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Winter Wonderland – your Italian journey (part 1)

by Filippo di Lenardo, 5 December 2016

Winter Wonderland – a food lover’s fairy tale in the Italian Dolomites

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What makes the Dolomites so special and different from all the other Alps in Europe?

Whether you are on a family vacation, romantic getaway, celebrating a special occasion or your are looking for adventure, the easy answer would be the Dolomites’ striking beauty, their exciting year-round activities and their marvellous food culture which attract discerning travellers from across the world.

b1cortinaThe scenery is so gorgeous here that they have been awarded as a UNESCO world heritage site. Located between the regions of Veneto, Friuli and Trentino, these mountains hold incredible history and heritage both from a naturalistic and historic prospective. No more than a two hour drive from Venice and you reach this wonderful paradise. Charming ski resorts such as Cortina, San Cassiano and Corvara represent Italian hospitality at its best: stunning hotels, a fantastic sense of hospitality, exciting activities for friends, families and romantic getaway and of course it offer a plethora of delicious gastronomic treasures. The food offering is what for me makes this destinations so special!

Over the next few weeks I will be telling you all about the amazing experiences you can enjoy in this fascinating region but for now let me delight your senses by telling you all about the stunning local cuisine! Here, gastronomy has always played a fundamental role in “winter entertainment” with a mix of Austrian and northern Italian culture. However, over the last 5 to 10 years a concentration of talented chefs have invaded this region, making it a magnet for any true foodie.

hot-chocolateIn this episode, I would like to talk to you about the charming town of Cortina and its “gastronomic scene”. Known as the most historic and exclusive of all winter destinations in Italy, this town boasts an interesting selection of quality options for one to truly indulge and let go. Kick off your morning with a luscious thick hot chocolate paired with a delicious local “pastine” in the heart of the town at Caffe Embassy and your day will definitely begin on a high note. After a couple of hours skiing on the glorious pists, why not stop for a lovely lunch in my favourite Rifugio where Sandrone will delight you with his hearty dishes including Casunziei, ravioli filled with beetroot served over melted butter poppy seeds and tons of cheese. Or perhaps an impeccable creamy polenta with fresh herbs and slow cooked deer spezzatino stew, served with crunchy Ampezzana potatoes with pancetta and onion. I always recommend to ski until 2 and then sit down for a lunch as it will be a challenge to stand up and make your way down to the lift after such an Alpine feast!

briteA couple of hours later and after a few après ski drinks, you are ready for dinner again! This time you will be dining in the equivalent of a mountain agriturismo where a talented chef combines traditional home cooking with modern techniques that he learned in the Michelin star restaurants he previously worked in. His dishes are simply to die for and in particular the dairy based creations are out of this world, as the agriturismo also produces their own delicious cheese. The setting is charming and romantic with a warmth given by the woody interiors and red tablecloths, making it the ideal place to spend a cosy evening with your other half. To welcome you, freshly whipped butter is served with warm home baked black bread. A heavenly sensation, probably an equivalent to the feeling of wearing for the first time the softest of cashmere scarfs… a very special moment indeed. When you thought things could not get any better, you get these velvety gnocchi with a creamy cheese and truffle fondue on top. What is so impressive about this dish is that despite being a rather rich dish, as you can imagine, the texture of the gnocchi is simply majestic. They are so persistent, yet delicate and refined, that they almost disappear in your mouth, leaving you with the desire to indulge in the next Gnocchi… truly addictive! Of course all this delicious food needs to be paired with a great wine. The local grape, Pinot Bianco  shines with cheese based dishes thanks to its rich texture and refreshing acidity. For dessert, it’s a must to try the apple pie (very similar to strudel) served with copious amounts of freshly made Mascarpone style cream and warm raspberry sauce. By now, your taste buds have been attacked by an unforgettable storm of flavours that quite frankly make it impossible to add any other remarks. Finally, a shot of locally crafted mixed berry Grappa is all you need to prepare you for the perfect night sleep and for your next day’s adventure!