to Germany. It meant a long drive to Berlin when we did finally head north, but it was worth it. Trento is fabulous.
It’s a small, prosperous place, home to around 120,000 people, including a large cohort of university students who definitely give life to the town. Sitting in a wide valley surrounded by the towering peaks of the Dolomites on the eastern bank of the River Adige, Trento boasts a glorious location. Its Alpine setting and unique history has meant a successful merger of Italian culture with distinctive Austrian elements. There’s at least one beer hall in town.
This is unsurprising, Trento became Italian only in 1918. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, it was ruled by successive invaders before being absorbed into the Germanic Holy Roman Empire in 1027. Where it remained for eight centuries until Napoleon Bonaparte showed up. After Napoleon it passed to the Austrian Habsburg Empire between 1814 and 1918. The historic heart of Trento is packed with buildings reflecting this history, none more impressive than the 12th century cathedral.
Sitting in Piazza Duomo sipping an aperitivo, people-watching is accompanied by views of the Cattedrale di San Vigilio where, between 1545 and 1563, the Council of Trent took place. An attempt by Pope Paul III and Europe’s Catholic monarchs to counter the Reformation spreading across the continent from Martin Luther’s base in northern Germany, it made Trento the epicenter of Europe’s tumultuous religious politics.
Not unlike our own visit, the city was only chosen as a compromise to host the Catholic Church’s efforts to clean up its house and launch the Counter Reformation. We’d now be referring to it as the Council of Mantua had the plague not broken out in that town. It may be the most famous event to have taken place in Trento, but this is not a town short on history. If needed, the imposing 13th century Buonconsiglio Castle is evidence of that.
We stayed just above the castle and strolled past it on our way into town. This was the home of the Prince-Bishops of Trento, that odd arrangement of the Holy Roman Empire that made clergymen secular rulers. It took until 1803 for the ideas of the Enlightenment to reach Trento – brought by the armies of Napoleon – and for the Bishops to be ousted. The castle is home to medieval frescoes that, thanks to coronavirus, we didn’t get to see. At least not this time.
While the sun shone, we spent our short time in Trento wandering the streets, exploring the vibrant cafe culture and eating good local food – the town has excellent restaurants using distinctive Alpine ingredients to blend Italian and Austrian cooking. It also boasts Trentodoc, a sparkling wine that rivals the more famous Prosecco. We could have spent all our time in the historic centre, but to get a true picture of Trento you have to board the Funivia Trento-Sardagna.
Cable cars are always exciting in a vaguely terrifying way, and this one took us to the top of a 600m hill near the village of Sardagna that overlooks the valley below. The views are absolutely wondrous and it was the prefect way to end our stay in Trento. Soaring back over the River Adige back to town we seemed to be squaring the circle of our Italian trip which began in Verona, a town connected to Trento by the same river.