By Mark Hodson
How far would you travel for a bowl of tripe? I’m half way up a mountain in the Italian Dolomites on a cloudy day in December with the mercury plunging to -8ºC. It’s 11am and I’m peeling off hat, thermals and ski gloves to tuck into the first course of a very special lunch.
Because this is no ordinary bowl of tripe. It has been prepared by Matteo Metullio, who at 28 is the youngest chef in Italy to win a second Michelin star. And he’s being assisted in the kitchen today by his mother.
The Metullio family speciality is part of an annual food festival in the resort of Alta Badia called the Gourmet Ski Safari in which seven big-name chefs each cook a simple dish at a different mountain restaurant. This year the theme is childhood flavours, so the emphasis is on simple nourishing home-cooked food. Metullio’s dish could not be less flamboyantly named: Trippa in sumo con patate (tripe in sauce with potatoes). It’s many times better than it sounds.
For the bargain price of €50, skiers can choose four dishes of the seven, staggered over a long lunch, each accompanied by a generous glass of local wine from the South Tyrol. One dish - rabbit wrapped in pancetta with polenta - has been created by Giorgio Locatelli. My favourite - by Norbert Niederkofler, a local chef with three Michelin stars - is mysteriously called “Once upon a time there was a trout”. It was so delicious that, like its creator, I couldn’t do it justice in words.
You might imagine this festival - held every year in mid December - would draw foodies from across Europe, but Alta Badia is a secret that Italians seem determined to keep to themselves. Last year only 4% of visitors were from Britain, and we didn’t hear a single English accent among the groups of ebullient Italians. It felt like we had been welcomed into a private party.
Alta Badia deserves to be better known. As part of the Dolomiti Superski region, it offers 1,200km of groomed slopes and some of the most sensational mountain views in the world - the distinctive jagged peaks of the Dolomites, now a Unesco World Heritage site. Compared with many better-known resorts, it’s easy to reach, relatively inexpensive and has some charming hotels, including the four-star La Majun, where we stayed.
As well as the annual food festival, the resort has also pioneered a unique experience called “Sommelier on the Slopes” in which visitors are introduced to the wines of the region with tutored tastings in traditional mountain huts. There’s only one way to see if this works, and that’s to try it out.
Our host was Hubert Kastlunger, a former ski instructor who switched careers to become a sommelier. Along with another ski instructor (who ensured nobody got lost along the way), Kastlunger took us to three different restaurants for tutored tastings of sauvignon blanc, pinot bianco, Gewürztraminer, St Magdalener and pinot noir. There was one more red but I’ll be honest: the samples were generous and by the time I reached the end, my notes were starting to become illegible. Not very professional, but a lot of fun. The experience normally runs from 2pm and is an absolute bargain at €30.
There’s a third foodie treat on offer in Alta Badia. Get up early and you can enjoy breakfast on the slopes at Las Vegas Lodge, a charming little hotel at 2,050m with just 11 rooms and views of the morning sun rising over the mountains. It’s too early for the lifts but the lodge owners will arrange to pick you up by snow cat for the steep (and noisy) ascent.
Once the driver of the snow cat killed the engine, we were presented with the most perfect view of the Dolomites under a deep carpet of fresh powder. After breakfast - a groaning buffet and hot dishes cooked to order - we clipped on our skis and enjoyed the first run of the day before the lifts had a chance to bring up any other skiers. For this priceless experience - breakfast and snow cat ride included - you’ll pay just €28 per person.
How to do it
The Gourmet SkiSafari takes place on the opening Sunday of the season; the €50 ticket can be bought at any participating mountain restaurant.
This season, Sommelier on the Slopes runs on 18 and 25 January 2018, 22 February and 1, 15 and 22 March.
The breakfast and snow cat ride (€28) can be booked direct with Las Vegas Lodge.
La Majun offers half-board from €132 pp per night. The hotel spa is sensational. Powder Byrne has four nights half-board in a junior suite at La Majun including flights departing 7 March from £1,839 pp. Ski passes cost from €43 per day.
* This article was originally published at 101 Holidays.