A March 2004 trip
to Dolomites by lcampbell
Quote: A journal highlighting the joys of skiing hard during the day, getting pampered at night, and meeting new friends
Ladin comes from a combination of ancient Rhaetian and Latin that developed after the Roman conquest of the area. About 30,000 people still speak the language, and numerous organizations work to preserve the minority Ladin culture. Ladinos were traditionally farmers and artisans, but now also work heavily in tourism.
I stayed in the Alta Badia area of the Dolomites, where all signs were posted in German, Ladin, and Italian and children are taught Ladin in school. The people in Alta Badia are proud of their culture, and will be happy to tell you all about it. They consider themselves Ladinos and Alta Badians first before anything else. A highlight of the trip for me was meeting some of these interesting people.
Besides phenomenal skiing, another highlight was the South Tyrol Museum of Anthropology in Bolzano – a must-see!
I highly recommend that you hire a ski guide, at least for the first day in Alta Badia. While this is not a common practice in the US, it is typical to do so in Europe. The area is so huge, with so many opportunities to ski village to village, that a guide can get you started and give good recommendations on the best places to ski and eat. See my separate entry in this journal for information on ski passes for the area.
Both the Sudtirol Tourist Board and the Alta Badia Tourist Board websites can give you any and all information that you might need for your trip.
Lack of Americans
One thing I really enjoyed about skiing in Alta Badia/Dolomites is that it hasn’t yet been really discovered by Americans. So if you are seeking to escape the American monotony, this is the perfect place to go.
From Bolzano you can get to Alta Badia by taking the train to Brunico, and then traveling by bus from there. Here is the bus schedule. But for maximum flexibility and to save some hassles, it might be better to rent a car in Bolzano. It can be used for exploring the countryside at will and heading to neighboring villages for late-night dinners instead of being restricted to taking an expensive cab ride or eating only within walking distance of your hotel. It might help you to explore some more distant ski slopes as well, as ski shuttles may or may not be available when you want them.
The Hotel Rosa Alpina is a deluxe accommodation, with the highest quality of service given to every customer. For this reason, the hotel is part of the exclusive Relais & Chateaux Hotel Association. Only hotels with the strictest standards of guest care are invited to be part of this group. Rosa Alpina also has a Michelin Star recognition. But what I really liked about Rosa Alpina is that despite all of these grandiose titles, it is still a family business with a rich community history.
Rosa Alpina started in 1850 as a parish priest house that the parishioners ran as a small restaurant and inn. San Cassiano town, where Rosa Alpina is located, was important in both World War I and World War II. Rosa Alpina served as a meeting place for soldiers and officers and it was a center for social events. Engelbert Pizzinini purchased the hotel and land in 1940, and his family has run it ever since. I was greeted by Hugo Pizzinini upon arrival.
Rosa Alpina has a really special way of being both rustic and elegant at the same time. Rich decoration on a backdrop of beautiful raw wood makes for an interesting contrast. A fire burns in the fireplace surrounded by comfortable chairs on the main floor, while the basement holds a modern pool, hot tub, sauna, and steam room, as well as the luxurious Daniela Steiner Spa. The rooms are of knotty pine and feel like home, but a trendy bar downstairs has supermodel-types hanging out in it and is definitely a hot spot of Alta Badia. A world-class chef prepares exquisite food, but only after visiting each table to find out what the guests would like to eat and tailors the meal to their liking. But by making simple local dishes, including a variety of local game, the meal is more down-to-earth than snooty.
The price of this divine hotel experience? You don’t want to know. But if you can afford to stay here, whether in winter or summer – you will be happy that you did. For more information, see the website.
Footnote: The Daniela Steiner Beauty Spa at Hotel Rosa Alpina is pure pampering and according to the brochure “escapism through total relaxation.” I don’t know about that, but I enjoyed my 1-hour massage (€70) very much. Examples of other treatments include:
“First Total Cleansing” (full body exfoliation and full body massage – 2 hours - €210), “Volcanic Clay”(deep cleansing with herbal steam – 30 min - €65), or
“Luxury Facial” (super idratation and firming treatment – 1 hour - €100
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 25, 2004
Hotel Rosa Alpina
Strada Micura de Rü 20
So dinner continued. As I savored the courses of grilled ricotta cheese, fillet of fish on vegetable with fish eggs, pumpkin risotto with foie gras, and fillet mignon of veal, I heard more about the restaurant. Each room was painstakingly taken from old farmhouses from the area – deconstructed and reconstructed at La Perla. So the dining area is actually series of small family rooms – a really cozy dining experience. I was admiring the original farm windows in the rustic wooden walls when they started talking about the wine room again. Descriptions were started and stopped, with the explanation that you just have to see it to understand.
