Famous for its fantastic ski runs, the Dolomites may not be the first place that comes to mind for a foodie getaway however, this rugged, dramatic landscape is the backdrop to some of the finest Italian cuisine. I took an out of season trip to this beautiful corner of Italy and took a culinary journey up the mountains.
I checked into the luxurious Lefay Resort and Spa, a modern, mountain hideaway located in Pinzolo This oasis of calm is the perfect base to explore this gastronomic region, rich in tasty, unique dishes.
This expansive mountain range is dotted with restaurants. After a morning hiking up to Vallesinella in the Madonna de Campiglio region, I was ravenous and ready for lunch. Hugging the side of the mountains is Chalet Fogajard, an alpine lodge straight out of Heidi. This beautiful rustic retreat offers spectacular views of the Brenta Dolomites and is the perfect location for lunch. As the afternoon sun sneaks through the rugged rocks and clouds, I enjoy a well-earned, cold glass of Nosiola and soak up this outstanding location. The charismatic owner, Eduardo greets me and swiftly seats me opposite the fire in a snug nook of this charming restaurant. All the menu uses local in season produce. It’s simplistic, fresh but the finish and presentation of all the dishes makes it feel that bit more special than your run of the mill Italian mountain hut.
Starter was a flan of ricotta cheese with fondue and cannelloni served with cabbage and beef Carne Salada – a classic Garde Trentino dish bursting with flavour. Now this is a bold statement, but I stand by what I say, the lasagne here is by far the most delicious I have ever tried. Unlike traditional lasagne this had no meat and was instead made with four simple local ingredients – homemade pasta, radicchio, butter and casolét, an Italian cheese produced in the mountains and valleys of Trentino-Alto Adige. This Italian staple was delicate yet rich in flavour. Desert was a light, fluffy chocolate mousse served with homemade biscuit followed by a selection of liqueurs made by Eduardo’s wife, using herbs and plants foraged from the local hills. Be warned, these fragrant sips pack a punch.
Back in Pinzolo, I head to Alimentari Caola, an Aladin’s cave of tasty morsels. Owner Antonio lives and breathes his business. This 100-year-old delicatessen has been in the family for three generations and stocks some of the best produce from the surrounding area. His passion for all things local is reflected in this modest two floor store that houses over 350 local wines, 167 types of Grappa (17 of which are from the region) as well as some of the finest cheeses including some produced by his son. Downstairs Antonio has created a space to sample these delectable wares. I got to try the delicious creamy Fiori, Crozzon and Malga cheeses as well as rich, juicy hams from the region. Nibbles of local bread and Carne Salada are served with oils from Lake Garda. This is accompanied by a glass (or two) of Ferrari Rose, a dry and delicate sparkling wine. Alimentari Caola is more than a delicatessen, it’s a hidden gem, a place you must go if you want to buy some authentic Italian produce. Pick up some amazing chocolate and wine or Italian oil and cheese while tapping into Antonio’s knowledge of all things local.
I conclude my stay with a gastronomic treat back at Lefay Resort. There are so many great places to eat in the region but the hotel’s fine dining restaurant, Grual, offers a unique, culinary experience that’s a real tribute to the Dolomites. Executive chef, Matteo Maenza, has designed an eight-course ‘altimetric’ tasting menu that reflects the territory and a specific altitude. The menu highlights the natural characteristics of the three mountain ranges, starting from the valley floor with ingredients such as red turnips and white fish, then moving up to alpine pastures with wild herbs, apple and brown trout then finally reaching the high mountains with char, deer, and roe deer. The menu is 100% seasonal and Maenza often takes mountain walks with his sous chef for inspiration. Every course was paired with an excellent wine and beautifully presented. I adored the Spaghetti Monograno Felicetti with smoked mountain butter, cornelian, and deer. The Arctic char, Trentino bread purée with wild broccoli was to die for but the pièce de resistance was desert which consisted of Caramel Tarte Tatin, puff pastry ice cream and almond chips as well as a final course of walnut emulsion, chocolate mousse, blackberry compote and mountain pepper ice cream. I finished the evening with a bespoke herbal tea made from herbs locally foraged. I was truly spent, while each course was modest in size by the time I finished my eighth I was full up.
Lefay Resort is a great location to explore this gastronomic region and experience a fusion of Italian and Alpine cooking.
A stay at Lefay Resort & Spa Dolomiti costs from 350 Euros per room, per night including breakfast and taxes.