Cavareno, Italy: A Question Of “Move To Fondo”

Tucked in the far northern end of Italy’s infamous apple valley (Val di Non), lies a plateau, called, Alta-Val di Non (the High Non Valley). It’s a more bucolic area, home to the few rolling farm fields  remaining in the valley since apple trees were banned there years before (to maintain land for hay cultivation and tourism).

Among Val di Non’s otherwise overcrowded brocade of apple farms, Alta-Val di Non‘s lack of the crop has made it into a respite, of sorts. It’s here that Cavareno lies, the small town of 7 or 800 that Jason and I called home for almost 2 full years. By the looks of it, Cavareno seems like an idyllic place. Some slice of heaven, you might guess.

Oh but looks can deceive.

Cavareno, Val di Non (Italy)
Cavareno, Val di Non (Italy)

Jason’s cousins, Mara and Elvino, also live in Cavareno. Elvino grew up there, and it’s fair to say that he’s partial to the place. In fact, there’s a saying he has about his home town that goes like this:

“It’s a question of mathematics,” he begins. “What is the best continent in the world? Europe. The best country in Europe? Italy. The best region in Italy? Trentino. The best valley in Trentino? Val di Non. The best town in Val di Non? Cavareno… See?” he says. “Simple mathematics.”

His grandchildren (who live in a different neighboring town) yell out: “No, it’s Molosco!” And I, too, am tempted to challenge Elvino’s view of this place. It’s Fondo! I want to shout.

Fondo, Val di Non (Italy)
Fondo, Val di Non (Italy)

When we first moved to Val di Non, we lived in Fondo, which is just 1.5 miles down the road from Cavareno. You may be wondering, like we did, how these places could be so unique if they’re so close together? Well they are. Even in the local dialect, they have different words for things like ‘fork’ and ‘sister’.

There’s something about Fondo that just has a good feel: something manageably real-world and savvy.

Cavareno, on the other hand, is a beautiful place to look at, but as far as towns go…it’s more like the annoying kid on the playground who sits in the corner and shoves rocks up his nose. You feel sorry for him and so try to be his friend, then when he poops in his pants and tries to show you, you immediately regret being so kind.

Fondo, meanwhile, is the cool kid everyone wants to hang out with. It has all the local schools. The theater. The jobs are there, too. The town even has two—count them, two—grocery stores. Several restaurants, bars and cafés! It has life, it has feeling…it has twice as many people (1,200).

Fondo is the place to be.

View from Fondo (Val di Non)
View from Fondo (Val di Non)
"Downtown" Fondo in wintertime (Val di Non)
“Downtown” Fondo in wintertime (Val di Non)
Outdoor restaurant seating in summertime (Fondo)
Outdoor restaurant seating in summertime (Fondo)
Lago Smeraldo - the lake that's a ten minute walk from Fondo (Val di Non)
Lago Smeraldo – the lake that’s a ten minute walk from Fondo (Val di Non)

Unfortunately, we simply couldn’t find a suitable apartment anywhere in Alta-Val di Non, except in Cavareno.

And so, living in Cavareno became a question of availability, not mathematics.

Our first apartment in Cavareno, top-right (Val di Non)
Our first apartment in Cavareno, top-right (Val di Non)

Cavareno is small. 600 people by some counts, 700 by others (the official # puts it over 1,000, but everyone knows this is wrong). In August, it swells to 2,000 with tourists, but the rest of the year, there isn’t much of anyone or anything there, and even less going on. By which I mean—there’s nothing to do. There is:

  • A Gelateria, only open 6 months a year
  • Two restaurants. Count them.
  • A grocery, open only 32 hours a week
  • The private tennis club
  • A few bars, but none with sober people or women in them
  • The Post Office
  • One fruit & vegetable store (‘Green Grocer’ in the UK)
  • A paneficio (bakery)
  • A tabacchi (like a simple drug store)
  • A cremerie (a dairy)
  • A shoe store
  • A hair “salon”
  • A handful of clothing / knickknack stores
  • One Catholic church
  • A pharmacy
  • City Hall

That’s it. That’s really, really it.

