South Tyrol shares its borders with both Austria and Switzerland and the influence of these two countries, particularly Austria, can be felt from the start. It's no wonder that the area has been so heavily contested by the ruling powers that have come and gone over the centuries. Even though they find themselves a part of Italy, the people here widely consider themselves to be German/Austrian. Think alpine meadows, traditional wooden houses with roofs down to the ground, ladies wearing dirndls, mountain peaks, lederhosen and plenty of fresh, warm air - the region gets over 300 days of sunshine a year! These days South Tyrol is the largest fruit producing region in Europe and anyone winding along through the countless orchards will begin to understand why.
To the south lies Trentino and, cycling along the Weinstrasse (the Wine Road, which starts in the south of South Tyrol), one can observe the changeover as the surroundings start to appear almost instantaneously more Italian. The orchards that characterise the northern province give way slightly to vineyards and the River Adige, formerly a rushing torrent, has become larger and altogether more docile with age. Like its neighbour, Trentino has a rich and varied history but it was in the early Middle Ages that it became truly prosperous when the Bishopric of Trent was established as a State of the Holy Roman Empire; ruled by the Prince-Bishops from the regional capital of Trent. Further south lies world famous Lake Garda where looming mountains rise from crystal waters and pastel-painted mediaeval towns watch on sleepily from the shore.
Tucked away in the north of Italy lie two of the country's most picturesque, and most prosperous, provinces which form the autonomous region of Trentino-Alto Adige. From the quaint, traditional villages which nestle between lakes and mountains along valley floors, to the imposing castles which cling impossibly to the rocky valley sides; this is a place that appears truly timeless and is perfect for exploration by bike.