While Italians may be well aware of the beauty of this Northern region, foreigners will be pleasantly surprised by the charm surrounding the extreme altitude of the Trentino Dolomites. While mountain-lovers will be attracted by its hiking paths and marvellous forests available to many during summer, Trentino Alto Adige’s true magic comes out during the winter, when snow falls upon treetops and surrounds the region’s fairytale-like castles. But while the region is loved by skiers and sports fanatics alike, it is also home to some of the best spas and restaurants in Italy.
We start our journey in Ortisei in Val Gardena, a very particular village, as its architecture has remained intact since it was initially built. We suggest walking around the centre, which is dotted by typical gothic baroque-style houses that immediately and warmly welcome you in their inner cosiness and elegance. From there you can visit the church of St. Jacob, which can be reached on foot by walking upwards through a short hike called Col de Flam, starting right from the centre of the village. Once you get to the little church, you’ll be able to see the valley and the village from above, you’ll feel overwhelmed by peace and relax. And of course the church is also beautiful to visit inside as it is full of gothic-style frescoes, a very hidden gem.
For lunch, we suggest driving and following directions towards Baita Costamula. This mountain hut is located on a ski slope, but it’s also easily reachable by car through a ski track located in the middle of the forest. The hut is known for its delicious menus, and it is an old farmhouse which was renovated, however, it has kept its original structure intact.
In the afternoon, one can return to Ortisei (this year there are no markets - usually the particularity of these villages lies in their many local arts and crafts stands). Alternatively, you can visit the medieval Castle of Stetteneck. The castle was built in 1300 and it is located just behind a mountain; if you are lucky enough to have a snowy winter, it will be a great sight for the eyes, as it’ll look almost fairy-tale-like, with its snowy surroundings. On our way back, why not indulge in a nice, hearty snack? We suggest paying a visit to Caffè del Corso, where one can enjoy great cakes and hot chocolate. Owned by the Senoner family, the Caffè has been open since the early 50s, and specializes in sweet treats.
For dinner, we suggest dining at Chalet Gerard, a design restaurant with a view of the massif of the long pass (the eponymous mountain of Val Gardena). The restaurant is known for its very good meat-based dishes and a wide choice of wines. We suggest trying Lagrain, the typical wine of Alto Adige. Gerard, the owner, pays his visit to the restaurant and, if you have the chance, he will show you the different and figurative engravings in the mountains while telling you the secrets of the valley.
We start our second day preparing for the Sella Ronda, also known as the Four Steps on Skis. Get ready to have one of the most amazing ski days of your life as you’ll pass through many different landscapes feeling so small yet being at one with these millennial mountains. A kind notice: an average skier can do them all in a day, and it is suggested they should approximately start their journey at 9am to be able to fully enjoy it. You’ll be finished in the afternoon even considering the lunch breaks, coffee and bombardino (the famous drink made with zabaione and brandy) breaks ready to chill at the apres-ski.
However every skier must have a proper breakfast before embarking on this journey and this is why we suggest paying a visit to Pasticceria Costa. Their cream-filled krapfens will give you a boost before you start the Four Steps Tour. Starting from Val Gardena, our first stop is Passo Sella, which divides Val Gardena from Val Di Fassa. Skiing around Passo Sella, we take a quick coffee break at Rifugio Fienile Monte where bombardino is a must. But also keep in mind that Rifugio Fienile Monte is known for its meat-based menu and its marvellous wine cellar. Continuing our journey, we ski in Val di Fassa and we approach Canazei - Passo Pordoi - and descend to Arabba (which is located in Veneto) and from there we approach the second step - Passo Campolongo. Passo Campolongo leads us to Corvara in Val Badia. In Val Badia, you can stop at Rifugio Capanna Nera for a quick merenda with home-made cakes. Finally, to get back to Val Gardena, one can ski through the Passo Gardena. We suggest you enjoy the beauty of the Dolomites and the tender freedom they give you while skiing, especially on slopes like Saslong and Gran Risa - well-known all around the world for the ski championships - Ciampac, Santa Croce and Passo San Pellegrino. Here along the slopes you’ll find authentic and tiny malghe, i.e. hut, like Saraghes or beautiful family-run rifugi, i.e. restaurants, like Val d’Anna or Edelweiss. Beyond Moritzino and Las Vegas, famous for their fashionable apres-ski, or Comici, famous for its fresh fish even if it sounds like a paradox, we suggest stopping by the restaurant on top of the Dantercepis cable way to enjoy the breath-taking view. If you wait till the sunset you’ll notice how the Dolomites turn pinkish. And this, reflecting the snow, is pure magic.
