Trentino is a curious Region of Italy because culturally and socially it's not quite all Italian. The southern part is Italian-speaking, but the northern reaches - also known as the South Tyrol - is largely German-speaking. This is not surprising because the Austrians controlled Northern Italy for centuries, and the Region was only annexed to Italy in 1919, as part of the Treaty of Saint-Germain together with the Treaty of Versailles which reshaped Europe in the aftermath of World War I. From 1919 to 1947 it was known as Venezia-Tridentina.
Though the capital city of the Region is Trento, the Regional Parliament changes its seat on a biennial basis to the provincial capitals of the two provinces, which, as a result, have the de facto status of independent and autonomous regions in Italy.
Situated in the southern Alps in the Dolomite range, Trentino is bordered on the north by Austria, which is accessible through the Brenner Pass. To the south west lies the Italian Region of Lombardy (Lombardia); to the south east Veneto.
It comes as no surprise, given Trentino-Alto Adige's location and largely mountainous terrain, that travelers and tourists have beaten a path to the area for centuries.
A seemingly pastoral and bucolic place, the air has oft been pierced by the shrill, exciting, dangerous cacophony of war, as bristling armies have moved through the Brenner Pass on their way to do battle in Italy or the northern parts of Europe as the case may be.
The Ligurians, Celts, Etruscans, Romans, the Goths, the Longobards (Lombards), the Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Napoleon and the Nazis, have all made their way through Trentino (sometimes settling here), and all have eventually retreated, mostly defeated, back through the area, sometimes causing great calamities locally as they fought their rearguard actions.
But now, of course, there is peace and with peace, prosperity. Indeed, Trentino-Alto Adige is one of the richest areas in all of Italy. In the fertile valleys of the south one finds vineyards, olive groves, orchards, dairy farms, from which wine, olive oil, fruit, tobacco and dairy products are produced for local consumption and export. In the northern area, there is a sizeable forest industry, along with pulp and paper production. Hydroelectric power, used for aluminum and chemical production, is transmitted South and North. In the Alpine stretches, particularly in the Val Gardena area, skiing and other mountain sports, like hiking, climbing and rappelling draw thousands of people every year.
As one travels north from the Italian part (60% of the population), one finds more and more German being spoken (35%). Scattered throughout both regions however, there are other ethnic groups (about 5%) who speak a difficult dialect seeming to combine Celtic with Latin, called Ladin. There is an interesting museum in Vigo di Fassa that focuses on the history of these people.
Most of the towns and some of the cities, many of which have dual names - Italian and German - maintain a steadfastly and immaculate medieval aspect. There is modernity, of course, but it is well-integrated with the old and the ancient.
The traveler will encounter a few tribal ruins, ruins of Roman forts, roads, river embankments, and an array of town walls, churches, palazzi and public and private buildings done in every style from Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance to ultra modern.
The cuisine, ranging from Italian to German, is robust, hearty and delicious. The hotels, inns, campgrounds, and hostels are well clean, well-managed, and sometimes, architecturally, and by location, incredibly beautiful. And the landscape and scenery- well, breathtaking.
Best time to travel to Trentino? Almost anytime, spring, summer, winter or fall.
There is considerable traffic through the area in summer, and in "ski country" during the winter. But, it's always busy with the purposeful activity of those who live in the Region, and with the people who come to envy them.