Located where Italy fades into Austria and Switzerland, Italy’s ski valleys have a layered history that today is often best expressed in their food.
In the past, for decades at a time, these secluded valleys remained insulated from other cultures—even those just one mountain away. But as the World Wars changed boundary lines of many European countries, areas that were once Austria because Italian overnight.
In rifugi, the alpine lodges that dot the slopes and ski villages offering food and lodging to visitors, northern Italian favorites like polenta mingle with Austrian spatzle and bratwurst-like sausages. You’ll find seemingly typically Italian pastas, like spinach ravioli cooked in sage butter, toting Germanic names (schlutzkrapfen).
Originally, these lodges served hikers crossing over the mountains in the summer months, serving simple food included in the cost of a night’s stay. But as technology advanced and the Alps and Dolomites became predominantly ski destinations, the cuisine changed to echo the well-heeled visitors.
Today, the mountains have enough Michelin stars to make most major cities blush. You’re just as likely to indulge in peacock ravioli with pioppini mushrooms and goose liver with roasted pumpkin, mugo pine meringue, liver terrine and candied kumquats as a simple plate of mountain cheese and cured speck.
Food and the rifugi themselves typically center around a well-tended wood stove or grill, so sausages, filling steaks, and even wild venison, feature heavily in the evening menus. And, as you’d expect with the chilly weather, soups play an integral part in the local cuisine, especially hearty beef stews reminiscent of the goulash of the Austrio-Hungarian.
My favorite picks are Baita (a local name for rifugi) Fraina and Da Aurelio.