A magic mix. That’s the best way to describe South Tyrol’s cuisine. Fusing Italian recipes with Austrian ingredients and age old Ladin practises with cutting-edge techniques has proved a magical and award-winning combination. A constellation of no less than 22 Michelin stars spread between just 19 restaurants lie tucked away amid the peaks, nooks and valleys – more than any other Italian province – an impressive number considering the region’s rather remote position and hardy terrain. But rather than limit the culinary offering, a deep-rooted passion for using only fresh local ingredients has meant the chefs here have got creative. Game, dumplings and cheese perfumed with mountain herbs meet with pasta, pizza and polenta creating rich dishes that sing with robust, hearty flavors – the perfect fuel after a long day carving up the ski slopes or scaling craggy peaks. Since you’re spoilt for choice, here is our gourmet guide to our favorite South Tyrolean restaurants to help you map out your own foodie pilgrimage.
Restaurant St.Hubertus (2 stars)
There are no less than three Michelin restaurants (all within 10 minutes drives of each other) in the Alta Badia region in the center of the Dolomites, but Restaurant St. Hubertus holds the most renown. The Hotel Rosa Alpina’s signature eatery started life as in 1996 as part of a tiny pizzeria but under the culinary mastery of Norbert Niederkofler, South Tyrol’s most awarded chef, it has become a gourmet institution. Norbert’s “Cook the mountain” approach lifts humble mountain ingredients such as wild cranberries, barley and mountain herbs to Michelin level. Dine at the Chef’s Table to catch Norbert and his brigade in action or take your meal in the mountains themselves with a gourmet picnic in the hotel’s private chalet.
La Sirolia (1 star)
La Sirolia is another of Alta Badia’s Michelin-rated restaurants that takes full advantage of its mountain location (you can ski there in the winter months). Don’t be fooled by the traditional decor, Chef Matteo Metullio’s beautifully presented haute take on Tyrolean fare earned him a Michelin star at the tender age of 25 making him the youngest Italian chef to receive the culinary accolade. But that’s not all the restaurant has to offer, the hotel boasts the largest wine cellar in South Tyrol where some 16,000 bottles line the dark arched walls. A Chocolate Room dedicated to handcrafted cacao delights and a Smoking Room stocked with fine cigars and whisky provide the perfect finish to your tasting menu. Most of the restaurants work closely with local farmers and you can also request to visit a farmhouse which still makes their speck (the Tyrolean take on prosciutto) using the ancient methods. Perfect for a taste of tradition.
Alpes (1 star)
One of the more recent restaurants to join the Michelin pack, Alpes nuzzles the gentle slopes of the Sarentino Valley just north of Bolzano. The ingredient is king at this renowned gourmet gem where chef Egon Heiss performs molecular gastronomy (liquid nitrogen is a kitchen staple) marrying delicacies from around the globe with simple Tyrolean produce. Choose between the elegant ‘Traditional’ or experimental ‘Zeitgeist’ menu and sample astonishing concoctions including his signature mugo pines dishes, a homage to the pine trees that hug the surrounding valley slopes. Sound good? It gets even better, each plate is also expertly paired with fine wine and cheese by Gregor Wenter, himself a highly decorated chef, and if you’re feeling inspired you can even join Egon in the kitchen for a cooking lesson.Read more
Auener Hof (1 star)
If avant-garde cuisine is your thing, head up into the pine forest hills of the Sarentino Valley where at 1622 meters you’ll find the slick glass box that is the one-starred Auener Hof. The enormous windows and breath light into the dining room and offer a panoramic backdrop of the Dolomites to match the beauty on the plate. Chef Heinrich and sommelier Gisela Schneider make up the brother and sister duo that helm this mountain gastro pad where a tasting menu of refined forest flora and fauna are executed with flawless skills. Expect tortelli of cauliflower with elderflower foam and local dry aged beef with chickweed and sunflower seed puree. Stellar mountain cuisine with some serious cool factor.
Trenkersube, 2 stars
It’s one thing to be awarded a Michelin star, it’s quite another to keep it, let alone for 10 years. But that’s exactly what chef Gerhard Wieser has achieved at Trenkerstube in the Hotel Castel in Merano. While tradition rules in the carved pine walls of this stube, a cozy wood-clad room typical of the houses of South Tyrolean farmers, on the plate the self confessed ‘inventor’ Gerhard plays with the limits of his ingredients using a mix of old and new culinary techniques. A little further south from the Austrian border, more Mediterranean flavors hold sway together with the Alpine fare with lighter, delicate dishes such as brook trout with carrots and chervil.
Restaurant Jasmin (2 stars)
Want gourmet indulgence without the guilt trip? You’re in good hands at this charming restaurant housed in the Hotel Bischofshof where chef Martin Obermarzona’s mountain cooking is designed for those looking for a gourmet health kick. Much of the fresh seasonal produce used within his much lauded ‘surprise’ tasting menu comes courtesy of the restaurant garden and dishes have a distinct Mediterranean influence together with the alpine ingredients. But don’t worry, there’s still plenty of traditional dishes mixed in and with two Michelin stars under its got glowing culinary credentials. Be sure to capped off your meal with an espresso – coffee is taken just a seriously here as in the rest of Italy and is every bit as good.