Livin’ La Dolce Vita … in Val Gardena
Livin’ La Dolce Vita … in Val Gardena
I’ve always liked Fellini’s comedy drama, but had no idea that one day I’d also take a trip that felt like I too was starring in my own version of this fun ‘60s classic.
La Dolce Vita, Italian for ‘the good life’, follows gossip magazine journalist, Marcello Rubini, on a fruitless love search during a seven-night trip to Rome.
I wasn’t searching for love, and wasn’t in the city. I was happy in the heart of the Dolomites, having somehow managed to find myself on a Special Ladies trip to Val Gardena, with a group of Dutch and English writers.
The Val Gardena Special Ladies’ trips include hikes, bikes, keep-fit, cookery, and tasty treats with local hosts and guides. This is followed by spa time, shopping trips and a gourmet dinner.
This is certainly ‘the good life’, but where does ‘the fruitless search for love’ come in? What we didn’t know was that our trip could result in a new life adventure in the South Tyrol. And so began La Dolce Vita …
Take a hike
Our enthusiastic host, Christina Demetz, chatted happily as she and our guide, Senoner, led our cheery group out for a 12km morning hike into the Puez-Odle Natural Park and the dramatically different landscape that is the Dolomites.
A World Heritage Site since 2009, these stunning rocks started life as coral 20,000 years ago. Now, having pushed up to be imposing, they stand strong – nature’s gateway to history, blushing pink, red and orange in the sunlight.
We took in the stunning colourful mountain flora and fauna, and sipped the sun as we padded slowly upwards … if I’m being honest, we did get a bit of a head start as our trip started in a cable car, which swept us swiftly up to 2,500m to begin our trek.
Yet it was still a climb, and our yodelling, at Plan Ciautier’s natural amphitheatre, was perhaps more from relief having reached a level plateau!
Our amateur efforts did have some impact as someone yodelled back, and we got warned away by a shrill marmot’s whistle.
One thing was sure, after three hours hiking we had all earned our mountain hut lunch, but got more than we had bargained for, as Oscar - who runs the welcoming hostelry we dined at – is seeking a wife, and we were in the spotlight, to be his future Heidi.
There followed a comical ‘Heidi challenge’, which involved milking a goat, which some of us took to with gusto, while others giggled and declined.
I have to ‘fess to being in the ‘wimp-out set’. None of us were quite the right match for the lovely Oscar, but he is still looking!
Where to shop
Once down from the mountain there was free time to shop, which comes highly recommended.
The stores stock easy-chic styles including Armani, Lorena Antoniazzi and ATPCO, Simona Barbieri, Cape Horn, colourful Codello, Diesel, Elk, Liu Jo, Antony Morato, Pennyblack, Scotch & Soda…and more.
There are also plenty of welcoming bars and cafes along the way to stop and ponder what to purchase.
Having wallowed happily in a retail moment, it was back to the health kick the next day, with an early morning e-bike trail through Val Gardena’s three villages - Ortisei, Santa Cristina and Selva.
We started in Selva, where we stayed, and wound our way through Santa Christina to Ortisei, where we took a wooded path up to Costamula hut for breakfast.
This place aims to please, with eggs timed exactly to suit you, beautiful breads, speck, fruits … and plenty of cheese. The catering team also kept everyone smiling with lots of added extras.
One of our British girls had a birthday that day, so staff rustled up some five-star fish and chips (try and forget the time of day) and then played God Save the Queen as we left for our return journey.
The afternoon was a total contrast -a herb hike with our well informed guide, Diego Deiana. I’ve travelled a lot in the mountains, but never stopped to take in the wide range of foods that can be simply gathered from the hedges and fields.
We discovered wild spinach, carrots, how to make honey from Scots pine, and also got to meet Val Gardena’s own ‘master chef’, Gemma Insam, who showed us just how tasty foraged food is, when prepared to perfection.
Gemma and her husband spent three years restoring the 13th century Paratoni Farmhouse, turning it into a dream home for their family, and a unique dining experience for anyone keen to get a real taste of the mountains.
Her menu defines the phrase ‘fresh food’, with everything picked and baked in the morning, and on your plate in her snug, quirky restaurant in the afternoon.
We just popped in for afternoon tea, but got to taste three types of bread - dandelion and wild spinach, nettle, and cumin. The butter came with rose petals, and who knew you could eat nasturtiums, let alone nettle crisps!
Mint leaves smothered in chocolate make for a popular dessert, followed by some fiery homemade grappa.
Where to eat
You can keep things simple by dining in simple rustic huts, or hit the life in the region’s top restaurants.
There are many fine dining options in Val Gardena, including two Michelin restaurants - Anna Stuben in Ortisei and Alpenroyal Gourmet in Selva, which both have one Michelin star.
We ate at Tubladel, in Ortisei, which keeps its cuisine simple, local sourced and full of flavour. It’s a family friendly place, very capable of charming large groups such as ours, and the steak comes highly recommended!
On the other two nights we dined at our hotel, the four-star Savoy, which was an experience to savour. The South Tyrolean gourmet cuisine came seasoned with Mediterranean flavours, and a choice of fine wines from the impressive cellar, which has 500 different types on offer.
The sauna also has a wide range of options, from the Finnish, to the rose perfume sauna, an ice room, steam bath and private spa.
The luxury treatments use Alpine products for bath therapies and massage, and you can swim from the inside pool out into the small outdoor pool to take in the fresh air.
The service at the Savoy was faultless, with welcoming well-trained staff always on hand to make you stay more enjoyable.
Where to stay, and spa
Val Gardena three villages have a range of four and five-star hotels that, like the Savoy, boast a great gourmet and spa experience.
What else to try
Other summer sports and activities include mountain biking, climbing, geocaching, high wire adventures, Nordic walking, via ferrata and yoga.
In winter the area is internationally known for the Saslong men’s World Cup downhill ski race, and the Sella Ronda – a stunning ski circuit that encircles the Sella massif. You can also enjoy cross-country, ice skating sledging, snowshoeing … and much more.
This place is rich in tradition and culture, and has a strong crafts’ culture, including woodcarving, painting and gilding.
The area is also dedicated to preserving the ancient language of Ladin, which is still taught in schools. It dates back to the Roman Empire and is a mix of the ancient Rhaetian language and Latin
Claim to fame
Val Gardena is no stranger to the spotlight, scooping Italy’s Best Ski Resort 2015 in the World Ski Awards; Best Value Resort by Crystal Ski; Travellers Choice Award 2013 on TripAdvisor; Best Child Friendly Resort from SnowVole.
I don’t think Oscar has found a wife yet, so if anyone is interested?
The nearest airports are Innsbruck, Verona, Venice and Milan Bergamo with airlines including EasyJet, Ryanair, Monarch and BA
For more information about Val Gardena, visit valgardena.it/en. For the Val Gardena Active program, including the “Special Ladies” offerings, visitvalgardena-active.com. This year’s winter programme starts on December 4.