The Dolomites – A Revelation
21 March 2016
Senior Marketing Manager Bee headed to the Dolomites for a weekend of fresh powder, mind-blowing scenery and delicious food…
The Dolomites has been on my wish list for a few years, so I was very excited to be heading out with my sister Hettie to San Cassiano to stay at Ciasa Salares. And, to be honest, it was a bit of a revelation… I was left thinking why on earth have I not been here before now.
So from the beginning, it’s really easy to get to. I say this through gritted teeth; because it would be easy to get to if you didn’t use an AA route planner print out. The Austrians and Italians seem to have a fairly laissez-faire approach to signposts – which essentially doesn’t work when people are actually looking for direction. So, for example, major towns and cities that were signed, a mile later are just completely missed off. But the point is that you fly to Innsbruck (2 hours from London) and then either hop in a taxi or hire car (with a proper map or Sat Nav) and it’s just a 1.5 hour transfer, all very do-able for a long weekend on the slopes.
Next, it’s beautiful. The Dolomites is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The way the Dolomite Superski is set up, is that there isn’t a main village or even resort. There isn’t a Superdry in sight like in the big resorts across the Alps; it’s just lots of authentic Italian villages linked by an enormous ski system (more on this shortly). The stunning limestone peaks, beautiful valleys, forests and quaint villages with Tyrolean churches nestled in the middle are a visual treat to explore.
And then there’s the skiing. 1,200km of slopes, 12 resorts, it just went on and on. You buy a pass that covers the entire area (around £40 a day). Our first day we did the Sellaronda – a 42km tour that links four internationally famous ski areas; Alta Badia, Val Gardena/Alpe di Siusi, Val di Fassa/Carezza and Arabba/Marmolada. We chose to take the orange route (clockwise) as it was supposed to be higher and a bit more sporty, the green route goes anticlockwise and is equally well signed and much the same distance. It took five or six hours and it was brilliant to cover such a big area, no piste map needed or endless discussion on where to go next. You just followed the orange signs a bit like a treasure hunt. I think the prizes being the life affirming hot chocolates along the way – which involve mugs being filled with steaming melted chocolate from an urn and topped with whipped cream and crumbled Amaretto biscuits (at 2.5 euros a pop you can have a few… and with a clear conscience based on the energy burnt and miles covered). The restaurants on the mountain are called rifugios, book ahead, and look forward to gourmet treats at a sniff of the price of France and Switzerland – think plates of steaming homemade spaghetti for 10 euros.
Our hotel; the charming Ciasa Salares was a heavenly base. With friendly staff and a lovely welcoming atmosphere, there are just 50 bedrooms so the whole experience is very personal. The décor is traditional Alpine and there’s a swimming pool and spa. It’s all so easy, the hire shop is just across the road and there’s a shuttle bus that runs you into the village if want to have a look around and go for a drink or, like us, you want to pick up a ski pass so you’re ready to go for first lifts. But the focus is really the stunning food. There are five restaurants to choose from. La Siriola being the one with the most hype and a Michelin star. The food is fabulous, with a big emphasis on sourcing local produce. The wines aren’t too shabby either… with a wine list famous throughout ltaly that are matched to the dishes (or simply enjoyed by the fire as you discuss the day’s events). The waiters are knowledgeable and talk you through each one – they are particularly proud of their biodynamic wines. And the chocolate room was fun as well, it added a bit of theatre with the chocolate fountain and shelves of every possible flavoured chocolate you can think of. Hettie and I particularly loved Cantina Sirola, the restaurant set down in the wine cellar with walls completely lined with thousands of bottles of wine. We were looked after by the charming Jan, who brought us glass upon delicious glass of amazing wine to wash down the equally spoiling cold meats and cheeses (from the cheese room and cold meats room that are both housed down in the cellar). It was while we were here that Matteo Metullio, Siriola’s Head Chef and the youngest Michelin star awarded chef in Italy, sent through one of his signature dishes. I really can’t do it justice but I will try to describe it. So, it was cold spaghetti cooked perfectly al dente in tomato water giving it lots of flavour and freshness heavy pasta dishes can lack. It was served around a basil mayonnaise with an amazingly bold taste and topped with prawn sushi marinated in stunning herbs and spices. We ate it with wooden cutlery and it was out of this world (my mouth is watering just thinking about it). There’s also Ristorante Salares for classic and international cuisine in the evening and then the relaxed Wine Bar Siriola (there’s an adjacent Smorting room for smoking and flirting!) and the final option, Ristorante La Terrazza, is for lunch or a snack on the sunny terrace.
So after being spoilt rotten for three days will I be returning to the Dolomites? Abso-flippin-lutely. Fantastic and incredibly extensive skiing in a stunning setting, with food to die for and all at such reasonable prices… try keeping me away.