Thankfully, after dinner I got the wine room tour. The tour was, for lack of better words, a trip. As in: psychedelic, music by the Doors, dancing wine bottles, waterfall from the ceiling kind of trip. Along with the 70s music and 27,000 bottles of wine, there were paintings that we were to look at through “different eyes” by wearing old eye glasses to distort our view. There were wavy and squishy floors and tiny, almost scary passageways. A “peepshow” that I didn’t really understand involved looking through holes in a wall to different scenes. Especially wacky was the multi-media “church” to “worship” a certain kind of wine, and the whole “church” was filled with more bottles of it. There was a laser following a wine-bottle maze, religious music and lights, and a cubbyhole in the wall opened up to spotlight the first acquired bottle.
Toward the end of the tour, one of the guides asked me if I liked it. “It’s really interesting” I said, unable to come up with a better response. “Who made this?” I asked – I was curious as it was obvious that huge amounts of time and money were put into it. The guide told me – kind of whispered like he was spreading gossip – that the son of the owner had decided when he was younger that he wanted to be a hippy. The father said OK, but you have to go somewhere else, you can’t stay here. So the son went off to his hippy life, traveling the world, and eventually returned home to the hotel and restaurant life. But memories of some of his extracurricular activities must have stayed with him, manifested in the wine room. The scary thing is, when I was taking the motorcycle collection tour, the older Mr. Costa said that he was hoping to display the motorcycles with lights and video, each cycle with it’s own special display…. like father like son??
Restaurant La Perla - Corvara
Strada Col Alt 105
I had the fortunate opportunity to have dinner at Ciastel Colz, and learned more about its history. In the 1800s, the castle was used as a school and as an old age home. Next, it was the home of 6-7 families. Over the years, the families slowly left, leaving only one family in 1965. The current owners purchased the castle in 1969, spent 10 years restoring it, and now run it as a restaurant and hotel.
When we arrived at the Castle, there was very little light, and it was not obvious where we were supposed to enter. Our new local friend arrived then, and walked us down to the outer defense wall, complete with two guard towers. We went in through the iron gate and over to the arched wooden castle entrance. Inside, there were grand corridors with tiny doorways leading to side rooms. The decoration was elegant against the simple gray walls. Colorful rugs, flowers, and candlelight warmed up the atmosphere nicely.
The castle was built in the gothic style that was common at the time. It has a great location in the village of La Villa. From the village, you can see it perched high on a rock outcrop with the majestic Dolomites as a backdrop. Because the castle is somewhat small, it is not imposing over the village, just beautiful.
Dinner was excellent, and the service superb. Here is our menu, which was a sampling of local dishes:
Deer tartare with a fried cranberry – ravioli, brioche bread and pear mustard jelly
Wine: Chardonnay, 01 Schloss Schwanburg
Ravioli filled with yellow turnips with green apples and poppy seeds
Wine: Blauburgunder, 99 Hausmannhof Alois Ochsenreiter
Veal shoulder cooked in olive oil with red wine pear and roasted bread dumpling
Wine: Merlot, 00 Mühlweg Ignaz Niedrist
Lintzer torte with a mulled wine – ice cream and yogurt
Wine: "Met" Apicoltura Frenner
Ciastel Colz also has 4 rooms for guests. Prices range €128-175 per person per night for a standard double, and €204-269 per person per night for a suite. Price includes breakfast and use of Jacuzzi and sauna.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 25, 2004
Restaurant Ciastel Colz – La Villa
Str. Marin 80
Attraction | "South Tyrol Museum of Archeology – Bolzano"
But this comprehensive historical display serves only as a background to the true gem of the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology, indeed the reason that it was built in the first place: the Ice Man.
The Ice Man was discovered by accident in 1991. The discoverers and rescue team uncovered Oetzi in a less-than-careful manner, unaware that he was the world’s oldest ice mummy (over 5000 years old). Adding to the recovery fiasco, an irregularity in the Austria-Italy border confused matters and the mummy ended up with Austrian scientists instead of Italian ones.
Regardless of these snafus, the Ice Man ended up fully recovered, studied, and excruciatingly protected, first in Austria and now at the museum in Bolzano. The entire second floor of the museum is dedicated to him, and he is tastefully displayed in temperature and humidity controlled chamber (complete with laboratory) which is in such a location so that visitors can either look at him or not, depending on their preference.
More fascinating, though, is what was found with Oetzi. Articles of clothing and gear revealed what life was really like for this 45 year old man, decidedly old for his time. He wore a hat made of bear fur, deer-leather leggings, a leather belt and jacket. He had a straw cape for added warmth and protection from rain or snow. His shoes were lined with straw and bark.
