A highlight of our last Italiaoutdoors Food and Wine Dolomites ski adventure was a rare chance to visit Rifugio Averau at night. Open for dinner only once a month, a visit to this rifugio, reputed to be “one of the best restaurants in the Alps”, is an adventure not to be missed.
Getting there is a huge part of the fun. Your adventure begins from the Cinque Torri base area, a 35 minute drive up the road to Passo Falzarego from downtown Cortina. Here, you load on to the 5 Torri lift. The lift does not run continuously, so check the departure times in advance. This evening we were first on the lift, followed by about 50 other people, wearing a mix of skis and snow boots. Some were heading up, like us, for dinner. Others were heading to Averau or nearby Rifugio Scoiattoli to spend the night, ready for first tracks in the morning. Each chair has a cover you can pull down, keeping us warm and sheltered on our ascent.
As we exited the lift – a little awkwardly without skis on our feet – we see a fleet of about 7 or so snowmobiles ahead of us. “Averau” say the drivers. We load ourselves on to the back of a few snowmobiles, just behind the drivers, and are whisked off into the darkness. A rush of exhilaration as we race up the ski slopes we had traversed on skis a few days prior. As the lights of the lift disappear, the full moon enables us to appreciate one again the majesty of our surroundings – the moonlight reflecting off of the snow and light limestone rock of these spectacular and rugged peaks. After a few minutes in the darkness, we spot lights ahead, and are soon pulling up to the doorway of Rifugio Averau.
A quaint and cozy rustic mountain hut, it’s warm interior welcoming after the brisk ride. Immediately upon shedding our coats we are handed a festive red aperitif – fresh juice and a liquor, mixed with prosecco. After settling in, we are shown to our table where we are snuggled against the rifugio’s warm stua. We take a few moments to enjoy our new surroundings, and thoroughly review the offerings on the menu and the extensive wine list.
Once again, so many antipasti look appetizing we order the mixed platter, asking for it to include the special eggplant antipasti of the day. We are soon delivered a beautiful wooden platter arrayed with a nice selection of meats and cheeses, a scoop of pate, sliced eggplant stacked with cheese and topped with cherry tomatoes, a crostini with lardo. In the center is a small bowl with mostarda di pere (pear mostarda) which quickly disappeared, and was just as quickly refilled for us. Sampling the many offerings on this bought us some time to decide on our next courses.
In selecting the wines for our meals this week, I favor introducing our guests to some great Italian wines that they have never experienced. Cortina itself is in the Veneto region, but our skiing today in Alta Badia led us into neighboring Trentino. A varietal found only in Trentino is Teroldego Rotaliano, one of my Top 12 Undiscovered Wines of Northeastern Italy. In spite of many efforts to reproduce the vineyards, environment, and irrigation in other regions, no one has successfully replicated these high quality wines anywhere else. Teroldego Rotaliano wines are quite distinctive, with intense fruit, full body, and a strong, dry taste. We enjoyed one of my favorite producers, which I can even find here in the US: Foradori. Run today by Elisabetta Foradori, she has garnered quite a reputation as one of the premier producers of Teroldego. Similar in style to a Syrah, it has a robust, full bodied palate, with a nice balance of tannins and acidity. Its acidity and snap make it a versatile food wine.
Versatile is good, because we had quite an array of flavors in our main courses. We enjoyed some Cappelli d’Alpino, pasta stuffed with mountain cheeses, garnished with fresh chopped tomatoes. A wonderful plate of perfectly cooked lamb chops – medium rare, and we were not asked how we wished them to be done. I ordered the famous local pasta speciality, casunziei ampezzani, a half moon shaped stuffed pasta filled with a bright red beet mixture, served in a simple butter sauce with poppy seeds. All dishes were excellent.
After a leisurely cup of coffee to follow our sumptuous meal, we bundled up for the return journey to our car. The lift had closed for the night, so the snowmobiles took us all the way back down to the Cinque Torre base area. We were alone on the slopes, rapidly descending down steep ski pistes, marveling at the lights of Cortina in the distance, surrounded by the glow of the mountains on all sides. A perfect ending to a fantastic week of skiing in Cortina. Tomorrow, a visit to the Prosecco region – where else can you indulge in superb skiing and gourmet food, followed by a day exploring wineries in an internationally renowned wine zone?