The dolomites: Star quality
Liz Harper enjoys a mini Michelin menu on an Italian ski break
Wednesday 23 January 2013
Alta Badia in the Italian Dolomites has long been the destination of choice for foodies, thanks to its abundance of local meat, cheese and wine. It also has three resident Michelin-star chefs (known locally as "The Dolomitci"). Fine dining on that sort of level is, of course, likely to be expensive. However, this season saw the launch of a more budget-friendly Michelin-star food experience: one you can enjoy for a reasonable price, at over 2,000m – and without having to remove your ski boots.
Six Michelin-star chefs, and a further six up-and-coming young cooks, have been asked to create their own signature "slope food" using local ingredients, to be sold in mountain refuges at between €6.20 and €12 a plate. A ski safari map provides details of the chefs, their dishes and refuge locations. The concept is simple: a gastronomy tour in the mountains. Ski, eat, ski, eat. Indigestion issues aside, does it get any better than that?
The Alta Badia region includes villages such as San Cassiano, Pedraces and Corvara, as well as La Villa, where I stayed. It's a small, attractive village, situated in a gloriously sunny valley, tucked between two national parks. The central hub in the region, with pistes running into the heart of the village, it's also linked to the Sella Ronda: a 26km circular ski loop that runs around the massif of the Sella mountain range.
But the Sella Ronda could wait. Committed to sampling as many of these mountain aperitifs as my post-Christmas salopettes would allow, I set off on day one with local guide Damiano (a nice but somewhat unnecessary luxury as the "slope food" circuit is easily self-guided).
The usual first-day-of-skiing challenges (lost gloves, forgotten goggles) created a later-than-planned arrival at the lifts. Nevertheless, we rolled up to join a queue of… Well, no one. "The Italians here take it slowly; now it's too early, later it's busier," said Damiano. It was past 10am. In Courchevel, say, by this time you'd normally have had several elbows to the kidneys and a none-too-gentle introduction to the intricacies of Continental obscenities.
While the pistes were quiet and the fresh powder was positively squeaking under our skis, the visibility was pretty poor, making it easy to convince ourselves we'd skied further than we had before stopping for our first snack. A far cry from the usual mountainside offerings, the dishes were handcrafted works of art: almost too good to eat. Almost.
My first snack was by local Arturo Spicocchi for Utia I Tablà. Pig cheek browned in Tyrolean honey on a potato and horseradish foam; a rich, tender meat with a sweet, crisp coating.
Back on the mountains, Damiano guided me to the next refuge, Piz Arlara, to try the dish created by the UK's John Burton Race: speck, south Tyrol beef and apple pastry. I'm not sure when a Cornish pasty stops being a Cornish pasty, but his twist on this British classic was delicious.
Just two lifts and three runs later we were yet again sitting at a table with food and wine in front of us: this time a vegetarian salad with flowers, fruit and herbs from young Italian Lorenzo Cogo. It's apt that the youngest of the chefs was presenting his food at Club Moritzino: with dancing and DJs, this is not the refuge for those seeking quiet contemplation.
I'd like to say that we stopped after three. Really, we should have. I'm not sure whether I'm proud or ashamed to admit that we managed to sample all six Michelin-star dishes on day one: that's a lot of stars, by anyone's reckoning.
Waking up on the second morning, still full to the gunnels, I decided to take it easy on the food and focus on another local speciality: fresh powder and clear skies. With just three black runs and not a mogul in sight, Alta Badia is not a region that attracts speed demons, and is less intimidating for newcomers to the sport than many other resorts. As an enthusiastic intermediate, I'm not sure I've skied anywhere better.
With 40 wide, meandering and pretty blue runs, the skiing is gentle, relaxing and confidence-boosting. The ratio of pistes to mountain pit-stops also means that you're never more than a few turns away from a bombardino (a local speciality of hot advocaat, brandy and cream) or a sun-kissed terrace with a breathtaking view.
There is nothing like mountain air to rejuvenate the soul, and build an appetite, so that evening we dined at the homely and somewhat rustic Maso Runch farmhouse, sampling a number of local dishes including the traditional cajincí (pasta filled with spinach and ricotta and served with sage butter). By the end of my trip, I wasn't sure I'd taken enough exercise to combat all the calories I'd taken onboard, but in Alta Badia, overindulgence goes with the territory.
Liz Harper travelled with luxury tour operator Powder Byrne (020-8246 5300; powder byrne.com), which offers tailor-made ski holidays to Alta Badia. Powder Byrne's bespoke service includes private transfers, complimentary ski guiding, resort shuttle services, restaurant booking and ski programmes for children and adults, as well as full resort concierge support.
Find out more
For more information on Alta Badia's Gourmet Ski Safari see altabadia.org.
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