Back from my first ever trip to Italy. My wife and I rented a chalet in the isolated Val di Rabbi, which is about an hour northwest of Trento. We knew almost nothing about this region before signing our rental lease, except that it's in Italy (my wife's request), it's in the Alps (my preference) and that the chalet allowed dogs. I could find very little information in English about the area prior to our trip, and only a little more in German and Dutch, so I had very few preconceptions. Turns out, Val di Rabbi sits deep within Stelvio National Park. I would describe it as physically resembling the location of Zermatt, but with minimal (and I mean MINIMAL) tourist infrastructure. A deep, narrow valley high in the Alps, with soaring peaks towering above. Dotted with chalets, with a slight Italian accent. Ample hiking trails but no ski lifts. Waterfalls everywhere you look. Only a handful of restaurants, with no English menus (fortunately, German was available). Other than the rare German or Dutch traveler, virtually everyone we encountered were Italian, and English was all but absent. The lack of ski lifts was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it probably allows the valley to retain it's undeveloped, rustic charm. A curse, because there's only so many days in a row you can hike up and down above the Alpine level before your legs start screaming at you. (cont.)
Another advantage/disadvantage of the lack of tourist infrastructure- choice of restaurants. I guess if eating at only small mom and pop type joints, sitting elbow to elbow with locals is your idea of travel nirvana, then it would be an advantage. That's all well and good, but it also means a lack of competition, to be frank, makes the quality of the food a hit-or-miss affair. Advantage/disadvantage #3: If you want to experience the famous warm sun of Italy, Val di Rabbi will not suit you. The high elevation kept daytime highs below 25 ° C (some days it even struggled to top 20), and night time temperatures approached the freezing point. For comparison, daytime highs in nearby (but much lower elevation) Trento and Bolzano were well above 30°. Perfect for me, because I hate hot weather, but perhaps not for others. No air conditioning needed. Finally, one more advantage/disadvantage. If you want to unplug and get away from the outside world, Val di Rabbi is perfect. However, if you want to maintain internet access with the rest of humanity, you would be out of luck. No Wifi anywhere and only spotty cell phone reception. (cont).
We ventured outside the valley for some daytrips. I found Trento suitable for 2-3 hours of strolling. Attractive enough, but nothing too interesting. Nearby Val di Peio was a nice change for a day. We took the ski lifts here above 3000 m, and of course, the view was stunning. Another good daytrip was to Paso Tonale. This high altitude town might have one of the best mountain views, within the town itself as opposed to the peaks above it, that I've ever seen. There is an interesting museum devoted to WWI that occupies a tunnel near what was the front line between Italy and Austria-Hungary. You can only reach it via a tough hike far above the Alpine level( close to 3000 m) or take the ski gondola. I forget what the name is in Italian, but the English translation was something like "Sounds and Voices of the White War". You see artifacts from the war, and with the push of a button, hear voices of the soldiers and the sounds of explosions and machine gun fire. The echoing of the noise through the tunnel is quite bone-chilling. Outside of the tunnel, the area now serves as a ski field in winter, and rock climbing center in the summer. You can even see the remains of the front lines (barbed wire, gun posts, etc.), and there are several shrines carved directly into the rock. The irony wasn't lost on me that despite the huge loss of life and deprivations that the opposing armies endured in their struggle to occupy this Alpine peak, now people from all nations can enjoy it freely. How many other places in the world can you ski over terrain that once witnessed the deaths of thousands? (cont)
Overall, I enjoyed my trip, although I didn't fall in love with Italy. Over the past few years, I've adjusted and come to enjoy the rhythm of life in Germanic Europe. Let's just say I appreciated some of the differences, but others I found a little annoying, which at risk of being scolded for being culturally insensitive, I'll not get into here. This is only one traveler's opinion, and I admit I probably can't generalize about the entire country but I found the much-touted food of Italy to be about the European average. I had some very good meals, and I had some OK ones, and I had some that were mediocre. After sampling gelato several times, I'm convinced that for the people who rave about it, the experience of eating it in Italy was the primary attraction, not that the ice cream was necessarily any better. Good, but no better than the European average. Same thing with the coffee and pizza. Finally, although this will not be a concern to the majority of people on this website, we found Italy to be much less dog-friendly than northern Europe. Still more welcoming for pooches than the US, though. And one final traffic report. If you're driving this summer between Germany and Italy, avoid the autobahn route (A14) through Bregenz, Austria. There is a huge amount of construction around the city tunnel. North bound traffic comes to a near stand-still and south bound traffic slows to a crawl. All the feeder roads into autobahn are choked as well. And there's new construction around Stuttgart and Ulm that has made one of the worst areas for driving in Germany almost intolerable. By contrast, except for the toll area after the Brenner Pass in Italy, I found autostrata traffic delightfully efficient. And also, nowhere except in Trento did I encounter the dreaded ZTLs, and these were easily avoidable... I think...
Oh yeah, one more general impression. Anyone besides me surprised what a large piece of territory the Alps occupy in Italy? One of the common images of Bavaria are the Alpine settings, yet these only take up a small sliver of territory in the extreme south of the state. Italy's Alpine regions, by contrast, are several times more vast, and I know I only saw a very small piece of it.
Thanks for the report, Tom. Very interesting to read about a place off the beaten track. The Italian Alps are on my list, so it's helpful to know about the range of options available.
Thanks for the report! It was an interesting contrast to our 2+ days in the Val di Gardena. Yet, the scope of the Alps is mind-blowing. You could devote your life to hiking it and still be checking places off your list the day you pass on to that great hike in the sky.
For geological reasons the southern slopes of the Alps former much narrower valleys than in the northern slopes, which are usually more stiff (a.k.a. Garmisch-Partenkirchen or Chamonix or Gstaad.