The Trentino Highlands – WW1’s Forgotten Front Line

The Trentino Highlands – WW1’s Forgotten Front Line

The soaring landscapes of the Alps and the Dolomites dominate a part of Italy that often doesn’t seem very Italian at all. Most of the region known as the Südtirol belonged to Austria until it was handed over to Italy at the end of WW1, and many of its inhabitants and much of its way of life reflects that northern heritage. The food is Austrian, the character more ‘Teutonic’, and the language is a native German-based dialect rather than Italian.

The Beautiful Trentino Highlands

Walking in the Trentino Highlands offers everything you would expect from an Alpine tour, with superb walking in stunning scenery. But our clients are just as fascinated by the recent history that unfolds around them as they walk. As recently as September 2012, a cache of WW1 ammunition was uncovered by a melting glacier at an altitude of 3,200 metres on the Ago de Nardis peak in Trentino.

A Spectacular Mountain Fort

During WWI, Trentino was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but there was a considerable strength of feeling in the Italian-speaking section of the community that the territory should become part of Italy.  Austria went into World War I in 1914.

There had been an agreement between Italy and Austria (as part of the ‘Triple Alliance’) that Italy would only enter the war for defensive reasons.  However, Italy entered the war in 1915 as an ally of the British (the ‘Triple Entente’), declaring war on its neighbour and former ally, Austria.

The small villages on the Altopiano Trentino were plunged into a brutal war and the local inhabitants found that they were on the front line.  On the Trentino Highlands tourwe walk that front line – the former border between Austria and Italy.  We visit WWI forts built on both sides of the line along mountain ridges.  One of these forts, ‘Werk Gschwent’ (Forte Belvedere) is now an excellent museum detailing the campaigns, but with a strong emphasis on the social impact of the war in an area where cousins fought cousins.


Forte Belvedere

We walk on one of the best trails we have ever walked, high in mountains which would have been inaccessible to the ordinary walker had the Italians not built a military road through 52 tunnels to gain control of the higher peaks.  This is a spectacular walk but it also leaves our clients feeling sad that such a beautiful area could witness not only the atrocities of war but also the terrible suffering of men led to battle in the extremely harsh conditions which winter imposes in this region.

Walking Above The Clouds

We tell our clients the heart-breaking story of Cesare Battisti, an Italian national hero, who fought on the Italian side but, having been born in Trento, was executed by the Austrians as a traitor when captured rather than being granted the rights normally afforded to a prisoner-of-war.  Some modern commentators even claim that he was handed over to the Austrians by the Italians because of his Communist links.

Our clients are always fascinated by this local history and comment that this front seems to have been forgotten.  They are particularly interested in the stories of local families who suffered through the bombardments and who, even today, are still divided in their loyalties.

Italy is now getting ready to commemorate 100 years since the start of World War I in 2015 but in Trentino the commemorations have already begun.

Click here to read more about this tour from journalist Alan Wooding