Apart from the long walk in nature and the scenic hiking in its Dolomites, one of the best things you can do in the Trentino-Alto Adige region in northern Italy is to discover its historical castles. One of the most famous, well-kept, and interesting to visit is Castel Thun, an easy day trip from Trento, the region’s capital.
We visited Castel Thun in April when the high winter season had just ended and the summer one was yet to begin. We were lucky because it was quiet, we found no queue at the entrance and could truly enjoy the castle.
This is a visit I absolutely recommend if you are traveling to Trentino. Exploring the floors of the Thun Castle you will have a precious glimpse of the private life of local noble families, how luxurious their living style was throughout the centuries, and how a fortified residence was organized in the area.
History of Castel Thun
From the Middle Ages to the 20th century, Castel Thun has been the property of the powerful Thun family, one of the oldest noble clans of the Trentino region. Originating from Ton, a village in the Val di Non valley, the first documents about this notable family date back to 1050 and mentioned them as “de Tono” (from Ton). Later, they Germanized their name turning it into “Thun”.
The feudal system created by the Thun clan involved castles, towers, large lands, and an elaborate structure of jurisdictional rights, censuses, and income deeply rooted in an agricultural economy. They owned lands and properties in the valleys of Non and Sole, castles in the city of Trento, and expanded their presence up to the border with South Tyrol and also beyond the Alps.
The very first structure of Castel Thun dates back to the early 13th century and consists of a sighting tower. Sometime around the mid-century, the Bohemian branch of the Thun family moved to live here to look after their properties in the area and added a walled fence all around.
Between the 14th and 15th centuries, Castel Thun went through a large renovation that made it the noble residence where the family would permanently move in. First, two residential buildings and one for the service workers were added, while a second work, the family chapel was added on the ground floor and consecrated to Saint George in the 16th century.
Bigger works were carried out in the 16th century on the occasion of the Council of Trento due to the prominent position of prince bishop Sigismondo Thun. This is when much of the decoration and a bedroom were added that now you can visit in what’s called Stanza del Vescovo (Bishop’s room). While more refurbishing took place throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, it was in the 18th century that Castel Thun acquired its current look.
The family lived in Castel Thun since 1982 and in 1992 it was acquired by the Autonomous Province of Trento. It was opened to the public in 2010 after extensive restoration works.
What you see inside Castle Thun
When I think of a castle, crenelated towers, pomp, and luxury come to my mind. Castel Thun made me rethink my idea of castles. Even though it does feature two crenelated towers, the atmosphere walking across the gardens to reach the large fortress dominating Trentino’s Val di Non is one of majesty and austerity.
The residence of the Thun family for centuries, visiting Castel Thun is a journey in the private space of Trentino noble families. Furnished with the original furniture and decorated with the invaluable art collection gathered by the Thun family members across the centuries, Castle Thun is a fascinating step back in time.
As soon as you step over the first threshold, you are going to cross its lush gardens and immediately be confronted with the imposing defensive walls.
Your visit will be independent, you won’t have a guide inside the castle, but you will still be directed by the internal staff from one floor to the next. Castle Thun is laid out on many levels and your ticket includes them all.
Around 15 people of German or Italian mother tongue used to work in the castle including the cooks, the closer associates in charge of the count’s personal services, a nanny and a servant for the children, a gardener, two shepherds, a coachman aided by the stable cleaner, and a carpet. Everyone was organized by a butler or administrator.
Third floor – The bedrooms
You will start your visit from the upper third floor where you will travel across a maze of bedrooms and private parlors including the luxurious bishop’s chamber decorated with Swiss Pine paneling and the personal bedroom of Matteo Thun.
The Bishop’s Room is probably the most famous bedroom in Castel Thun. Built in the 16th century in Swiss pine and fir tree, its original structure was refurbished by Sigismondo Alfonso Thun, prince-bishop of Trento and Bressanone, in the late 17th century. This is why we see his coat of arms right in the center of the ceiling.
On the wall, you will see “La Porta di Ercole” (Hercules’ door) from 1574 decorated with bas-reliefs representing sacred and profane subjects and inlaid with plants and city views patterns. Like in most rooms of the castle, here too is present a white and blue majolica stove to heat up the area dating to 1671 and decorated with local symbols, the Thun’s coat of arms, and the symbol of the Bishopric of Bressanone, the lamb with a flag.
All rooms on the third floor were heated through an elegant Wien-style stove and finely decorated with Neo-Classic paintings of floral patterns or marine views.
From the late 18th century, every room on the upper floors was equipped with an elegant majolica heater, quite effective and very popular in the German-populated, Tyrolese, and Trentino areas.
This type of heater was installed against the wall and loaded from an external service area to guarantee safety and cleanness. Its fire-resistant material absorbed the heat and released gradually and constantly all around the area.
Part of the upper floor is a series of bedrooms and living rooms including the Maps Hall. This is devoted to visually narrating the properties of the Thun family in the Trentino territory in the valleys of Non and Sole.
Among the bedrooms, there is also what’s known “Camera azzurra”, the blue room, where apparently Napoleon stayed during one of his travel to the region. The blue room is named after the blue wallpaper applied through a fine technique that sees the paper affixed on wooden strips to keep it slightly separated from the wall to give a soft fabric-like effect.
