Eating Our Way Through the Dolomites with Montreal Cookbook Author Meredith Erickson

Early in my travels through the heart of the Dolomites – a mountain range located in northeastern Italy – I took the chairlift toward the church of La Crusc in Alta Badia. As I ascended toward the alpenglow of the Dolomites, I looked down, around and behind me at the rifugi (mountain huts) scattered in the snow like roasted chestnuts.

Rifugi are high–elevation huts or lodges that are located across the Alps. Some are more than a century old and served as summer homes for the herders who brought cattle to graze in mountain pastures. A rifugio can be a restaurant, an inn, or a simple refuge with running water. (These are not to be confused with baitas, which are private summer homes.)

October 28, 2019
A pair of distant cabins on a snow-filled hillside, with a few distant figures standing near them in skiing gear.
Soraga, Italy.   Photo: Pietro de Grandi

As I surveyed the rifugi, I wondered what set one apart from another. Who served what? Could I ski to all of them? (Turns out the answer is yes.) Were they open in the summer, and then could I hike to them? (Yes, again.) There was so much good eating in just one view.

Named after French geologist Déodat de Dolomieu, who identified these mountains as a unique combination of magnesium and limestone, the Dolomites are different from any other mountain or rock formation in the world. The sun reflects off the rocks, making them appear copper one minute and dark granite the next. I could look at these towering peaks forever.

A tall, rocky mountain with a small hut at the base.
A red and white building sits high atop a mountain
Rifugio Fratelli Fonda Savio, Belluno, Italy.   Photo: Eberhard Grossgasteiger
Rifugio Luigi Azzoni, Lecco, Italy.    Photo: Zoran Kurelić Rabko

Known for their natural beauty, the mountains are home to the Dolomiti Superski region: 1,200 kilometres of slopes that includes 12 ski areas, each of which has several rifugi. There are more than 120 huts where skiers or hikers can get a wonderful meal without taking off their boots. Here are four can’t–miss rifugi in the Dolomites:

  1. At Gostner Schwaige in Alpe di Suisi, Franz Mulser makes a much–celebrated hay soup in a bowl made of bread. The hay, herbs and edible–flower garnish are sourced from the surrounding pasture.

  2. The Prinoth family has been running Sofie Hut – located in the popular Seceda ski area – for 50 years, long before there was cable car access to the hut. Back then, it was “just” a cattle farm that would in time become matriarch Sofie Prinoth’s home with her husband and their two children. Sofie Hut is one of the busiest restaurants on the mountain. Sofie began cooking goulash at a very young age, always serving it with speck dumplings, a South Tyrol specialty. Her recipe uses red bell pepper, paprika, tomato and hyperlocal beef – the land around the hut is the summer pasture for the family farm.

A mountain range with chairlift going to the top.
Rifugio Lagazuoi, Italy.   Photo: Boris Misevic
  1. The Alps have a reputation for heavy foods and while cheese is a staple, it’s not difficult to find lighter fare at high altitude. At Rifugio Col Alt, chef Enrico Vespani makes local char tartare that keeps you light on your skis for the rest of the day – provided you don’t go too deep on their excellent, mainly Italian wine list.

  2. El Brite de Larieto, located on the outskirts of Cortina d’Ampezzo, feels more like a home than a restaurant, thanks to a warm welcome from chef Riccardo Gaspari, his wife, Ludovica, and their Panada con Cicoria e uova – bread soup with chicory.

For more high–altitude flavours, check out Meredith Erickson’s latest book Alpine Cooking.