The high season in the Dolomites, North Eastern Italy, is winter. Summer on the other hand offers a very different experience, the mountains offering unique hikes and stunning landscapes with lifts the easiest way to reach the summits.
The Trentino-Alto Adige region bordering Austria & Switzerland features Italy’s most stunning topography. The heart of Alta Badia (altabadia.org), also known as South Tyrol, was my destination of choice. In the summer, all shadows of green are to be found here. In winter, the mountains and valleys are all covered by a white blanket of untouched snow.
Plan your trip arriving to the charming Venice airport, the staff of Ciasa Salares (ciasasalares.it) will pick you up in the latest Audi and drive you to the heart of the mountain in two hours. Alternatively take the helicopter and enjoy a unique 1 hour ride to San Cassiano.
San Cassiano is the heart of the region and a perfect place to start the hikes. The mountains around are especially interesting from a geological and historical perspective. In Mount Lagazuoi, one can see relics from the tragic history of the 1st World War. At the foot of Piz dles Centurines have a look at Ursus ladinicus, the prehistoric bear cave (and visit its museum in the centre of the village).
It is fun to take a moment and learn about the region, especially “Ladins”, an ethnic minority of rhaetic origins who have maintained their own language, identity and culture. They commonly speak this language, and if you speak Italian, just forget about understanding them.
Run by the same family since the 1960s, warm & welcoming hospitality are in no short supply and guests feel even better than at home. The mountain style hotel is idyllically location: surrounded by green pastures and the wonderful woods of Fanes Park which has been declared as the UNESCO World Natural Heritage. It is a stone’s throw from the pretty town of San Cassiano and just two minutes’ walk from the ski slopes.
All the 50 rooms in this gem of a family hotel are simply furnished using a blend of arolla pine, fir tree and larch with unfussy bathrooms. It is the views that are the real “wow” factor here.
The choice of restaurants at the Ciasa Salares is a treat in itself. Food is a big part of staying here and the breakfasts, lunches and dinners are unforgettable. For a special evening, La Siriola led by Matteo Metullio (the youngest Michelin starred Chef in Italy) is a memorable occasion.
For something less formal, the wine bar lead by cocktail specialist Simonpaolo, Carraro has an extensive and delicious menu. La Terrazza by Chef Nicola Zanetti is the all-day dining option with lots of home-made pasta dishes and local meats, while offering amazing views from the outdoor veranda. Note when you ask for olive oil, they bring six different options, from local mills of different regions in Italy. Coffee is probably one of the best you have ever tasted with a mix chosen by Stefan Wieser in person, high quality with great flavour – guaranteed.
Do try the cheese & wine tasting options in the Wine Cellar, with more than 16,000 wines curated by owner Stefan Wieser, this is the perfect choice for a winter day. I recommend the unique fondue containing black truffle and egg! My favourite part of the hotel is the Chocolate Room with some of the best chocolates in the world.
When you had a hard day of hiking or skiing, my suggestion would be to enjoy the facilities of the Beauty Spa Vibes, with its saunas, pools, Jacuzzi and infrared cabins. Products used for the treatments are natural: local Vitalis from the Alto Adige and Mary Cohr are perfect for facials and skin treatments. Do not miss any of the exclusive Alpine baths by Vitalis, combining heat and steam to reinvigorate and detoxify with local natural products.
Three generations of hoteliers can claim to be the craftsmen of this Italian escape. The Ciasa Salares offers a pure alpine experience with unique gastronomy and the possibility of discovering the huge ski & hiking areas, in one of the warmest hotel experiences I have ever been in.