Last but certainly not least, you will see what’s known as Matteo’s Room, the bedroom of Matteo Thun, the most well-known member of the family in the 19th century. Many of the pieces of furniture in this room come from the furniture of his mansion in Trento that he sold in 1873.
Second floor – Dining halls and private spaces
Go down one floor and see the elegant Renaissance lodge nestled among austere medieval walls and 19th-century parlors. On this same floor are also an opulent dining hall displaying precious pieces of furniture and tableware as well as valuable still-life paintings.
On this floor is the Sala della Spinetta, the spinet room, that takes its name from the ancient music keyboard instrument. Like all the notable families of their time, also Thun loved music which has always played a big role in their education. In Prague, the Thun clan has been staunch supporters of famed composers such as Mozart, Liszt, and Chopin.
Before descending further, stop to admire the decoration of the Counts’ and Countess’ Studies. The Countess’ Study features 17th-century paintings narrating the mythical Labours of Hercules and the Ancestors’ Hall where you will learn about the history of this noble family through its ancient members.
The Count’s Study, probably carved out of the fortified tower of the original medieval fortress, is the only room on the Thun castle’s second floor to have kept its original Gothic architecture with the typical cross-vaulted ceiling.
First floor – The kitchens
Keeping the original Gothic structure, the first floor is devoted to daily chores. In fact, it’s here that you will see not one but two kitchens, one old and one modern.
The old kitchen is a charming piece of old kitchen tools, a beautiful hearth, and old-style crockery and tableware to evoke bygone smells and flavors.
The bronze and copper pots and pans complete the yesteryear scene of this beautiful kitchen where the owners kept the original furnishing of large tubs and sink carved out of stone and a commanding fireplace. The back stairs against the wall allowed the domestic workers to reach the upper floor.
According to the family documents, apparently, the kitchen was managed by a cook, usually Tyrolese, and her assistants were cooks from Trentino.
With the passing of time and the noble family always living in the same mansion, Castel Thun went through several work of renovation and revamping to be equipped with facilities always in step with time.
The spacious new kitchen was renovated in the ’20s of the 20th century and a large wood stove was added to ensure efficient cooking and a constant supply of hot water.
On this floor is also what’s called “Tinello” in Italian, meaning a dining hall used daily by all the residents of the house, counts included. This simple yet very elegant room is located near the kitchen with which it was communicating through a serving hatch.
Entirely wood coated, the Tinello room was heated by a brick heater and became a cozy space where the counts, their families, and their closest collaborators.
Ground floor – Saint George Chapel and Armoury
You are finally on the ground floor where you will see the simple Saint George Chapel decorated with late-medieval paintings narrating the story of Santa Barbara among images of saints and prophets.
Carry on and enter the Armoury, one of the assets of the Thun family we saw during our tour around the castle. On display were weapons and equipment for both defensive and entertaining purposes. Worth mentioning are the falconets dating to 1554 and belonging to Sigismondo Thun. He was offered the metal to build the cannons by emperor Ferdinand I of Habsburg and was once placed in the internal ring of walls.
Finally, we had a glimpse at the local chores in the room of the oven and bakery where they used to make fresh bread daily.
Gardens, lodges, and towers
After when finished the tour of Castel Thun, we were directed to an outside lodge where there was an exhibition of the carts and carriages from old times up to the more modern means of transportation property of the Thun family.
Outside of the main manor used as the noble residence, you can walk around the large gardens of Castel Thun and see spaces such as the Halls of the Guards and the gardens.
Either before or after the tour inside Castel Thun, you can appreciate the external architecture of the fortified complex.
A first fence system was built to protect the gardens and included towers and a large gate supporting the family’s coat of arms. While a second, smaller and more internal walled structure had the purpose to protect the castle itself.
It includes four large towers (two Torri delle Polveri, Torre della Biblioteca and Torre di Basilio) and the entrance through a beautiful gate known as Porta Spagnola, the Spanish Door. Built in elegant mannerist style, on its top you can see the Thuns’ coat of arms from 1566.
- Address: 38010, Vigo di Ton.
- How to reach: The best way is by car. Take the exit of the toll both of San Michele all’Adige in the Brennero highway A22 and take the Strada Statale SS 43 up to Vigo di Ton. You will find the signs for the castle and there are four parking spaces, one of them is free.
- Opening hours: Winter schedule 9.30 am-5 pm, summer schedule 10 am-6 pm.
- Entrance fee: Single ticket 8€, reduced for over 65 6€, reduced for teenagers between 15 and 26 5€. Free every first Sunday of the month.
Tips for visiting Castle Thun
- Wear comfortable shoes. This is a pretty generic tip, but really spot-on. If you are wearing heels, you are going to regret it.
- Go early. We were visiting many places in one day so we arrived just in time to enter and go for a hasty visit. We did manage to see every space and learn about the castle, but it’s such as great landmark that we would have gladly done it in a more tranquil way. So if you can, get there early enough, the place is big and you need to carve out between an hour and a half to two hours for a complete visit.
- Take your time. When inside, don’t rush. Enjoy the spaces, see their furniture and plates, take your time to see the crockery of the old kitchen. It’s a fascinating stop in Trentino.
- Have Google Maps handy. If you drive, Google Maps or your car’s navigator are essential. Even though you will find several road signs, oftentimes having support helps tremendously.