The northern parts of Lombardy and Piedmont, and the whole of Trentino-Alto Adige and Valle d’Aosta, are home to some of the highest mountains in Europe and to some of the most spectacular scenery. The highest peak in the western Alps is Monte Bianco (Mont Blanc) at 4,810 meters (15,788 feet), but several other mountains top 4,000 meters (12,800 feet). In the eastern Alps, the highest point is the Ortles group (3,905 meters or 12,812 feet), which is on the border between Lombardy and the Trentino. The eastern Alps are dominated by two mountain chains of breathtaking natural beauty, the Brenta and the Dolomites. Tourists come from all over the world to see the effect of the sunset on the pinkish Dolomite rocks of Val Gardena (Alto Adige) and Val di Fassa (Trentino). The Alpine regions are also famous for their lakes and for the many elegant and expensive resorts that dot their shores. The three largest lakes are Lake Maggiore (Lombardy), Lake Como (Lombardy), and Lake Garda (Lombardy–Trentino–Venetia), but there are literally hundreds of smaller ones.
   Culturally, the Alpine regions are sharply distinct from the rest of Italy. There are three main non-Italian ethnic groups: the French dialect–speaking Aostans (100,000 strong), the German speakers from Alto Adige (over 200,000), and the Ladino speakers in the Trentino and Alto Adige (approximately 30,000). But even in the nominally Italian parts of Lombardy, Piedmont, and Trentino the people speak strong dialects that are extremely difficult or even impossible for other Italians to understand. It is not an exaggeration to say that practically every valley speaks its own language. These cultural and linguistic differences from the rest of Italy have been recognized politically. Trentino-Alto Adige and the Valle d’Aosta are special autonomous regions that—together with Sicily, Sardinia, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia—enjoy greater decisional power than most of the rest of Italy’s regional governments. Three political forces represent the local minorities: the Union Valdotaine, the Sud Tirol Volkspartei/South Tyrol People’s Party (SVP), and the Partito Autonomista Trentino-Tirolese/Party for the Autonomy of Trentino Tirolese (PATT). To this list should be added the Lega Nord/Northern League (LN), which began its meteoric flight in the valleys of northern Lombardy and whose stronghold remains the rural valleys of the Lombard provinces of Sondrio, Bergamo, and Varese. Tourism—mostly German, although large numbers of visitors are increasingly coming from states in central and eastern Europe—is the mainstay of the Alpine region’s economy. The resorts of Courmayeur, Sestriere, Madonna di Campiglio, Val Gardena, and Cortina d’Ampezzo offer some of the best skiing in the world. High-quality wine (especially in Trentino and Alto Adige), fruit growing, dairy farming, forestry and wood products, and the production of winter sports equipment are also major sources of income.
   Overall, the Alpine regions have the highest standard of living in Italy. The province of Bolzano is one of the 10 wealthiest areas in the European Union (EU), with an income per capita of 159 percent of the EU average (Eurostat, 18 May 2006). The Valle d’Aosta’s per capita income is 133 percent of the same average; the Trentino is at 129 percent. Trento, Bolzano, Sondrio, and other Alpine towns are regularly rated among the most livable places in Italy.
   See also Dialects; Minorities; Regionalism.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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