In the controversial 1973 French comedy-drama film La Grande Bouffe — La Grande Abbuffata in Italian, The Big Feast in English — four friends gather for a weekend of eating and debauchery at a country villa that gradually reveals itself as a suicide pact.
Although none of the 50 or so members of our group that made up Ski Trek Villabassa 2013 (STV) ate themselves into oblivion like the four amigos in the flick, we all pretty much had to stuff ourselves into cars, vans and SUVs as we bid Arrivederci!/Auf Wiedersehen! to our week-long hosts at Hotel Adler in the Val Pusteria area up in the Italian Dolomites.
COME FOR THE SNOW, STAY FOR THE FOOD
Sure, we all came primarily for the skiing, snowboarding, sledding, sightseeing and camaraderie, but we were all equally there for the food, too. Look, you cannot come to Italy without fork-in-hand. If you care more about your waistline than sampling some of the best regional cuisine this side of heaven, then you might as well just stay at home.
For seven days, we dined like kings and queens — actually, it was more like a continuous feeding frenzy around the Serengeti Plain — at the nightly gourmet dinners at the hotel and at our daily stops at the various baite/hütten (refuges) where we skied/boarded.
Up here in the Alto Adige portion of the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Italy — commonly known as Sudtirol — where German is spoken and Italian acceptable, the cuisine is hearty from the area’s Austro-Hungarian roots, but creative and eye-appealling following Italy’s annexation of the region after World War I.
It is here, in Sudtirol — where canederli (bread dumplings), spätzle (small egg noodles) gulasch (thick soup/stew) and speck (smoked prosciutto/ham) top the charts and traditional Italian fare gets a big foot in the door — that the fantastic fusion of two dramatically different cultures comes to life in the kitchen.
With a history of 23 years cruising the Dolomites, veteran STVers know all of the great eating spots/watering holes that dot the slopes; so, our ski runs nearing lunchtime were tailored for the daily foodie destination. Heck, we know the best kitchens so well that we just call ahead and reserve tables WHILE WE’RE SKIING. “STV, party of 20!”
AT THE HOTEL WITH TEAM MARKART
Executive chef Helene Markart along with her three sous-chefs — Fabio, Mateo and Tommaso (who also doubles as the pastry chef) — and her incredible wait staff — Alessandro, Antonio, Enzo, Germano and Luciano — gear up for the nightly crowd — hotel guests in the main dining room, and interested foodies ordering ala carte in the hotel’s smaller restaurant.
Team Markart orchestrates the aforementioned fusion of Sudtirol and la cucina Italiana to perfection, with a different menu tailored nightly for STV — a primary, five-course dinner, or alternate choices per course — along with four recommended wine pairings.
In addition, Hotel Adler showcases an array of traditional regional dishes one night during our stay with Sudtirol Night, complete with an accordian player who whistles, yodels and belts out time-tested folk tunes from around the Dolomites.
Add to all of the above an impressive wine cellar — well stocked with over 300 bottles of red, white and sparkling at the ready — and a bar staff that can prep an Aperol Spritzer or Hugo — two refreshing aperitifs of Sudtirol — or a snowcapped stein of draught beer before you can even ask (after 23 years they pretty much know what we’re thinking), and you quickly realize why we come for the snow, but stay for the food and drink. Guten Appetit!
ON THE SLOPES
With over 1,200 kilometers of ski slopes connecting 12 valleys via a network of 450 lift facilities and 475 runs, your Dolomiti Superskipass puts you just a fork’s distance away from hundreds of baite/hütten (refuges).
Here, you can grab a quick, savory bite then head right back out on the slopes; or, like me and my mates, take all the time you want around the table or at an après-ski bar after the final run, or both. Hey, we are in Italy. WHAT’S THE RUSH?
Like at the hotel, these small, intimate rest stops in the snow, serve up some pretty fantastic regional and fusion dishes as well. The menus are vast, and not just sausage-and-taters or chicken wings (actually quite tasty, by the way) as you would expect.
We may be skiiers/boarders looking to take a load off (or is it on?), but the kitchen, bar and wait staffs at these high-altitude oases double-time it constantly and have your thirst quenchers and mouth-watering dishes at the table quicker than you can say, “Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän,” (the longest word in the German language that means, “Danube steamship company captain”).
I CAN’T BELIEVE I ATE THE WHOLE THING
Unlike the cast of characters in the movie, we had seven days to stuff ourselves, and the same seven to kinda-sorta work it off. Fat chance (pardon the pun).
Now home, I’m into day-three of my self-imposed, San Quentin-style bread-and-water diet. I’ll probably stay on it until January 11, 2014 when Ski Trek Villabassa reconvenes in the Dolomites for it’s 24th edition.
Better to arrive UNDER my fighting weight as I know I’ll be waddling back home like a heavyweight or strapped to the roof of a car, just like the dearly departed in La Grande Abbuffata.
©The Palladian Traveler | ©Tom Palladio Images