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Travelling the Castles Trail

A 5-leg tour of the elegant castles, fortresses and manor houses of Trentino

You may know some of these castles already, but others will surely be new to you. With its mountain passes and hills presiding over sweeping valleys, Trentino is castle country par excellence. We have about 300 – some open to visit, some closed, some razed to the ground leaving barely a trace.

Many of the castles that you can visit form part of the Trentino Castles Trail, a project to protect and preserve this heritage and promote it for everyone to enjoy, with events, tours and exhibitions. On our Cultural Trail, dedicated to history and ancient art, we told you about some of the castles in the area, like Buonconsiglio Castle, Castle Beseno, Castle Stenico, Caldes Castle and Thun Castle.

Here, though, we want you to discover the other castles which are part of this initiative, and to do that, we created a 5-leg tour, a journey through time from Avio Castle to Castle Pergine, in the heart of the Valsugana.

STAGE 1: Among the vineyards of the Vallagarina

We begin at Trentino’s southern border with the Veneto region, where Avio Castle towers over the vines of the Vallagarina valley. You can see the keep from the Brenner motorway, jutting from the hillside. The castle is impeccably kept, thanks to the efforts of the Italian environmental fund (FAI), which also puts on a full calendar of activities and events. Don’t miss the war-themed frescoes in the Guard Room!

Following the River Adige upstream, we set foot in the mighty castle of Rovereto. Built in the 14th century, it has seen many lords and masters, coming under Austro-Hungarian control during World War I. It now houses the Italian war museum, a treat for military history enthusiasts.

Not far from Rovereto, Castel Corno stands on a rocky spur. The satisfying walk up is rewarded with a sweeping panorama from the Adige up to the Little Dolomites.

And while you’re here, stop at Castel Noarna, the elegant noble residence of the powerful Lodron family in the 16th century. Book in advance and you can visit its rooms and the vineyards that gird its walls, concluding with a tasting of the fruits of the castle winery.

STAGE 2: A stone’s throw from Lake Garda … or right by its banks

Rovereto is just a half-hour hop in the car from Riva del Garda and its beautiful lakeside castle, the Rocca di Riva. Dating back to the 1100s, it has changed much over time, especially with the radical renovation in the mid 19th century that bestowed its current appearance. It is also home to the Alto Garda museum (MAG).

Linger for a few snaps by the lake before heading back for the mountains to discover two more castles. The first is in Arco, a 10-minute drive from Riva. A lovely walk takes you from the town centre through picturesque olive groves to the recently restored Arco castle. You can explore the dungeons and the great tower, its walls a feast of 14th-century frescoes – can you spot the two ladies playing chess?

Back to the car, your next castle is less than 15 minutes away. Castel Drena was fought over by many an army for its impressive strategic position. Its still-intact tower offers thrilling views across the wilderness of Marocche di Dro and the Sarca valley.

Fancy another castle? 40 minutes further on, the round towers of Castel Campo come into view. Deep in the woods on the edge of the Lomaso plain, it hosts an array of cultural events and is open by appointment only.

Now it’s time to head north to the Val di Non and Val di Sole. Along the way, pause by the shores of Lake Toblino, to contemplate one of the most photogenic castles in Trentino: Castel Toblino. It’s now home to an elegant gourmet restaurant, so make the most of it for a romantic dinner in an exquisite Renaissance residence!

STAGE 3: Val di Non and Val di Sole, apple orchards amid the mountains

Our next destinations are a little further afield: nearly an hour’s drive from Castel Toblino stands Castel Valer, at the heart of the Val di Non. The seat of the Spaur family, it’s one of the best-kept castles in the Alps. The rooms are delightfully furnished, while the chapel is bedecked with marvellous frescoes by the Baschenis brothers. The stunning view from the village of Tassullo, with the keep rising above the verdant vineyards, is quite unmissable.

Another five minutes and you reach Castel Nanno. This is a treasure chest of history and legend – like the story of forbidden love between Melisenda and Ludovico, guilty of falling for each other despite their families’ rivalry, or like the dramatic 16th-century witch trial that saw three local women burned to death.

Now we leave the Val di Non for the mountains of the Val di Sole, but first you deserve a hearty lunch at Castel Vasio, near the village of Fondo, an agritourism set among the halls and courtyards of the old manor house.

The next castle has a drawbridge, thick walls and a mighty keep rising 25 metres into the Trentino sky: Castel San Michele, named after a chapel dedicated to St Michael inside. In winter, there’s a display of Christmas cribs from the nearby village of Ossana.

STAGES 4 and 5: two contrasting corners of Trentino

The last leg of our journey brings us to the banks of two lakes in different parts of the region.

First, Castel San Giovanni near Bondone, officially one of Italy’s loveliest small towns (I Borghi più Belli d’Italia). Essentially a military stronghold, the castle housed the mercenary troops of Niccolò Piccinino in the 15th century during the clashes between the Duchy of Milan and the Republic of Venice. Now the courtyard offers a gorgeous view of Lake Idro.

The next destination is on the other side of Trentino, by the banks of Lake Caldonazzo, in Valsugana: the Torre dei Sicconi. Little of it remains now, as Austrian military engineers demolished it in 1915. Mount Rive, where the tower once stood, is now an archaeological site. You can still see its foundations and those of other buildings in the fortified complex.

Seeing as you’re here in the Valsugana, head east to Castel Ivano, a noble residence over many centuries – from the Dalla Scala family of Verona to the Viscontis, the Carraras and the Counts Wolkenstein. The Staudacher family have owned it since 1901 and still live here. Book in advance and you can visit the rooms inside and the garden.

After all these peregrinations from castle to castle, you’ll be in need of a good meal. Leaving Castel Ivano, a half-hour drive leads to Castel Pergine on a hill that dominates the Valsugana. The garden is a joy, especially during one of its frequent sculpture exhibitions. Stop for an aperitivo and book your dinner in the elegant restaurant in the castle hall. It makes a delicious way to conclude your journey around the Trentino Castles Trail!

Published on 19/10/2021