Ville del Monte, Lake Tenno, Canale and Calvola.
Rising early, Sunday morning, to enjoy a cup of hot Italian coffee while the sun comes up over the mountains of Garda Trentino is one of those priceless moments. The clear February sky promises a warm day although there is frost on the lawn in front of our let apartment. Soon my travel companions are up as well. I have another cup of coffee with the others while we look over the possibilities for the day. We decide to go up to Alto Garda Trentino to visit the area around Tenno. We pile into the car and drive up the hillside through olive groves to Ville del Monte, about 450 meters above the valley, one of four small hamlets on the slopes of Mt. Calino. We park in a lot near the main road and walk to the church of St. Anthony in Ville del Monte (La chiesa di S. Antonio a Ville del Monte). The scent of village life fills our nostrils; cows, sheep and pigs are all detectable. On one side of the road stands old farm houses, on the other side is a series of new apartment houses to be used as holiday homes. We follow the road to the village church where we step inside. The mass had just started as we slipped in through the door. The service is still steeped in traditions long forgotten in other places. The women sit together on the right side of the church, the men sit on the left. Young children with a guardian or two sit in the center. Only the women sing while the men stand quietly. The Priest rambles on about the virtues of fasting during the lent season. A ping of guilt comes over me as I know our plans are to go to Varone, a small town near the lake, for a Carnival festival of luganeghe sausages and polenta this afternoon. A meal rich in fat and a far cry from a fast.
From the Church we walk up the slope through the new village houses toward Lake Tenno. We soon find ourselves on the old medieval road, which is really just a stone path, that winds through surrounding hamlets. The lake is only accessible by foot. We walk through terraced gardens and olive groves, the warm sun shining on our backs. Approaching the lake the path levels then gradually drops down to the shore of a small lake, its crystal clear turquoise water reflecting the sunny sky above it. Lake Tenno is the most limpid freshwater lake in Italy. Almost perfectly round with a white stone bottom, the lake is an oasis of calm. A sparkling jewel surrounded by hills. From the lake we continue on our way to Canale.
Continuing along the old road we slowly climb the hill to the Hamlet of Canale. Considered one of the best preserved medieval villages in northern Italy mainly because of its historical center which has survived practically intact to present day. Canale’s medieval centre is unique for its tall stone houses, archways, underpasses, lanes and balconies. Canale is home to the House of Artist, dedicated to the painter Giacomo Vittone. Workshops are organized by Art Academies and Institutes throughout the year. It host artists from all over the world. Each artist that visits it leaves one of their pieces, to be exhibited at the house. Canale is also home to the Pinacoteca Europa gallery, exhibiting modern and contemporary art. On the other side of the village is the Museum of Agricultural Tools, highlighting the farming tradition in of the area.
This time of year most of the houses are closed. A few signs of life appear in the windows of the towering stone buildings. The lanes are very narrow also made of stones. As we pass through the dark passageways under the many arches that cross over the streets I imagine how difficult life must have been here in medieval times. The inhabitants scratching out barely enough food from the terraced earth on the slopes, 500 meters above the lake, while a rich valley spread out below them near a great lake abounding with fish.
From Canale the old road leads to Calvola, along the road is the monument to the Vicinia or medieval Common. Four bronze statues are intent on discussing the problems of the village, recalling the traditions of small communities. The road continues through terraced vineyards to Calvola. Much like Canale, its medieval stone buildings are well-preserved. The bell tower of the Church of San Giovanni Basttista, dedicated to Saint John the Baptist rises up above the other tall buildings. The facade is decorated with a 16th century Madonna and child.
The old road continues up the mountain to the mount of San Pietro a thousand meters above the hamlets of Alto Garda. On a rugged outcrop overlooking the valley below is the Church of San Pietro. The church is very old and in the past was watched over by a hermit. Adjacent to the church is a refuge of the Society of Tridentine Mountaineers. Close to the refuge is a small mountain hut where the poet Giacono Floriani wrote about local life on the slopes of Alto Garda. Although we would love to continue, this passage will have to wait for another day. We have already planned to celebrate Carnival in the town of Varone. We have worked up an appetite for the luganeghe sausages and polenta that awaits us, so we turn around and head down the hill to our car.