Review by Ceri Wheeldon
I have visited Italy many times, but had never ventured to the Valsugana region, so when an invitation landed in my inbox to join Inghams Holidays on a trip to a Lake Levico in Trentino , which they had just added to their Lakes and Mountains holidays I jumped at the chance.
Grand Hotel Imperial
We stayed at the Grand Hotel Imperial, once the summer place of the Austrian royal family, set in a beautiful park. The reception rooms were true to their regal roots, grandiose with high ceilings. There was a spa , which I didn’t have time to use, and a fabulous outdoor pool and terrace.
We were just a short stroll from the Lake. While some of our group went on a bike tour on ebikes. I had to confess to not being able to ride a bike ,so I took a walk around the lake with one of my fellow travellers. I was incredibly relaxing – no crowds !
I love being near water , and my previous experience of the Italian Lakes was around Lake Garda and Lake Como, both of which are beautiful, but busy! Lake Levico is incredibly tranquil. very unspoiled. The scenery is stunning. The Lake itself is almost emerald green in colour, and the water crystal clear -in fact we were told that the lake is the third cleanest in Europe. No motor boats or jet skis are allowed , so it really is very peaceful. The people on the beach seemed to be mainly locals popping along for their daily dip – it was tempting to join them !
We enjoyed a ride in an e-boat for aperitifs – we were in the only boat on the lake at the time – the views of the mountains from the lake were spectacular – it felt very special – with or without the Aperol!
The Arte Sella Sculpture Park
For me, the highlight of the trip was a visit to the Arte Sella sculpture park. Set in a valley nestled in the mountains, the park was founded in 1986 by friends who wanted to showcase art in nature. Before visiting I had no idea what to expect. We walked through the woodland for about 2 hours with our guide, and still did not see all of the sculptures on show. World renowned artists create their sculptures to blend in (or stand out) in the park. Each artist visits the park to select their ‘spot’ and designs an artwork to be displayed in the park. All of the sculptures are made of natural materials and are designed to eventually degrade and return to the soil. How many years this process takes depends on the actual materials used. All of the people we met who were involved in the park were passionate about the project. Their enthusiasm really helped the sculptures come alive. In addition to the sculptures the park hosts musical and theatrical events throughout the year.
When taking the tour you never knew what to expect around the next bend in the path. At one point we came across what looked from a distance to be a nest of dinosaur eggs! My favourite sculpture was one that resembled the sun, while the most famous was one that is a ‘work in progress’, trees planted in a way to create a cathedral when they are fully grown . Arte Sella has visitors of all ages. You are encouraged to touch, feel or even crawl inside some of the scupltures. It was good to see parties of schoolchildren also visiting and interacting with the pieces. Something for everyone at any age.
My visit was in July, but photos displayed in the information centre showed that the sculptures looked quite magical in the snow in winter.
Perhaps I should plan a return trip in winter!
Local food and traditional methods
The food in the hotel was excellent ( I will be sharing more details on the food in a separate post- and how it has inspired to create some new dishes), but we also experienced some of the local produce , and met two local cheesemakers. One at his farm, and another at a restaurant owned by one family since 1782, where all of the food served was grown or produced by them, from the salami to the cheese. It was apparent that in this region they incredibly proud of their heritage, and keen to keep traditional methods alive. When visiting the farm known for its varieties of cheese and salami, although the cheese was delicious, I tried not to think of the baby donkey I had just patted one day ending up as salami!
The restaurant Refuge Crucolo was quite special, way up in the mountains it was initially a refuge for shepherds in the 18th century, and for travellers wanting to rest their horses. Today visitors are far more likely to arrive by car than horse, but the premise of the family run restaurant hasn’t changed. Guests are served food only produced by them. We were shown the around the cellars where they displayed the cheese, and one of the longest salamis , wound around the ceiling of the cellar. It was quite rustic, very authentic, and the evening we were there the locals arrived for their weekly karaoke session. I’m not sure we witnessed any Eurovision winners in the making! As you can imagine the atmosphere was lively, and the scenery , way up in the mountains, quite spectacular.
Everyone at all the venues we went to were very welcoming. I think that because the area is not overrun by tourists the local business owners are still enthusiastic about talking about the region , their business. Their passion shines through. Local business people it seems collaborate rather than compete. Although the owner of Refuge Crucolo was keen to know how his cheese compared to the one we had tasted at the farm earlier in the day!
One of the costs of a holiday that can soon add up is the costs of excursions. The region has put together the Trentino Guest Card which offers free admission to more than 60 museums, 20 castles and 40 attractions , including free local transport. For example their timetable of excursions included the Arte Selle Park every Wednesday. You can buy the card, but it is included as part of the package for the holiday through Inghams. A great way to explore the local area.
All in all I fell in love with the atmosphere of the mountains, and the fact that was so different to the hustle and bustle of southern Italy.
I would love to go back and explore some more.
For more information about the Inghams holiday I went on: Inghams
For information about the Valsugana region click here