With him, Oetzi carried an incomplete bow, quiver, 2 broken arrows, numerous incomplete arrows, a copper hatchet, a birch bark container, a backpack, flint, dagger, medicine, 3 maple leaves (to wrap embers in to carry along with him), and various small items such as bone tips. There is a reconstruction of how he would look fully clothed and outfitted.
Research done over the past 13 years has revealed his stomach contents (venison, berries, and wheat), the purpose of his 57 tattoos (treatment for his arthritis), and his cause of death (he had an arrowhead in his left shoulder blade, he died within 24 hours of getting the wound). Ongoing research, such as being done now on his dental enamel and blood stains (human, but not his own) on his clothing and gear, will reveal new information in the near future.
Unfortunately for English-speakers, all displays in the museum are in German and Italian (English signs coming soon). In the meantime, an audio guide in English can be rented for €2. Entrance fee is €8 (free for children under 6).
Hours; Tues/Wed/Fri-Sun (10am-5pm) and Thurs (10am-7pm. Closed on Jan 1, May 1, and Dec 25
South Tyrol Museum of Archeology Bolzano
Attraction | "Charming Bolzano & Restaurant Zur KaiserKron"
In Zurich and Innsbruck, there were plenty of folks on foot, but they walked quickly to where they were going. In Bolzano, the people meandered. There seemed to be plenty of time to window shop and procrastinate at the fruit and vegetable stands. We quickly embraced this local speed-deficiency, and strolled slowly, laughing and talking, admiring architecture, stopping for a cappuccino, popping into interesting looking shops here and there.
I asked my friend Antonia, who grew up in Rome, if this slow pace is normal for the rest of Italy. She said that it absolutely was, and that it is common for meals to take 2-3 hours. With that information, we headed to Restaurant Zur KaiserKron for a leisurely meal.
The restaurant is located in the heart of old town Bolzano in the baroque palace of Palais Pock. The restaurant has been visited by numerous famous people, including Russian Tsar Alexander, Austrian Emperor Franz I, Pope Pius VI, and Goethe. Like the people of Bolzano and South Tyrol, the food is a combination of Mediterranean and German. After all, the province didn’t become part of Italy until 1919. The Restaurant Zur Kaiserkron is a family eatery, owned by the Agostini family for more than 25 years.
I was assured that the seafood was one of the best choices, even though we were not near the ocean. I had the seafood on polenta, a filling and tasty dish reasonably priced at €9. Of course we all sampled each others meals, so I can also attest to the quality of the goat cheese with honey and truffle on salad (€8,50) and the linguine with seafood (€9,50). Other specials included fillet of rabbit with pine nuts and salad (€9), saffron risotto (€8,50) and grilled sole (€16,50). There are plenty of other selections on the main menu, as well.
We (meaning all the women on my end of the table) also took our desserts family style. Armed with spoons, we attacked various tasty concoctions. Unfortunately, they were out of Tiramisu.
Although I was only in Bolzano for a short afternoon, I think that I can safely say that if you are coming to the South Tyrol province of Italy for a visit, it is worth it to spend at least a night or two in this charming city before moving on to the mountains to ski or hike. See the Bolzano Tourism website for help in planning your stay.
Charming Bolzano & Restaurant Zur KaiserKron
And when I did follow him, I got not only the pleasure of his company (accompanied by ponderings of what it would be like to be 10 years younger and single), but also the fantastic experience of skiing the 40km Sellaronda Circuit. The ability to ski village to village is uniquely European, and the Sellaronda is a prime example of how to have the complete European ski experience. It is challenging, with about 26km of the route skied (the remaining distance is lifts) around the Sella Group, a dominant massif in the breathtaking panorama of the Dolomites. The circuit goes through 4 different alpine passes and valleys, each valley with small villages and farms. You can stop in the villages or at numerous mountain restaurants for a cappuccino or schnapps, or for a taste of the local Ladin food, always allowing at least 2 hours for meal (it’s the Italian way!)
Along the way they tell me there are stunning views, but the mountains were only occasionally glimpsed by me, as the weather was bad that day. There were not too many people, although I imagine this could be an issue at times.
The Sellaronda can be done by following the orange signs in a clockwise direction around the Sella Group, or by following the green signs counterclockwise. The signs seemed like they would be pretty easy to follow if you want to try it independently, but a guide can assure you get on the correct lifts and can teach you about the area and Ladin culture. Or just look at you with those intense eyes, but I digress. Oh yes, and guys, there are women ski guides as well!