For dinner, we suggest going to Baita Ciadinat, which is located on the slopes but one can get there by snowmobile or snowcat. It is a very cosy and romantic ancient chalet, dating back to 1500, which has been modernized, although the structure has remained authentic. Characterized by a warm and familiar environment, the owners produce everything locally and serve dishes with the produce cultivated around the hut. Baita Ciadinat overlooks the group of mountains one has skied around during the day.
Val Gardena is also known for sledge rides with huskies. The place that organizes the rides is called Vallunga - and you can choose if you want to have a ride that lasts for half an hour or an hour. The sledge ride is very beautiful as Vallunga is a very flat valley with no houses and no ski lifts, located in the middle of the woods. And while in summer there is a small road that can turn into a bike path, in winter it's beautiful because it's snowy and magical. If you’re bound to stay in Val Gardena, then we suggest paying a visit to Gostner Schwaige, a great place to be whatever the season, whatever the weather and whatever the time of day. It is a special place, with its ample meadows, woodlands, mountain trails and summit paths. High quality ingredients, naturally self-produced, and creative inspiration from the surrounding meadows constitute the base for the hut’s outstanding food. Stand out dishes include the “Kaiserschmarren”(shredded sweet pancakes with raisins) and the well-known “Heublütensuppe”(Soup made of hay, flowers and herbs), served in a bread crock and prepared from 15 different herbs is an absolute hit in the frosty months.
Or, why not take a long picturesque walk to a mountain hut? We suggest renting snowshoes. One can either park the car at Passo Sella and then take an hour and a half walk to Rifugio Freiderich. The refuge rises under the Trentino side of the Sassolungo Group and offers typical dishes with a zesty touch of modernity. Many dishes also include ingredients from their organic farms in Highlander, the largest in Italy. A must see of Val Badia is the Chiesa di Santa Croce, which hails back to the late 13th century. There are many stories attributed to the origins of the Church of Santa Croce: the most accredited one goes back to the legend of Count Volkhold della Pusteria. It is said that, after returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the count decided to donate all his possessions to the Benedictine nuns of Castel Badia to retire as a hermit and spend the last years of his life at the foot of Mount S. Croce. Here he built a small chapel, on an ancient pagan place of worship, where it seems there had been before only a wooden crucifix. Religious processions are still happening to this day, and it has become a place cherished and loved by pilgrims and hikers alike.
Lastly, for dinner, one can stay at La Perla di Corvara. Framed by the magnificence of the Dolomites, La Perla epitomises the romanticism of the Ladin style. It literally looks like a chalet out of a storybook fable. And of course, it will be the perfect place to switch off after a long walk out in the snow, as it is also home to a Turkish bath and sauna.
Last but not least, we end our adventure in Trentino Alto Adige with a helicopter ride starting from Passo Gardena. One must wake up early for the helicopter ride, as the magic of it lies in the fact that it is at sunrise, but it’ll be worth it as you’ll be able to witness the dolomites turning pink in the early morning. You can book your ride on Elicos.com. Helicopters are for seven people and usually cost 120 euros per person.
The ride leaves you at the Seceda slopes, and there you are ready to have breakfast at Chalet Sofie, a beautiful mountain hut with a huge glass window overlooking the Dolomites. You can then return to Gardena by skiing down the slopes.
In the afternoon, one can either visit Maso Runch, a family-run typical Ladin rural home where you can stay the night and taste local dishes or go horseback riding at Maneggio Manigoni, of course depending on the season. In the alternative, during winter time, we also recommend another beautiful walk with snowshoes. One can park their car at Passo Gardena and then walk upwards to Rifugio Jimmi. Guests of this beloved refuge are pampered by the owners, and offered hearty traditional dishes of the South Tyrolean cuisine and truly authentic hospitality.
To end the trip on a high note, we suggest having dinner at Norbert Niederkofler’s restaurant at Rosa Alpina. Restaurant St. Hubertus has earned three Michelin stars celebrating Niederkofler’s ‘Cook the Mountain’ philosophy. The chef is known for using only local and seasonal ingredients, to present his world-renown plates that reflect the beauty and vivid character of the mountains.