If you were to mention the country of Italy to me, my immediate thoughts would typically turn to traversing the streets of Rome on scorching hot August days, in search of good food and wine. So, when I was invited to spend some time exploring the colder and higher plateaus of the South Tyrol Dolomites, I was intrigued. I’d never been skiing in Italy before, but the promise of great snow, great wine and great food sounded like a winning combination to me.
Quick geography lesson (admittedly I needed one too); South Tyrol is located on the Italian-Austrian border about three hours north of Verona. It is a region unique for both it’s cuisine and dialect; despite being in Italy there is a strong Germanic influence and more than half of the permanent inhabitants actually have German as a mother tongue. So, alongside typical dishes of Ravioli and Neapolitana Sauce, you will easily find generous portions of Käseknödel and Sauerkraut, all while the locals effortlessly switch back and forth between Austrian and Italian dialects.
Our stay for the trip was at the magnificent Hotel Hubertus, which is perched on the edge of a mountain overlooking the valley of Rio Molino, in South Tyrol, below. Making full use of this panoramic masterpiece, the star attraction at Hotel Hubertus is the Sky Pool. Jutting out over the steep-sided cliffs into the valley below, it appears imposing when viewed from below, yet effortlessly blends into the mountainside from most other angles. Needless to say, I spent both of my early mornings warming up in the pool, or relaxing in my en-suite bath, taking in those those postcard-perfect panoramic views.
With the trip being fairly short, we made a point of getting up on the mountains early each morning in order to maximise our time on the slopes. Day one saw us take a short drive through South Tyrol to nearby Alta Badia for a “Sommelier on the Slopes” experience. After picking up our skis, we headed up the mountainside and eased ourselves in with a couple of blue runs (having not skied in a year this was the sensible thing to do). Within a couple of hours we had completed several runs and, before we knew it, we had stopped for lunch ahead of our Sommelier on the Slopes experience.
A quick word on the lunch; it was absolutely incredible! Kicking off proceedings with the obligatory “Hugo” cocktail- consisting of prosecco, elderflower and mint- we moved to a smorgasbord of dumplings, raviolis and meats. The marriage between Germanic and Italian food is a match made in heaven and we felt properly fuelled up for the afternoon ahead. All while admiring the imposing backdrop of the South Tyrol Dolomites from a very cool swing.
Skiing off with full bellies, we then rendezvoused with our effortlessly cool sommelier, and my new hero, who was mid-way into the first wine tasting. Full of charisma but with the look of a charming Bond villain, we took in his every word as he explained the local wines to us at each stop. I did half-expect him to produce Ernst Blofeld’s cat at any point but this didn’t happen. Instead, he would simply ski off to the next hut in his tuxedo and mirrored shades (yes, he seriously did this) and miraculously be pouring the next round before we had caught up.
That evening was spent back at the hotel, once again over a generous selection of foods and wines. I opted for Hotel Hubertus‘ traditional menu each night, which did not disappoint. Served over several courses, each dish was bursting with flavour and it was great to sample such a wide selection of local dishes. Post-food, and completely exhausted from a day on the slopes, we just had enough time left for a quick sample of some homemade Grappa from the in-house bar.
Our second, and final full day started off at a more leisurely pace. As we were not due on the slopes of nearby Kronplatz until 9.30am, it gave us enough time for few laps in the heated Sky Pool before breakfast (and the opportunity to grab that all important shot). By 10am, we had a new set of skis and were 2000 metres into the unbelievably blue sky. Not a cloud in sight, and yet again the perfect conditions for skiing. After checking out the mirrored exterior of the Messner Mountain Museen via a couple of blue runs, it was once again time to stop for lunch which, as it included a mountainous portion of steak, was probably even better than the day before.
The afternoon saw us return back to Hotel Hubertus to check out the wellness facilities on-site. There were several saunas to sit in, each of the which had incredible panoramic windows with views that stretched out over the valley below. This, we found out, was also a really good way to detract from the compulsory nudity laws enforced by a very insistent German guest who was staying at the hotel too. If you prefer modesty, I’d recommend opting for the smaller “Textile Sauna” which seemed to be a bit more relaxed. Back inside the hotel, there were plenty more pools and beds on which to relax and clothing was compulsory in these areas, much to our delight.
Our final evening saw us once again sample the traditional menus and tackle the rest of the extensive wine list. I had one final glass of the much sought-after local South Tyrol Pinot Nero before heading to the bar with the group for a nightcap of rum. Exhausting all that was left of my German in one of the most difficult conversations I have ever had, it was then time for bed. The next day would involve an early drive back to Verona airport and, while I didn’t want to leave this incredible location, the promise of a Club Europe flight back to the UK did sweeten that sour taste a little. Well, maybe that was just the rum.