Most of the skiing is in the easy to intermediate range, and expert skiers can try out some harder side runs. The Sellaronda is easily accessed from Corvara village, which can be reached by skiing or taking the bus from other nearby villages. Be careful not to get caught needing a taxi ride – one of the skiers in my group had to pay $100 for a half-hour cab ride, much to his dismay.
The Sellaronda is located in the Alta Badia area of the Dolomite region. Click here for more information about Alta Badia, the Sellaronda, and other ski tours in Alta Badia. Check out the 16 super ski tours listed at Dolomiti Superski for ski tour ideas in the larger Dolomite area.
Sellaronda Ski Circuit
During the morning, we skied Lagazuoi. We started by taking a shuttle bus to Falzarego Pass at 2105 meters. Here we took an incredibly steep cable car up Lagazuoi Peak at 2778 meters. The weather was better than the day before, but still we only got teasing glimpses of the startling mountains around us.
We took a practice run down the back side of Lagazuoi, back to Falzarego Pass. Along the way, our guide stopped to show us a tunnel used during World War I. Lagazuoi also has an open air “museum” about wartime activity in the area.
After taking the cable car up again, we were ready to go down the longest continuous run in Alta Badia, approximately 9 km. This was a great run, with groomed runs for the intermediate skiers and plenty of off-piste for the experts. I had a great time watching some of them come down the steep powder. We met up about 2/3 of the way down at Scotoni Hut for a cappuccino and a schnapps. Fortified, we skied the rest of the way down to Alpina. At Alpina, skiers get the unique experience of being pulled the final ½ mile of flat terrain to the ending point at Armentarola. Of course, energetic types can always skate-ski the final stretch!
From Armentola, we took a series of lifts and ski runs to Moritzino Café in La Villa, famous for seafood at 6000 feet. Here I realized that it was our last lunch together before our group went separate way. As all travelers know, and I had temporarily forgotten, it is the people that you meet and not the place that stays in your memory the strongest.
I looked around the table at them. On one end of the table were our escorts – Sigrid and Antonia – who had taken such good care of us during the whole trip. Immediately around me were a pack of fun-loving outdoor women, who I loved to be around and who inspired me. On the far end were some more crazy characters – including the 180-degree-spastic-ski-pole-almost-skied-off-a-cliff-doesn’t-know-what-the-big-deal-is guy from California, and a lovable Texan who said things like “We’re off like a prom dress!” every time we went down a hill. Last, but certainly not least, scattered around were our new Italian friends: Simon and Stephan, the most beautiful and professional ski instructors around, and Christian, from the tourist board, with his oh-so-blue-look-into-your-soul-intensely eyes. I just have to say the Ladin men are truly special, and I won’t soon forget them.
Don’t you hate when a perfect vacation has to end? One more schnapps, a promise to myself to always remember these times, and off to the final run of the trip.
The province seems to be divided into 6 main ski regions: Vinschgau, Meran & Umgebung, Bozen & Umgebung, Eisacktal, Tauferer Ahrntal, and Dolomiti. I visited the Dolomiti region, and know absolutely nothing about the other regions. I only mention them because it seems all the tourist information, including the Sudtirol website listed in the Overview, are organized by these regions, so you won’t be able to find any information unless you know which one you want to go to.
The regions are subdivided into 28 different ski areas. There are 7 different ski areas within the Dolomiti region: Alta Badia, Gröden, Seiser Alm, Karersee-Fassatal, Obereggen-Val di Fiemme, Kronplatz, and Hochpustertal. I think that each area may have its own ski pass system.
I was in the Alta Badia area, which has 54 lifts and 130km of slopes. The passes for this area start at €29 per adult per day, with discounts for multiple days. Click herefor a full Alta Badia price list.
There is also a Dolomiti Superski Pass, which covers 12 different ski areas, 460 lifts, and 1220km of slopes in the Dolomiti region. Passes start at €32 per adult per day, also with discounts for multiple days. Click here for a full Dolomiti price list.
I think you need the Dolomiti Superski Pass in order to ski the Sellaronda Circuit described in this journal, but I am not sure (my guide bought my ski pass for me). I read about another ski tour called the First World War Ski Tour, that is 100 km (½ skiing, ½ lifts or buses). It takes skiers around to sites of struggles between the German Alpine Corps and the Italian “alpine” between 1915 and 1918. There are open-air museums, a ski over Marmolada glacier, and a sleigh ride too. There are also plenty of other ski tour suggestions to choose from - check out the 16 super ski tours listed at Dolomiti Superski for ski tour ideas in the larger Dolomite area.
There are 7 different ski schools in the Alta Badia area, and numerous ski rentals. See Alta Badia Tourist Board for details, as well as for specials, ski packages, accommodations, ski maps, or anything else you might need to know.
Port Angeles, Washington