Castel San Gottardo in Mezzocorona, Italy
travel diary

Basilisks and culture shock in Mezzocorona, Italy

In Trentino in Northern Italy, there are stories from the distant past telling of a basilisk living in the mountains, the young man that went to kill it and the fertile land that sprung up where its blood fell. This local legend is about one of the ruins that rises high above the village of Mezzocorona, our home for our first week in Italy.

Mezzocorona houses with the Dolomites in the background

Mezzocorona is in a valley not far from Trento, with the Dolomites rising high all around it. Renowned for its hiking trails, bike paths and wine, it seems like a pleasant place to spend a week. While the weather prohibits our outdoor activity, we experience full cultural immersion in Mezzocorona and every time we emerge from our lovely AirBnB apartment we have to put our Italian language skills to the test.

And it is a test for me. Learning Italian in a classroom situation hasn’t prepared me for North Italy, where people are more likely to speak German than English, and I find words leaving me when I least expect it. We struggle through buying groceries and ordering pizza, confused by the offer of plastic bags and the colloquial use of the word “subito” while any requests for “Inglese?” leave locals floundering in a state of panic.

Houses and buildings in Mezzocorona, Italy

Our language difficulties come to a head when we attempt to catch a local train and find the ticket machine on the platform is out of order. Summoning all my composure, I walk over to the nearby café to see if I can buy a ticket there.

I hear the bell chime as I open the door. There’s a brief intake of breath and the chatter hushes, as heads turn to look at me. I hadn’t expected to be faced with an audience, but I open my mouth and my rehearsed question falls out into the perfect silence, in Italian – can I buy a ticket here, please? There’s a scramble as people try to explain (with no English, of course, but lots of hand gestures), that there’s a machine on the platform where I can buy tickets.

Somehow, I manage to explain that the machine is broken, and then understand that I need to talk to the conductor on the train. Leaving the café in a small state of shock, we sit on the platform and try to find the words to explain our problem to the conductor. He ends up being charming, smiling at my broken Italian and giving us tickets, by far the easiest part of our day.

Looking down on Mezzocorona

Despite the occasional awkwardness, our week in Mezzocorona is good for us. We drink espresso overlooking the mountains, sample wine from local vineyards, and cook at home. We explore a bit further afield, visiting Verona and Trento. Mezzocorona is a lovely little town, but small, and we feel slightly uncomfortable in local spaces. Staying there, we learn how to talk in Italian first and English second.

Overhanging flowers in Mezzocorona, Italy
A colourful gate in Mezzocorona, Italy

And the Northern Italian countryside is beautiful, peaceful and quiet, with an intriguing mix of cultures. It gives us a chance to just be. But perhaps the most interesting thing about Mezzocorona is the fossilized dinosaur footprints found near the ruin, high in the hills. Perhaps there’s a bit of truth to those old stories after all.

Planning a trip to Mezzocorona? Stay at Antico Fienile Agritur, a local farmstay with friendly staff to help you navigate the area.

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Roxanne de Bruyn

Author - Roxanne de Bruyn

Roxanne is the founder and editor of Faraway Worlds. She is a freelance writer and guidebook author and has written for several travel publications, including Lonely Planet and The Culture Trip. With a background in communications, she has studied ancient history, comparative religion and international development, and has a particular interest in sustainable tourism.

Originally from South Africa, Roxanne has travelled widely and loves learning the stories of the places she visits. She enjoys cooking, dance and yoga, and usually travels with her husband and young son. She is based in New Zealand.

Last Updated 9 May 2022


Italy is one of those countries that has something for everyone, from food, beaches and mountains to art and ancient history.