‘Apples, lots and lots and lots of apples’ I fired back on WhatsApp, to answer how Val Di Non, a region of Trentino Italy was treating me, ‘and castles, lots of them too’.
The message didn’t send immediately, as I was deep inside the Dolomites in what can only be described as the most ingenious storage halls I’d ever witnessed, for… can you guess?
Rows and rows of apples flanked by beautiful mountains
As it turns out, Apples can be downright gorgeous. As we pulled out of Valsugana, a lake heavy region in Trentino, I was mesmerised by the rows and rows of terraced vineyards. ‘Those aren’t vineyards’ Marco, our guide told us, and I shot back a confused look.
Now I promise this isn’t going to an essay on apples, though after the tour of the underground Melinda Apple Factory I feel more than qualified to write one; but I merely want to set the scene. Val di Non is essentially a giant orchard. A verdant land of rolling hills, castles and, apples.
To directly translate Val Di Non you get the valley of nothing, why it’s not called the Valley of Apples is anyone’s guess; but here we were, all gawping at the windows and throwing around one-liners like ‘I just can’t believe they are apples’ – ‘who knew apples could be so beautiful’ – and my much more profound and thoughtful response, ‘I want an apple’.
The Trentino region has been one of my favourite of the autonomous regions of Italy since I discovered it last year.
From the beautiful capital of Trento, with its not yet tourist-laden streets and squares of frescos and culture-led community, to the stunning Lake Levico in Valsugana, where I learnt to SUP over deeply buried bottles of Trento Doc; a sparkling wine that in this particular case, ages at the base of the lake.
And now I was back, this time to explore Val Di Non. A lot of visitors to Trentino head straight to the Dolomites; whether it’s to ski or simply marvel at some of mother nature’s most exceptional work, but while these stunning peaks are worthy of anyone’s time, the cute villages, medieval castles, and indeed the apples of the regions other areas deserve more than a fleeting visit.
Castel Valer surrounded by orchards
The first friendly face we met in Val Di Non was that of a count, who personally toured us around one of the many castles in the region, but this one was actually his home. Castel Valer boasted an octagonal turret, apparently something of a rarity, and we spent a couple of hours following him around as he generally talked us through the history of the castle, occasionally lighting up a cigarette.
When you’re manor of the house, I guess you make the rules. But for any would-be visitors, I don’t think lighting up in the historic dining room would be as appreciated, especially where a baby grand piano played by no less than Mozart sits.
The gardens were grand, the interiors lavish, and the surrounding landscape was lined with…. well, can you guess?
But Val Di Non isn’t all apple juice and ancient castles; it’s also a nature lovers paradise as I discovered once setting eyes on Lago Di Tovel.
Now, I’ve not been to Canada, but British Colombia has long been on my list thanks to its alpine lakes that double as mirrors, and here I found it’s European counterpart.
We’d driven around an hour out of the way, climbing higher and higher until we parked up in an unassuming visitor centre. Moments later, Vicky and I were shaken from our apple-juice induced slumber, and oohing and aaahing over the lake.
Beautiful alpine reflections at Lake Tovel
‘Go stand in it, I’ll take a photo’ I called as Vicky shouted back about her feet slowly freezing. Only the brave are going to go swimming in Lake Tovel, but anyone can enjoy its views.
We walked around the lake, stopping to indulge our cameras in way too many photos, before stumbling upon a beautiful cabin-like hotel that we both quickly decided we should check into. The cravat was we already had a hotel booked back the way we came, so with a heavy heart, we departed Lago Di Tovel to find our beds.
Our hearts weren’t heavy for long, as the blackout rollers at the Hotel Vidris hotel slowly raised, and the incredible views were bathed in the last sun rays of the day.
Staring out across Lake Santa Giustina, my heart skipped a beat. Here mountains collided with the Apple terraces, and sun rays beat off the dark blue water of the lake.
This view was incredible and tasted even better with a Hugo, consisting of elderflower and here, Trento Doc rather than Prosecco.
I’ve never stayed in a bad hotel in Trentino; the region seems to pride itself on even the most unassuming two or three-star accommodation being blessed with prime views, modern amenities, and of course fantastic food. The view was just as sweet the next morning as I enjoyed a cornetto (Italian cream-filled croissant) and my cafe doppio.
The incredible views from Hotel Vidris in Val Di Non
While we are on the subject of food, a topic very dear to Italians hearts, of course, let me wax lyrically about some of the meals I enjoyed in Val Di Non; surprisingly none of which included any apples.
At Ristorante La Finlanda we were spoilt with a lavish 4-course set menu in their charming and well decorated back room, on the terrace delicious gelato was spooned out to passers-by. From steaks to risotto, and tiramisu, we indulged in delicious Italian staples, with their own Trentino twist.
While one evening at Ristorante La Margherita we indulged in an outside canopy reception, before a three-course meal inside taking from both the Italian cuisine, but also the Austrian, something which is quite common here given the way the border has changed over the years. For example, in Bonzano a city nearby, German is the default language.
Here, in the mountains, Margherita was surrounded by more Austrian style architecture than Italian, but the restaurant come spa hotel had a contemporary twist, especially in the wellness centre, something else common across Trentino.
On both my visits to Trentino I’ve been convinced though that the region doesn’t just (over) fill your stomach, but it fills your soul too.
This is a place you come to recharge, reconnect with nature and break up those moments with culture and history.
The perfect example of combining the three came the next morning as we arrived at the village of Sanzeno.
From here we embarked on a short hike which took us deeper and deeper into the forest and higher and higher along a path carved into the cliff face. At the top, breaking through the tree canopy, we could see the roof of the St Romedius Shrine.
Architecture in Val Di Non with both Italian and Austrian influences
The complex of chapels has been extended over the years, and now the winding steps took you into different ones, all confined inside just the one wall.
A lone bear distressingly walked round and round in circles nearby, inside a pen that broke my heart. Rescued from a much smaller cage in captivity, here he lives his life still bound by a fence, albeit a slightly larger one, unable to return to the mountains nearby due to his domestication.
Coming back down from the mountains we passed the Malinda Apple Factory once more, where you can’t actually see any apples due to them being stored in airtight rooms, but you can watch a quite epic movie in the subject.
Moments later, we arrived at Castle Thun, the final castle on my trip through Trentino and, to be honest, I was a little castled out and couldn’t process many more history lessons.
The castle god was listening, and the guide was busy elsewhere, so we walked through the rooms of armour and art self-guided, before taking a coffee on the windswept balcony. ‘These views are incredible’ I offered to Vicky, who nodded whilst eating another coffee frappe, her new addiction that had started yesterday.
Castel Thun in its wonky glory
Returning to nature, or at least in part, we rounded off our trip at the twin lakes of Coredo and Tavon, made by man to power one of the extensive water hydraulics systems in the region.
The bright blue hues of the lake saw people paddling, while the mountains and pines in the backgrounds made for a perfect photo opportunity.
How to get to Trentino/Val Di Non: The nearest airport to Trentino is Verona airport, where direct buses go to Trento, or trains run from Verona city centre. Once in Trento, you can use local transport to connect to Val Di Non, although a car might make it easier to explore all the region has to offer.
*As stated above, I was a guest of Trentino tourism board as part of the Traverse 19 Conference which offered media trips after the event