It is day 6 of our tour of Northeast Italy, which we have now officially dubbed – ‘Never Eat on an Empty Stomach Tour’. It is time to move on. Out of Friuli, through Austria and Alto Adige, to Trentino and some hiking in the Dolomites. Three incredible days in Timau at Albergo Matiz da Otto will be hard to top. We leave Italy and enter Austria through the Plocken Pass. We drive through the beautiful Tyrol Valley in Austria hoping to come across a nice bakery for classic Austrian pastries and hopefully a restaurant that serves Wurst for lunch. As luck would have it, we found neither. We stop in Sillian on the Eastern edge of the Tyrol Valley for lunch. The Italian cuisine over the past six days has been great, but I am actually looking forward to some Austrian-German style cuisine for a change of pace.
The Gasthof Sillianer Wirt does not disappoint. The dishes are real Austro-German meat & potato comfort food that we enjoy thoroughly. Schnitzel & fries, spatzle – pork stew(hunters Stew), and potato, ham & egg combo. A couple of Steiger beers some apple streudel and we officially & joyfully have overdone another meal on this trip. Our first order of business will be to find a coffee shop. We will need triple espressos to keep us alert on the mountain roads ahead. It is an overcast day and the Dolomites are in the clouds as we cross back into Italy in the Alto Adige. Despite the caffeine jolt, lunch has been lulling me to sleep even with the treacherous roadways. It is the 4th week of June and it snowed here last night. A snowball fight on the pass and we are awake again, and maybe even getting hungry as we descend into Canazei.
Canazei is a picturesque Italian Alpine village in Trentino in the Val Di Fassa. In the winter it is a ski resort, and summer a base station for hiking Marmolada – the highest mountain in the Dolomites. Because of the recent snow, our plans are foiled and we will need to come up with a new plan. In the meantime, we are in Italy and there are many culinary treasures to discover. We check into Hotel Soreghina, where the owner recognizes my brother and again we are given the VIP treatment. With the hiking shut down, the hotel is somewhat empty, we have the place to ourselves. We enjoy a nice dinner – Risotto Primavera. A couple rounds of various grappas and we are back on track with a new plan for an alternate hiking route just west of Canazei. I have done many hikes – but the Italians have it right. First, no slogging up the base hills around the mountain to get to the good parts. They take a ski lift or cable car up to the scenic trails – then they hike.
Next, along the trails they have Refugios. A Refugio, meaning refuge in English, is an alpine lodge where you can stop and get a meal or a room for the night. In fact, you can plan your hike to go from Refugio to Refugio for as far as you like. The best part is the food at the Refugio’s is incredible – unlike the PB&J’s and ham sandwiches I had at the base camp of the Grand Canyon. The best meal on the entire trip was at Refugio Vajolet – 2500 meters in altitude. The supplies and personnel are trucked up death defying roads and sometimes via helicopter. I peeked into the kitchen and saw 7-8 chefs working around multiple enormous steaming pots, presumably for the polenta. I ordered the polenta with wild mushrooms and gorgonzola, a very simple meal. The combination of incredibly fresh ingredients, perfect preparation and a Paul Bunyan sized appetite made this the best meal of the trip. The rest of our entourage agreed – their meals were great. This is the only way to hike. The best part is calorically, we burned more than we consumed – win win.
Two foods I discovered in Trentino are Speck and Grana Trentino. Speck is similar to prosciutto – however it is lightly smoked. It is used in many of the local dishes – with pastas, sauces, sautéed with vegetables. We mainly ate it with the breakfast served at the hotel, sliced thinly– we couldn’t get enough. We also stopped at a place where they made Grana Trentino. Every region of Italy has its own aged cheese they use for grating – mainly Parmesan, Pecorino Romano and Grana. Grana has been produced for 1000 years and is made from cow’s milk. Gran Trentino has been granted its own D.O.P. (protected designation of origin). There is nothing like tasting this cheese where it is produced. It has a milder taste than parmesan, less sharp & grainy. I can’t pass it up and I buy a large wedge to bring home. Val Di Fassa is also known for the honey produced here.
We have one more night in Canazei, and another nice meal at Hotel Soreghina. This stop in Val di Fassa has been interesting. Our culinary exploration was geared more for the foods of our family heritage in Friuli, but the food from Trentino is interesting and worth some more investigation. Our trip is winding down and we have one last stop before we go – Venice.