With the amount of sunlight slowly fading away and the temperatures dropping, we inevitably start thinking of winter. Such weather conditions make for a perfect excuse to plan my next Christmas holiday in advance, so at least this year I am 100% sure of where I will be spending my vacations: in the mighty Dolomites!
I already went last year and I cannot wait to go back; the idea of being there in a couple of months terribly excites me, and at the same time is a flashback of when last year, for the first time, my girlfriend and me spent our holidays in the Italian Alps.
Most people consider Italy a rather “summery” destination, but I can assure you that this part of the country is definitely a fantastic and worth a trip in the winter.
Located in the north of Italy, between the regions of Veneto, Friuli and Trentino Alto Adige, the Dolomites host some of the most impressive landscapes available to humankind, attracting every year discerning travelers from all over the world including those from neighbouring countries like Switzerland and Austria, who are certainly not globally recognised for their sandy beaches.
The word Dolomites derives from Dolomite, a unique stone that allows them to become even more fascinating by developing a rosy glow color, especially at sunset and sunrise. It is something out of this world, in fact, they are the only part of the Alps worth of a UNESCO World Heritage recognition.
For our holidays, we chose the charming resort on San Cassiano, a place that, in my childhood, my family and I visited a lot both during summer and winter.
San Cassiano is located in the Alta Badia area very close to Austria. So close, in fact, that people here speak Italian with a German accent and have a local “language” called Ladino that sounds like anything but Italian. What I love about San Cassiano and the area in general, is the great combination of Nordic mentality in pursuing precision and excellence, which reflects in state of the art facilities with the unmistakable Italian warm hospitality, making it the perfect atmosphere, where one instantly feels looked after.
I remember us staying in a wonderful boutique hotel with modern facilities and magnificent views over the Dolomites, very romantic, indeed. One of the main reasons I chose San Cassiano is because it has everything one needs in a winter holiday. One of Europe’s longest and most exciting ski carousels?, good shops, incredible hotels and of course fantastic food. It is, in fact, considered one of Italy’s gastronomic capitals, as within its area it has 3 Michelin star restaurants and many other amazing places to eat, both during the day - in one of the many ski chalets - or during the evening. They take food and wine seriously here, so seriously that every year for the last couple of years, one of the most respected local chefs has created a “Chef’s cup”, a food and wine event where over 80 chefs from all over the world come to this village for a week of massive cook offs and phenomenal culinary events. Hard to find something better than this, if you, like me, “do food and wine for a living”.
Other than being one of the best places for foodies, San Cassiano is ideal for couples and families. Both your kids and your significant other will love it. From playing and skiing in the many “snow parks” to fun activities with animals - you have plenty of entertaining options. For grownups, fun is guaranteed. If you are a ski lover look no further, as Alta Badia will be your paradise. Other than having a vast amount of slopes, it also offers exciting alternatives like off piste, cross country skiing and snowshoeing. Should this not be enough, you can always rent a snowmobile and head to the woods, or if you are up for a true adrenaline rush, you can always give heli-skiing a go.
There will be a time of day, possibly around midday where your energy levels are low and you need refuel. How about melted cheese and mushrooms over polenta or a nice dear Spezzatino stew? The local hearty cuisine is simply mouth-watering, an interesting mix between Austrian and North Italian, so don’t be surprised if in the dessert menu you come across apple Strudel or Kaisersmarren. Of course, your meal could not end with a Bombardino, a delicious mix of warm eggnog, whipped cream and hot chocolate…something that will keep you going for hours!
Another moment that I love is around 5 when the ski facilities close down and the sun sets. This is really what makes the Dolomites different from all the other Alps. There are no other words to describe such beauty, just admire what the nature can do. After that wonderful sunset one should relax and get ready for a fun evening. The way I like to do that is by using one of the many spas inside the hotels. The offer here in San Cassiano and surroundings is simply impeccable; the quality of the hotels is outstanding. Relax in one the many private Spa rooms for a romantic moment while enjoying one of the many special “alpine” treatments sipping a special local herb tea or, why not, a glass of local Metodo Classico Trentino, the Italian answer to Champagne!
Choosing on where to have dinner here is like shooting at an open goal, you will most likely score!
Since we like to score in style, we headed to one of the village’s best hotels for a special meal, in one of the Alps’ best restaurant.
The Chef greets us in his “kingdom”. After a short tour of the kitchen we sat down together for an Aperitif. He explained to us the philosophy behind his cooking. He was the first one to really believe in and create “alta cucina di montagna” which refers to only using great local products to create fine dining experiences. You will not see him using truffles, Foie Gras or anything that is not regional, because for him food is culture and is also an important way to sustain the local economy. After this enlightening Aperitif in the kitchen, we headed to the dining room for a pure moment of glory. Warm hospitality, unmatchable attention to detail, simple yet beautiful environments and of course glorious dishes that make you feel like you are in the middle of the Alps. This restaurant is the perfect representation of what San Cassiano and, generally, Alta Badia is all about: making you feel special and comfortable at the same time.
The following day, sadly our last, we decided to head out for a day excursion to Cortina D ‘ Ampezzo, known as the pearl of the Dolomites. Cortina was incredibly famous in the 50’s where royalty from all over the world used to come to admire its stunning beauty, and in fact it hosted the first winter Olympics in 1956. You can tell by walking through the main avenue, Corso Italia, the historic and rich heritage as you glide from one jewellery shop to an antique store and a luxury fashion boutique. Despite the admirable city centre, outside temperature is terribly freezing so we used this as the perfect excuse to walk into Cortina’ best bar for a cup of thick hot chocolate and a rich vanilla Krapfen doughnut, the perfect move to warm your heart.
Our time is almost over and we start driving back. We could stop on the way to the beautiful wine route, but we know we would not enjoy it as much as we would in the summer. Yes indeed, the Dolomites are equally stunning, enjoyable and entertaining in the summer as they are in the winter but hold on… that deserves a separate chapter.