Cortina d’Ampezzo is in the Belluno province in the Dolomite mountain range, just outside the borders of the Südtirol, which itself abuts Austria. This close proximity to the border brings a melding of cultures and cuisines. The town is not so heavily influenced as many of the villages over this Tyrolese border, where you’re more likely to be understood if you speak German, but you’re just as likely to be dining on schnitzel or knödels as you are to be eating ravioli or burrata. Drinks, likewise might follow a more Germanic pattern – this is the place I was introduced to Hugos, an aperitif that now sometimes surpasses my previous favourite, an Aperol spritz.
The Italian version of the Austrian knödel (also known as chenedi) are bread dumplings, usually served in broth. About the size of a golf-ball, they are spongy when at their best, and are usually bestrewn with speck, then flavoured with onion and parsley. The broth should be a clear and well-seasoned stock, also often flavoured with smoky pork. Sometimes canederli are served as a side – they may come along with your goulash, or something else with lashings of gravy to mop up.
Roe deer, wild blueberries and juniper
These three local products work a treat together, particularly with the lighter, fruit-driven red wines of this region. It’s a classic combination, and I’ve tried it several ways – blueberry tagliatelle with minced venison and juniper ragu, braised roe deer in blueberry and juniper sauce, and grilled venison fillet with blueberry and juniper jus. All delicious.
Although there are many forms of stuffed pasta in the region, this is unique to Cortina d’Ampezzo, and these flat circular ravioli can be found on nearly every menu in town. The filling is a delicate beetroot paste, and the sauce is simply browned butter with poppy seeds. As the beet is usually mixed with cheese, the flavour and texture differs – soft and sweet when it is ricotta, firm and sharp when it is Parmesan.
Frittelle di mele
I’ve gone with these Italian apple beignets (also called apfelradln) rather than the all-too-common-for-this-region apple strudel, because the quality always seems astounding (whereas the strudels vary). Slices of apple in a yeast batter are served super-hot, covered in a snowy dusting of icing sugar, and usually presented with a generous dollop of lingonberry jam.
Pan fried potatoes with speck and onions. Fabulous.
Cheese and honey
It’s hard to choose one cheese from a region that has its own cheese route (link here). Malga Bellunese and Montasio (both semi-hard) are probably the most famous, Schiz and Tosella the most peculiar to the region (fresh cheeses that do not really melt, usually fried with breadcrumbs), and Bastardo del Grappa the most uniquely flavoured. All share the aromas and flavours of the mountain herbs and flowers that the cows graze on, and it’s very common to see cheese paired with local mountain cheese on a dessert menu – the way both shine with local flavour can be exceptional.
Hugo: A classic German summer drink has found it’s way into the area through tourism, and is just what you need to refresh yourself when you enter an overly toasty room, when you’re hot and red-cheeked from skiing. Just like an Aperol spritz, A Hugo has prosecco served over ice with soda, but this time flavoured with elderflower and garnished with mint. Watch out, you’ll drink it like fruit juice.
Sparkling wine: Franciacorta, Prosecco Valdobbiadene and other sparkling wines (e.g. Ferrari) from the surrounding region are generally excellent quality and very well priced. Prosecco might be pretty basic at the bars on the slopes, but at €2 a glass, it’s still a good deal. A good bottle of more premium Trento sparkling or Franciacorta will set you back northwards of €40 a bottle in a restaurant, but will definitely rival Champagne at the same price and higher.
Local wine: Most wine lists are fairly simple, with a range of Italian and German names that many will fumble over, but fortunately, most will be around €20 a bottle. Look for Friulano, a relatively neutral white which can be aromatic at its best, grown all over Friuli, and always fairly well priced. There is of course, always Pinot Grigio, which is remarkably good from the Alto Adige region, and if you see any Sanct Valantin Pinot Grigio from St-Michael, don’t miss it (their other wines are also excellent). For reds, Blauburgunder means Pinot Noir, often very good from the Südtirol, but Barbera d’Asti and Valpolicella might fit the bill for a lighter red on a budget. For heavier reds, look to Alto Adige Lagrein and Cabernets, or Teroldego from Piano Rotalian.
Vino caldo or glühwein: The name will vary depending on what part of the Falzarego pass you are on, but it’s always exactly the same – red wine spiked with sugar, aromatic spices and citrus peel, served steaming hot in a coffee mug. The alcohol content dissipates a little with the steam (and some vendors water it down with fruit juice), so it’s a good one to knock back in-between runs.
Bombardino: It might look like a drink for children, but this is actually very adult. This hot egg-nog style drink is made with brandy and advocaat, and served warm topped with whipped cream. It’s piled with calories and tastes like a boozy dessert. One every five runs only, and best kept to the slopes.
Kranewitter: Known as Mountain Juniper Spirit in some areas and Wacholder in Germany, this is a neutral spirit distilled with local juniper. As you would imagine, it tastes very similar to a London dry gin, however here it is usually drunk straight like schnapps, and often served after dinner in a brandy baloon.