Although most travel books group the Alto Adige and the Trentino, referring to the combo as Trentino-Alto Adige, the two regions are quite different in many ways. While the lifestyle, food and language of the Trentino region attest to its physical and cultural proximity to the very Italian provinces of the Veneto, Lombardia and the northern tip of Lago di Garda; the Alto Adige is more closely attached, both physically and culturally, to its neighboring Austria.
The people of Alto Aldige refer to the region as Sudtirol, literally, the south of Austria. Outside of the main Italian government offices, all residents there speak German. Accordingly, they appreciate a cuisine rich with ingredients like sauerkraut, horseradish and liverwurst, food much closer to the Austro-Hungarian empire than the Roman. Bolzano, Merano and Bressanone are three classic cities, each a bit more sober and tightly-stitched than Trento or Rovereto, located to the south in Trentino. Whereas polenta and luganega sausages reign supreme in the Trentino; here in the Alto Adige, canederli (bread dumplings, often with liver), spaetzle and gulasch top the menu.
In Bressanone, I love Fink for its excellent selection of local salumi, spinach krapfen and the classic canederli with wild mushrooms. The unabashed consumption of calorie-laden foods at Oste Scuro is impressive. There’s nothing here that can be termed light, from the zuppa di vino to the testino fritto, a breaded and fried head cheese cognate that is worth any heaviness of the stomach that it may induce. Happily, the perfect curative for those heavy feelings of fullness is within easy grasp. Just order at least two of the magnificent grappe or distillati on the vast menu. In Bolzano , the locals have slightly more pep in their step. The scenery itself is a little more picturesque than in Bressanone, but the food is still clearly Sudtirol. The Vinoteque Alois Laegeder sets the standard for the town and the region’s custom of pouring and selling the eponymous wines of the Titolare, as well as several others from the region. In addition to packing some great grappe to go, Alois will also box up vinegar and other food stuffs for your friends back home. In the restaurant department I like Vogele for its splendid carne sala, a kind of vinegar-cured beef carpaccio. Also good is the venison goulash with potato fritters and krauti, and anything with the artisanal speck (smoked prosciutto) on the menu.
Ten kilometers down the wine road lies Appiano, outside of which, in localita San Michele Innerhoferstrasse, you will find of Italy’s great restaurant experiences at Zur Rose. The menu! Rabbit in a bread crust, beef cheeks with mustard and potatoes, oxtail strudel with green sauce, calves tongue in herb gelatine with bitter lettuces, this could well be the Babbo of Bavaria!! With a killer wine list led by the exquisite wines from the Laegeder estate, as well as those from Tiefenbrunner, Zur Rose has a lot to offer. This superb restaurant only seats 50 people per meal, so reserve early- the Germans are coming to dinner. They say that Sigmund Freud used to come to the town of Merano for a Grape Cure, during which you drink five to six glasses of freshly pressed unfermented wine grape juice a day for a week or so. My main motive for going there is an enoteca called Il Curato, where a beautiful and representative selection of wines from all over Italy have led me to devise and drink my own version….. fermented.