Alta Badia: Stars of the Slopes

Alta Badia
Alta Badia

 In a little valley in the Italian Dolomites, you can ski pristine slopes and dine on Michelin Star meals.

Hunger is a great sauce and there’s nothing quite like a day on the slopes to work up an appetite. In the North Italian ski resort of Alta Badia, guests can sate that appetite with haute cuisine that’s a cut above most high-altitude fare. In recent years, many a visitor wondered how a valley with less than 6,000 inhabitants became home to three Michelin starred chefs. The answer lies in the equally stellar surrounding scenery and, come winter, the sprawling slopes on its doorstep.

The self-contained Alta Badia ski region – all wide, well-groomed pistes, modern, comfortable lifts and breathtaking vistas – is an El Dorado for beginners, cruisers and carvers. Beyond the jagged peaks of the Sella massif lies the interconnected, larger Dolomiti Superski extravaganza with its 450 lifts, 1,200 kilometres of slopes and the famous Sellaronda ski circuit. Here, skiers of all abilities will find the perfect slopes to savour, from meandering blue and red runs to black pistes and freeride adventures.
The Gourmet Ski Safari sees Michelin starred chefs serve up slope side snacks at six alpine huts, inviting skiers to swing from one course to the next,
taking brief degustation stops between runs.
For centuries, Alta Badia and its neighbouring valleys were home to isolated communities, making do with what nature offered and braving long, hard winters. What once made for a life of hardship, now provides ideal conditions for a winter break, attracting visitors for more than just a skiing holiday. Alta Badia has long been known for wholesome, hearty mountain fare served at over 1,500 metres, but gourmet acclaim reached new heady heights with the arrival of the first Michelin star.
In this small pocket of South Tyrol, three cultures – Austrian, Italian and Ladin (an ancient culture unique to the Dolomites) – meet, each bringing with it a distinct culinary tradition. Three world-class restaurants, totalling four Michelin stars, located less than 10 kilometres apart within Alta Badia, all honour those traditions in different ways. At St. Hubertus at Rosa Alpina Hotel & Spa in San Cassiano, executive chef Norbert Niederkofler leads the way with his Mountain Menu, inspired by and prepared with ingredients from the region.
The menu reads like a polyglot symphony, featuring duck liver, escargots and caviar, but also pücia (a home-baked flatbread specialty), graukäse (low-fat sour milk cheese) and marzuoli (rare early-season mushrooms). Ninety per cent of ingredients come from the region. Niederkofler, who cut his teeth in the kitchen of his parents’ hotel less than an hour north of his current workplace then set out to work with some of the world’s best chefs between Munich and New York before returning to South Tyrol, would like to raise that number to 100 per cent. He buys whole animals, rather than cuts of meat, sources his vegetables from a local farmer and uses traditional methods of preservation to tide his pantry over the winter season.
Down the road Matteo Metullio, a former Niederkofler protégé, takes the locavore philosophy in a new, more experimental direction. La Siriola at Hotel Ciasa Salares has a contemporary edge and the food follows suit, with each menu named after an endemic tree and dishes served on a slab of that tree’s wood. Local ingredients, including those supplied by a resident forager, are essential to the arrangements, but Italy’s youngest Michelin starred chef marries South Tyrolean staples with international influences. The cosmopolitan bent is most noticeable in the restaurant’s chocolate room and wine cellar, both well stocked with delicacies from all four corners of the earth.
At the other end of the valley, Arturo Spicocchi serves up decidedly more traditional fare in a suitably rustic dining room at La Stüa de Michil, but don’t let the homely appearance fool you. Most dishes contain a mere handful of ingredients, but the result is a lot more than elegantly executed meat and two veg. With a storeroom filled with organic heirloom vegetables and a culinary sensibility informed by his central Italian roots, Spicocchi teases intense flavour out of seemingly humble ingredients.
You might think that three Michelin-starred chefs are quite enough for one ski resort, but come winter, they are joined by a host of fine dining colleagues for several stellar gourmet events.
A Taste For Skiing kicks off the season on December 14, two weeks after ski lifts open for business. The Gourmet Ski Safari sees Michelin starred chefs serve up slope side snacks at six alpine huts, inviting skiers to swing from one course to the next, taking brief degustation stops between runs.
Participating chefs from all over the world are encouraged to use local ingredients and take inspiration from regional recipes. With the creators on hand to explain their dishes, this is a unique opportunity to meet some of the biggest names in fine dining and sample their work – all while pounding the powder and working up that all-important appetite.
From January 18 to 23, a different set of chefs don’t just cook together, but also battle it out on the slopes at the Chef’s Cup, a week of tastings, cooking demonstrations and courses, as well as the eponymous cup, a ski race between the participating chefs. Throughout the season, slope-loving foodies are kept entertained with various other gourmet events, on and off the slopes, and of course by the offerings of the local restaurants.
Whether you’re a gourmand who enjoys skiing, or a skier who loves good food, Alta Badia will appease your hunger for perfect powder and delicious dining, all in one small valley.

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