Where In The World Is Val di Non?

Way far away in the country of Italy, high up north in the not-as-well-known region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol—further north, still—past the capital city of Trento (Trent in English), through the tunnels that cut under the mountains, you will find a valley.

A valley known as: Val di Non.

This is where our story begins.

In English, it’s called the’Non Valley‘. Which means you may be wondering, like I did, why a place would be called such a thing? Like a non-being or a non-entity. Does this valley not really exist?

I assure you, it does…

Storybook view of Romeno, in wintertime (Val di Non)
Storybook view of Romeno in wintertime (Val di Non)

Turns out, ‘Non’ is a Ladin word (not Latin) based on the local dialect, so it doesn’t mean what our English brains want it to. [Though I still find the name oddly amusing].

Before describing Val di Non, though…Nerd Alert! My Urban Planning background makes me lust after geography and maps and population statistics like a sorority girl after her lemon drops. My left brain is now celebrating, ‘We get to post facts!’

I’m assuming you have no idea where Val di Non is located, dear readers, so first we’ll start with orientation. Let the geography lesson begin…

Of Italy’s twenty regions, Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol lies farthest to the north:

Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol ('Trentino' for short) is Italy's northernmost region (in red).
Trentino-Alto Adige in Italy, author: TUBS, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

And Trentino is the southernmost province of the region:

Map of region of Trentino-South Tyrol, Italy, with provinces
Map of region of Trentino-South Tyrol, Italy, with provinces, licensed under CC0 1.0.

Finally, within Trentino lies the valley of Val di Non (seen below in light blue):

Map showing language distribution in Trentino, Italy, as of 2011
Language distribution Trentino 2011, author: Sajoch, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Val di Non is where we lived.

Many towns dot the slender hillsides of Val di Non, but two towns in particular—Fondo (pronounced Fone-dough) and Cavareno (Kav-ah-rey-no)—are the ones to remember. These are the towns you will read about, the ones I will describe a compendium of ways via a hundred small tales, and where you will find yourself living alongside us during our first two unforgettable years in Italy.

Val di Non is surrounded by mountain peaks, making it only enterable by crossing over or under (via tunnel) one of four mountain passes:

    • Passo Palade — to the north/northeast, towards Merano
    • Passo della Mendola — to the east, towards Bolzano
    • Passo Castrin — connecting to Val di Sole, to the west, and to the German Val di Proves to the northwest
    • Passo del Tonale — which connects to Lombardia, to the southwest
Map of Trentino, Italy, showing major roads, cities, and rough locations of mountains.
Trentino map (original title: Trento mappa), author: Idéfix, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
Some cool facts:
  • Today, the main industry revolves around apple cultivation – followed by wood industries (e.g., palette making), tourism and outdoor sports.
  • The people are Nonesi and they speak Nones (a Ladin dialect).
  • The valley altitude ranges from 1,400 to 4,000 feet (429 – 1,200 meters).
  • Total valley population is approximately 40,000 people. Cles (roughly 7,000 inhabitants) is the largest city, while Amblar (roughly 221 inhabitants) is the smallest village.*

I would go on (my left brain is seriously convulsing with content)…but I realize I’ve already lost many of you with the aforementioned minutiae. Instead, I’ll tell you what Val di Non feels like.

Apple blossom in spring (Val di Non)
Apple blossom in spring (Val di Non)

It feels…wholesome. Clean. Mountain crisp. “I’m gonna’ have to pry your cold, dead fingers off of this place, aren’t I?” Jason said to me the day we arrived. It was the first week of October, 2012, and we showed up at 9 at night. It was so cold I needed gloves and long underwear. We stayed in a family member’s spare apartment with only a wood stove for heat, shivering all night. The air smelled lightly of campfire.

I was in heaven.

The whole place feels like living in a pop-up story book. And it looks like it, too.

Aerial of Revò, Val di Non.
Aerial of Revò, Val di Non.

The towns are tidily tucked in between even tidier rows of apples—planted like grapevines, and all the way up to the forest’s edge. Then the forest rolls upward along steep hillsides and ridgelines until it tops out at alpine meadows, rocky outcroppings, and eventually mountain peaks.

Val di Non view of Romeno (Italy)
Val di Non view of Romeno, in fall (Italy)

Wood is everywhere, stacked in happy little piles.

Happy wood stacks
Happy Val di Non wood stack (Sarnonico)

People actually live here? I’d ask out loud. How does this beauty not make them all insane?

I don’t know if I’ll ever have an answer to that, but I wonder if indeed the Nonesi aren’t all a little mad from waking up to things like this every morning:

Spring window view in Cavareno (Val di Non)
View out our bedroom window in spring (Cavareno)

Is this even a real place? I ask. If this is what we’re used to seeing and experiencing and breathing in on a daily basis, how will we ever handle it when things are just plain normal? Or gray? Or basic? Or even shitty?

With such striking scenes normalized, everything around you seems darker, murkier, more opaque than it really is. And your perspective changes. And then when bad things happen, you don’t quite know how to handle them. Good things now seem tepid, the proverbial bar having been raised from evening skies that look like this…

Mountain sunset lighting up clouds (Val di Non)
Mountain sunset lighting up clouds (Val di Non)

Ultimately, our experience living in Val di Non left me more curious than perplexedat how cultures form and people live their lives in so many different ways around the world.

Driving home the point that, despite stunning landscapes, we’re all in this together. Even if it feels sometimes like we’re miles (or kilometers) apart.

*Total valley population has declined over the past 100 years, but in some towns has remained stable since the 1990s.

To learn more, check out some of my other posts about the people of Val di Non, their proclivity for saving money, and the centuries of hardship they’ve lived through.

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