Cavareno welcome sign in winter (Val di NOn)
Cavareno welcome sign in winter (Val di NOn)
Downtown Cavareno (Val di Non)
Downtown Cavareno (Val di Non)
Fourwheeler in Cavareno town square (Val di Non)
Fourwheeler in Cavareno town square (Val di Non)

To put it lightly, Cavareno is a little bit…’country’. How else do you describe a town that sports the ‘mele mullet’ and where tractors double as vehicles? We’re told that some towns in Alta-Val di Non look down on Cavareno people (these were Fondo people telling us this, so I suppose I should take it with a grain of salt).

Still, being a Fondo fan myself, I’ll happily overlook their haughty Cavareno-snubbing.

This is evidenced by the fact that any cherished experiences we had took place somewhere else, everywhere but Cavareno.

There are of course countless things to appreciate about our little town. Cavareno is stunningly beautiful to look at. The views are one-of-a-kind, the charm can be breathtaking, if not surreal. It reeks of old-world value.

Plus, the town sits on the edge of endless forest, with a paved combination bicycling/running/farm tractor trail that runs along the plateau, through Cavareno, and beyond. Three seasons a year, I could jog for miles through farm fields or on mountain trails anytime I wanted, surrounded by peaks and pastoral scenes.

Based on looks alone, Cavareno is a small slice of paradise (unless, of course, it’s muck-spreading season).

The 'ciclabile' - biking/walking/farm trail in Alta-Val di Non
The ‘ciclabile’ – biking/walking/farm trail in Alta-Val di Non
Cavareno, early summer (Val di Non)
Cavareno, early summer (Val di Non)
Cavareno pastures (Val di Non)
Pastures in Alta-Val di Non (Italy)
Sunset in Cavareno (Val di Non)
Sunset in Cavareno (Val di Non)

Seems like you’d want to put down your feet in this small mountain village and stay forever, right? Like it’s got all the things we’re looking for in life—beauty, nature, clean air, peace and quiet. A good place for family, to raise kids.

There’s more to a place, however, than it’s Austrian good looks.

Solitary country walks (Val di Non)
Solitary country walks (Val di Non)
Me, bicycling on the 'ciclabile' (Val di Non)
Me, bicycling on the ‘ciclabile’ (Val di Non)
A snowshoe hike near our house in Cavareno (Val di Non)
A snowshoe hike near our house in Cavareno (Val di Non)
Hiking near our apt. in Cavareno (Val di Non)
Hiking near our apt. in Cavareno (Val di Non)

In fact, the thing I miss the most about Cavareno is its natural beauty and access to the outdoors—it was unparalleled.

It was certainly small-town-livin’. Cavareno is so small that everyone <em>literally</em> knows everyone—which comes in handy when you give the pharmacist an out-of-date prescription and she doesn’t even care, because she knows who you are. The flip side, though? Everyone knows your business.

Ultimately, what we got with Cavareno was something out of a poltergeist comedy. Everything was extra difficult there, from getting forced out of an apartment by construction, to me being attacked by a dog, to our constant bombardment by our landlord’s admitted depression. Any cherished experiences we had in Val di Non took place somewhere else, everywhere <em>but</em> the town of Cavareno.

It was otherworldly in its darkness.

Cavareno in wintertime (Val di Non)
Cavareno street in wintertime (Val di Non)

In fact, whenever we’d leave Cavareno, the heaviness we felt there would lift; the cumbersome cloud of battling Cavareno life dissipating, things just sort of…lining up.

Especially in Fondo. Fondo is where I got my first work, at the library and later at an international company. The best grocery shopping was in Fondo, and where our friends lived, where we’d run into people we knew. Fondo was even home to our favorite bar, ‘Croce Bianca’ (The White Cross).

Fondo (Val di Non)
Fondo (Val di Non)

Why didn’t we just move back to Fondo, you ask? Good question. But that’s another story.

In spite of Cavareno’s tangible qualities, what I want to say to the village is this: Thanks for giving us our start at life in Italy, but no thanks on our continued inhabitance there. In fact, it would seem much more appropriate to alter Elvino’s saying, from, ‘Cavareno: A Question of Mathematics’, to, ‘Cavareno: A Question of ‘Move to Fondo’, instead.

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