Forested paths and calm, teal waters — Lake Levico could almost play the part of tranquil Nordic fjord. But the crystalline pool is, in fact, tucked away in a verdant corner of northeast Italy. It’s here you’ll also find Levico Terme — a town hugging the lake and offering an abundance of rustic food, welcoming locals and thermal baths. The natural springs that first brought people here are unique in Europe for their high arsenic and iron concentration — you can stop by the museum in Parco delle Terme to learn the history. The ferreous springs have proved popular since the 16th century; the former summer residence of the Austrian Royal family is testament to this. Electric boats take groups to clink glasses of Aperol Spritz as the sun goes down on the Blue Flag-accredited waters — it’s one of the cleanest lakes in Italy. Towering above the town and lake, Austro-Hungarian fortifications like Forte Colle delle Benne pepper the scene harking back to the borders that once waxed and waned with war across this part of Europe. Today, more tranquil scenes can be found at this little-known corner of Trentino.
Head for the hills
This open-air gallery is in the depths of an Alpine valley near Lake Levico. Artists have been drawn to this creative enclave in the mountains since 1986, and each artist is invited to create a living artwork between the trees in the gallery’s ever-expanding circuit routes. A homage to the meeting of art and nature, each piece is created almost entirely from natural materials — expect a ‘cathedral’ of trees and a giant wooden ‘beehive’. South African-born Loretta leads the way each day, unveiling the secrets of the natural circuits.
Halfway between Lake Levico and the peaks of the Lagorai Mountains is a refuge that has welcomed shepherds, merchants and horse-drawn carts since 1782. Back then, the menu started small, and it’s not varied much since. In the cavernous cellar, the owner pops a bottle of local Prosecco, carves home-cured speck and shows me his apple-smoked cheese as he walks around low-hanging sausages. Upstairs, polenta, melted cheese and mushrooms accompany the meat that comes straight off a roaring fire. It’s all washed down with Parampampoli, their unique blend of grappa, wine and coffee that’s served at the end of each meal.
Ferruccio Cetto leads me through his family’s farmhouse on the Vezzena plateau and into the dairy where he produces mountain cheeses. His main worries are EU restrictions hampering the quality of his cheese and wolves eating his cows. “I’ve got 130 cows, 250 birds (geese, ducks and chicken), 16 horses, 15 pigs, seven goats, five donkeys and a lot of work,” he says. Try a mountain walk before tucking into fresh ricotta.
Walk on the wild side
Eyewitness: Up to speed
This feels all too easy. I’m heading uphill on a steep, windy, gravel-strewn path, and I’m not red in the face or out of breath. If my guide Igor hadn’t told me there was a motor concealed within my new-age e-bike, I’d never even have known — it’s extremely light.
We’re by the Forte Colle delle Benne — just one of the many fortified castles in this Trentino valley. Its remnants seem to be a monument of the border disputes between Italy and Austria in the tumultuous years after World War Two — forces waged wars over this land, battling on these very plateaus. From where I’m standing, I’m not surprised this territory was fought after — it’s wild, tranquil and wonderful.
This fortress sits atop the Colle di Tenna — a ridge separating Lake Levico from its larger neighbour Lake Caldonazzo, which I passed en route. It looks like a preferred sibling, with prettier beaches, a slide and lots of watersports. Lake Levico, meanwhile, stretches out and squirms for your attention.
Igor snaps me out of my musings. “Let’s go,” he smiles. The race is on. We bump back down the untamed tracks — I let gravity take control, but the route down requires a bit more technique. Igor constantly distracts, pointing out views of the lake that pierce through the trees like turquoise shards of glass in a pointillist soft-green canvas.
There are over 185 miles of GPS-mapped trails in the area to explore; it’s ideal for e-biking, though its still blissfully empty compared to cycling hotspots elsewhere in Europe. As we pass through apple orchards, craggy slate-grey mountains frame the view in all directions. Igor is sprightly — his bulbous calves reveal he needs no motor. I press turbo to keep up with him — like a cartoon character, my body doesn’t respond quickly enough, and I lurch forward.
My feet whirl round independently of the bike as we bump along the undulating tracks alongside the lake. We stop off at a little cove and I throw off my helmet and boots to dip my toes in. The ripples career across the surface back towards the spa town where the bay teams with life. I make it back there, 12 miles later, having barely broken a sweat. inbikevalsugana.it
Published in the Jan/Feb 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)