After a day of torrential rains straight out of the Old Testament, there was a crack in the sky above Terme di Comano this morning revealing a small patch of blue. Good enough for me to feel safe about venturing out for another Under Doctor’s Orders photo shoot.
So, I hopped in my 21st century mode of transport, set the Doc Brown gizmo to 500 B.C., and blasted off to Rango, a tiny dot on the map up in the Bleggio Plateau within northern Italy’s province of Trento.
One of the borghi piu belli d’Italia (the most beautiful villages of Italy), so honored by the Association of Italian Municipalities Council of Tourism (Consulta del Turismo dell’ Associazione dei Comuni Italiani — ANCI), Rango gets high marks for maintaining its rich culture, traditions, art and history, along with the village’s overall appearance.
Back in the day, according to Pliny the Elder, a Roman geographer, the inhabitants of Rango, as well as other parts of the Brenta Dolomites, were nothing more than transplanted Etruscans from the Po Valley who re-settled high in the fertile plains of the northern mountain ranges to escape the invading hordes of Gauls and became known from then on as Raetians.
Today, Rango — a bustling metropolis of a couple dozen carved-out-of-the-bedrock homes that lean on each other for support and stability — has a rich folkloric past filled with stories of pilgrims en route, shepherds tending their flocks, and merchants and lonely travelers spending a night or two then moving on.
At first glance, it appears as if Father Time didn’t move a muscle as the mountainside village and its rocky architecture remains true to its roots from many moons ago.
During my walk around — always under the color of potted flowers and bright-yellow husks of corn hung out to dry — I made my way through low-ceilinged archways, along narrow undulating alleys, across a few foot bridges and through open courtyards.
It wasn’t until the tail end of the shoot, when all of my camera batteries were spent, did I finally come into contact with a real-life descandant of the Raetians of Rango.
He was a rustic-looking, friendly man sporting a traditional alpine cap who was hard at work down at the large granite fountain in the main square washing his, AHEM, nuts — walnuts, that is.
Turns out, the fertile highlands around Rango have been the perfect growing spot for walnut trees that have been yielding the “pride of the valley” since the 16th century: the Bleggio walnut. With a thin shell that’s easy to crack, the meaty inside has a pleasant taste and spicy flavor.
Still hand picked with tender loving care, the Bleggio walnut is eaten raw, added to regional cakes, turned into a strong liquor called nocino, and even used in producing a very rare walnut salami that’s the rave of the area and beyond.
Although the village is pretty quiet most of the year — like today — it rolls out the red carpet and invites everyone in for its annual Mercato di Natale (Christmas Market), which runs every weekend during December leading up to Christmas. At the market, visitors can sample and purchase all of the aforementioned specialties linked to the walnut, along with a host of other local specialties and crafts.
If you ever find yourself in the Brenta Dolomites above Trento, Italy, take a stroll back in time and visit the Raetians of Rango. While you’re there, pick up a bag or two of Bleggio walnuts, the ones that’ve already been pre-washed.
©The Palladian Traveler | ©Tom Palladio Images