Pinch yourself; this view is real. Discover the picturesque Italian Dolomites, in a village that punches above its weight gastronomically.
Dreams don’t get much better than this. After a morning hike across wildflower-papered alpine meadows and lunch on the deck of a pictureque mountain hut, I arrive at my chalet-style hotel.
The Rosa Alpina is a five-star boutique hotel tucked away in the mountains of a pretty village named San Cassiano in the South Tyrol region of Italy. The personalised reception, impeccable service, stunning décor and Michelin-starred standard seem part and parcel of touring in this nirvana.
Checking in includes a personal greeting from the hotel’s owner and manager Hugo Pizzinini. His exceptional level of personal attention and style pervades the entire operation of the 51-suite hotel. I feel like a regular – even though is my first visit and I’m definitely not dressed in Armani.
This is the kind of place where staff remember you. When you order a drink at the bar, which inevitably comes with an array of gourmet treats, no one need ask your name or room number. Every aspect of the stay, from the spa and restaurants to in-house cinema (free films and popcorn) encourages guests to settle in, as if they are extended members of the Pizzinini family.
My lavish suite is equipped with a fireplace and furnishings that belong in a designer magazine. The balcony comes with electric shutters, the chairs have soft throws and someone has thoughtfully placed a decadent box of chocolate in plain view.
But remaining cosseted inside would be a crime; I am surrounded by the breathtaking scenery of the Dolomites after all. The matching complimentary rucksacks and caps in our suite leave no doubt that exploring the magnificent outdoors is a must. And the Rosa Alpina offers a boatload of options to explore this UNESCO world heritage site.
Whatever your passion – cycling mountain passes, careening down a ski slope, hiking on trails that leave you humming “Edelweiss” or simply enjoying breathtaking Tyrolean scenery – Alta Badia has it covered. The locals also run activities to appease tourists through summer and winter. Many involve delicious food and drink. The outdoor pursuits cater to every level of fitness and interest, from wine tasting in the mountains to outdoor cooking classes.
But if you came to the Dolomites for a health and fitness kick be warned, the food is on equal footing to the breathtaking environment. Despite its location at 1,500 metres above sea level, the village of San Cassiano serves up Michelin-starred cuisine and boasts wine cellars most Sydney restaurants would be envious of.
Even if your tastes and wallet err on the simpler side, food options in the villages are spectacular no matter the price point. You can’t really go wrong by popping into the delicious bakeries and casual trattorias for a snack.
During lunch at the mountainside Bioch hut, I ask the lederhosen-clad owner Markus Valentini how this town has turned into such a gastronomic paradise. The unassuming Valentini is a poster boy for Alta Badia’s gourmet evolution. His mountain refuge, which started as a tiny, nondescript family hut, is now a gourmet haven with five chefs, featuring Michelin starred cuisine and a 31-page wine list. He thoughtfully considers my His mountain refuge, which started as a tiny, nondescript family hut, is now a gourmet haven with five chefs, Michelin starred dishes and a 31-page wine list.
“Well, we worked out that we can’t always sell polenta, sausages and French fries to guests who are staying in five-star accommodation,” he suggests.
Perhaps there is something in the air or the enrosadira, a spectacular phenomenon that turns the Dolomites into a shade of red at sunset.
I am still entranced by combination of visual and edible glories in this lovely little valley as I enjoy a sumptuous breakfast spread in the hotel, trying to delay the inevitable moment when I have to wake up from this dream and leave this enchanted place.
Driving up the curvy Gardena Pass on the way out of the Alps, Alta Badia is still shimmering in a dreamlike state. I vow to return. In the meantime, at least I have an apple strudel to enjoy.
Alta Badia, in the southern Alps, is a few hours drive from the cities of Innsbruck in Austria; and Verona and Venice in Italy. Hiring a car is a must and you can do so with a valid Australian licence (no need for an international one).
Rosa Alpina Hotel and Spa, San Cassiano, Italy
Rooms from 519 Euros, AUD 866