PWk: Prod, Tlk: GS2, Datacash: Live
Quite unlike any other part of Italy, with some of the world’s most beautiful mountain sceneries, are the Dolomites. Situated in the north east Alpine region, its diverse colours provided by pale-coloured cliffs, green meadows and bright blue skies offers a unique opportunity to enjoy fresh air, relaxation and all the good things nature has to offer.
Skiing immediately comes to mind when thinking about the Italian mountains and the Dolomites in particular have been popular with the rich and famous for decades, with chic resorts such as Cortina d’Ampezzo attracting celebrities to this magical Alpine winter wonderland.
However, not solely for skiers, the Dolomites can be enjoyed all year round with a range of outdoor activities like paragliding or simply walking the many scenic routes. Spring and early summer are a joy when the alpine flora is at its best and be sure to take a cable car trip to some of the highest points to marvel at the breathtaking views. Visit the many rifugios – mountain hut retreats - which welcome walkers with food and drink and a well-earned rest. The region is also dotted with pretty towns and medieval hamlets, castles and churches.
If you visit during December, the Christmas markets are a highlight not to be missed. Selling all sorts of local handicrafts, beautiful tree decorations, local gastronomy and mulled wine, you will be spoilt for choice. Some of the best markets are in Bolzano, Merano, Trento, Vipiteno and Bressanone.
I am always amazed at how culturally different this region is especially for someone like me who comes from the south. I suppose it has a lot to do with the border of neighbouring Austria whose Germanic influences are evident in the architecture, the people, the food and even the language. Street names and signs are in both Italian and Ladino – an ancient culture who has inhabited this mountainous region for generations. They are a friendly, peaceful community who pride themselves on their age-old traditions so evident in the food they eat. Traditionally the food is more robust and calorific and dishes such as canderli – bread dumplings - sauerkraut, pancakes and barley soup can be enjoyed alongside Italian-influenced dishes like speck, a delicately smoked prosciutto, as well as dishes of polenta served perhaps with a ragu of local wild mushrooms or grilled with local cheese. Where once these dishes were seen as cucina povera (poor man’s food) they are now a gastronomic treat served in some of Italy’s finest Michelin-starred restaurants which are found all over the region with some boasting three stars.
The region grows some of the best apple varieties in Italy and that is probably why apple strudel is one of the region’s finest desserts. The wine is very good too and many varieties are not easily obtainable outside of the region as not enough are produced to export. I had the pleasure to visit2 the area around Trentino on a wine-tasting trip and sampled excellent varieties of delicate white Soave - look out for Pieropan – as well as Gewurztraminer and delightful Pinot Grigio. For a light red try the Schiava or for a more robust age-old red look out for Lagrein, which also has a rose’ version. If you like bubbly, the Trentino DOC is excellent. The local wines compliment the local food and I strongly advise you to allow your waiter to recommend suitable wines to accompany your meal with.
The area is also famous for its Grappa, a strong after-dinner digestivo which Italians like to drink to aid digestion and some also like to add a few drops into espresso for an extra kick.
Whether visiting the Dolomites to relax, enjoy the views or tackle an outdoor activity, a taste of the delicious cuisine is something all visitors can indulge in. Whether you opt for trattoria-style in a refugio or fine dining, the choice is yours.
Because of its proximity to beautiful Lake Garda you can easily combine the two destinations and enjoy mountains, lakes and perhaps a little sightseeing in the lovely city of Verona in one truly memorable holiday.