I had been Italy a dozen times before, but there were still so many regions I hadn't yet explored, such as the Trentino / Trentino-Alto Adige region, a mountainous area in northern Italy where you will find the famous Dolomites mountain range, which are part of the Alps.
The capital city of Trentino is Trento. Oh and did you know that the northern part of Lake Garda is also part of the Trentino region? That was new to me!
I've always known the Italian Dolomites to be popular for winter sports and holidays, and somehow never considered seriously enough as a destination outside of the winter season.
Which was silly. But last month (October), Ricardo and I made a quick trip to visit Trentino. It was autumn, and the leaves had just begun to change colours. It turned out to be wonderful, although I wish more MORE leaves were orange.
This post is about my favourite experience in Trentino, thanks to a very special person who is otherwise recognised as 'the herb hunter of Val Rendena'. It involved foraging for wild food in the mountains, next to one of Italy's many pristine lakes, and cooking our own lunch, which we enjoyed outdoors.
Note: Val Rendena is known as the 'Green Valley' (as it is surrounded by lush green forests and woodlands) and includes the area of Madonna di Campiglio, where we stayed.
FIRST, A SHORT HIKE TO LAGO DI NAMBINO
We met Noris (short for Elinora) with our host and guide, Sara, at the car-park at the bottom of the trail that leads to Lago Di Nambino (Nambino Lake), close to Madonna di Campiglio. It was morning and the air was fresh... this is really just a nicer way to say 'cold'.
Noris didn't speak too much English but that somehow made communication a lot more fun. She was quirky, animated, and seemed like a determined woman who had led an interesting life.
She came out of her car with her a rucksack packed with bottles of wine and bunch of other items for the picnic we were going to set up at the end of our hike.
When I saw her full, heavy backpack, I was glad that she didn't know I was the kind of person who complained about carrying a backpack that was half the weight of hers. Especially after she pointed out my wearing (children's) sneakers instead of proper hiking boots.
I told her that if Nepalese porters could traverse the Himalayas in flip=flops (which I've witnessed first-hand), then with these sneakers I could do anything!
The hike up didn't take long - it was an easy one of about 30-40 minutes through beautiful forest scenery. We passed a waterfall, too. Once we arrived, we were at an elevation of about 1600m. It got colder and I started to question my decision to visit Trentino during autumn. I had a ski jacket on!
VISIT TRENTINO : A REAL TASTE OF NATURE
Noris' life's passion and work is wild foraging - identifying anything that is edible or can be made into food. This includes all sorts of herbs and plants, mushrooms, and even flowers!
Wild food is defined as anything edible that has had no management or intervention to increase its production.
She has a brand called Primitivizia, and she sells a small selection of pastes and other concoctions made using interesting wild food items such as wild garlic leaves, mountain spinach, and burdock; all found within Val Rendena. This is a real 'taste of nature', bottled up for your convenience!
Noris is so good at what she does that her work has been nominated to be included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
During the hike, I would often find her bent over, examining the flora on the ground or smelling things she had picked up in her hands. There were a lot of lichens, which she insisted were edible and tasty. With a bit of imagination and some garlic, I could believe that.
Once at the top, we could see the beautiful lake, Lago di Nambino, some 100-200m ahead of where we stopped, which was a little cottage that Noris virtually owns (she has been trusted with the keys). I think she keeps a lot of her foodstuff in that house.
A SPECIAL PICNIC IN THE DOLOMITES
We set up our picnic lunch on a rustic-looking table just outside the cottage.
Everything you see on the table was brought up the mountain by Noris in her backpack! Save for the tableware of course, which was brought from the kitchen.
We had good cheese, special Trentino speck ham, and regional red wine.
Noris introduced to us a fantastic little snack: buttered bread with anchovies with a dash of pine syrup. It was divine. Of course, the syrup was made by Noris herself.
In fact, this syrup seems to be one of her most popular products and you can find it (+ more info) here: Pine Cone Bud Syrup
Our main dish was a simple pasta dish that we cooked together over the wood-fired stove (I even got to put the wood in myself!) in the kitchen: a kind of cacio e pepe made with an amazing wild garlic paste created by Noris.
Instead of pecorino cheese, we crumbled some leftover bread and grilled it on the pan. Noris joked that this was 'mountain cheese'!
Ricardo and I loved this dish; we both thought it was delicious, even though Noris kept apologising for its simplicity. In my opinion its simplicity made it all the more appealing.
OH! The picnic table is often furnished with some basic utensils for anyone passing by to use (travellers, hikers, etc). Noris tells us that whenever people have enjoyed her table, they have left a little something behind, such as a flower, as a token of appreciation.
So amongst the mess we made after lunch, I left a small orange for her to find later. I don't know why but that day I decided to put an orange in my jacket pocket. Perhaps I foresaw this opportunity.
LAGO DI NAMBINO
After our 'taste of nature' that turned out to be more like a 'feast of nature', a walk around the area sounded like welcome idea. A visit to Trentino wouldn't be complete without a wander around one of its beautiful lakes, anyway.
Sara accompanied us around the perimeter of the lake, and I was impressed by her patience as Ricardo and I stopped a million times along the way to shoot video or take photos.
Lago di Nambino is one of those places where you will find yourself taking multiple photos of the same thing, with most of the shots looking almost exactly alike.
That little house you see is Rifugio Lago Nambino, which is in fact a hotel and restaurant. I imagined it would be a stunning place to spend the night and wished we were staying there.
I spared you by uploading only three of my Lago di Nambino shots. Rest assured there were many more. I hated having to choose because every photo seemed perfect! But you see what I mean that they all look alike!
Sara said that if we had come maybe a week or so later, those trees in the distance would have looked a lot more golden as autumn progressed.
Sorry, had to include a couple of photos that had me in them.
I felt like Lago di Nambino alone made our visit to Trentino worth it. Especially since we got to experience it with Noris!
Speaking of whom, she turned up to join us on our walk later and we helped to bring back a bunch of branches and twigs for the cottage (to use as firewood). This was when it became obvious I was not used to such work, because the branch I was assigned to carry was dragging along on the ground behind me very ungracefully.
A NEW FRIEND IN TRENTINO
I am so grateful to Noris for sharing such an authentic, unique experience with us. She says she doesn't often invite people up to the house, so I felt extra special!
Noris joked that, men are good for "driving cars, opening wine bottles, and having sex". So if you find one that can do all three, you're set! Haha
On the our hike back down, we talked a little about Italian music and I shared with her one of my favourite, very-old Italian song called 'Il Pinguino Innamorato' , which translates literally to 'The Penguin in Love'.
I couldn't stop humming the tune in my head. We held hands for most of the way down, walking alongside each other like we were kindergarteners at the playground!
It reminded me of the simplicity friendships when I was a young child - when all you needed to do to express a liking for someone was to hold their hand. I think we should all hold hands more.
Thank you Noris for being such a wonderful character; and now I have another reason to visit Trentino again!
Left: Noris' resident swan! She had stumbled upon this quirky wood formation while wandering the woods and decided that it would be her pet swan.
Right: A doodle I left on her wall in the cottage - it was a wall on which many guests/new friends had left a little souvenir for Noris.
This post was created in collaboration with Visit Trentino