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Mountains dominate much of this region, which stretches north along the Adige River valley from the intersection of Lombardy and the Veneto. The soaring landscape of the Alps and the Dolomites (Dolomiti) presides over a different Italy, one that often doesn't seem very Italian at all.

Most of the Dolomites and Südtirol (the South Tirol, which encompasses the Trentino and Alto Adige regions) belonged to Austria until it was handed over to Italy at the end of World War I. In fact, many residents, especially in and around Bolzano, Merano, and Brixen, still prefer the ways of the north to those of the south. They eat Austrian food, go about life with Teutonic crispness, and, most noticeably, tend to avoid speaking Italian in favor of their native German-based dialect. Some villages even speak Ladin, a vestigial Latin dialect related to Switzerland's Romansch. And they live amid mountain landscapes that are more suggestive of Austria than of Italy.

The eastern Alps that cut into the region are gentle and beautiful. A little farther to the east rise the Dolomites -- dramatically craggy peaks that are really coral formations that only recently (in geological terms) reared up from ancient seabeds. Throughout Trentino-Alto Adige, towering peaks, highland meadows, and lush valleys provide a paradise for hikers, skiers, and rock climbers. Set amid these natural spectacles are pretty, interesting towns and castles to explore and a hybrid Teutonic-Latin culture to enjoy.

Regional Cuisine -- The cuisine of the Alto Adige is more or less Austrian, with a few Italian touches. Canederli (bread dumplings) often replace pasta or polenta and are found floating in rich broths infused with liver; speck (smoked ham) replaces prosciutto; and Wiener schnitzel Grostl (a combination of potatoes, onions, and veal -- the local version of corned beef hash) and pork roasts are among preferred secondi (second courses).

Trentino-Alto Adige on the Web

In addition to the city websites listed under each town throughout this guide, the Trentino province around Trent maintains its own site at www.provincia.tn.it. The official travel website of South Tirol is www.suedtirol.info, while the Dolomites can be researched at various sites claiming to be "the official" one (all are loaded with good information, at any rate); the most reputable site is www.dolomiti.it.