Poking the Dolomites
As some of you know I have been exploring parts of Europe this July. Coincidentally, Pokemon Go was released while I was away with great fanfare. I don't need to tell you how popular it is, but the user engagement is off the charts. Having (immediately) downloaded it, I realize that this is exactly what The Find is all about! For those of you who are not already familiar, users are encouraged to roam the world looking for Pokemon; at most notable and significant places there are geotags which allow you to collect Poke Balls (to catch Pokemon). While in San Cassiano (the Dolomites in Italy) I found five locations and captured my first two Pokemon. One of these locations was a beautiful mural on the side of our hotel that was painted in the 1800's. I suspect I was the first to find them in these locations, but you never know. What better way to engage and encourage gamers (especially my children) to get out of their bedrooms and see the world. They are in for a big surprise when they emerge from their summer hibernation at camp without electronics. In this weeks Find we, like Pokemon users everywhere, get out there, with wanderlust, and explore ... the Dolomites!
The Dolomites are a mountain range mostly contained in the far Northern region of Italy called Southern Tyrol which borders Austria and Switzerland. Depending upon where you go, they are a spectacular two hour drive through the mountains from Lake Garda (where I was), 3 hours from Venice, or 4 hours from Milan. The landscape is unusual in so far as the mountains rise abruptly forming a vertical wall, which looks spectacular. The region feels distinctly non-Italian (picture Sound of Music), as it was annexed by Italy from Austria after WWI; German, Italian, and Ladin (the local dialect) are spoken and required on all signage. This place is perfect for hiking in the Summer and skiing in the Winter. Many are familiar with Cortina, but we stayed in the Alta Badia ski area.
There are literally thousands of hikes which vary by skill level. Each is very well maintained and marked. We used a guide (Filippo) because we were there for a limited period of time and wanted to be uber efficient (we are NY'ers after all). The hikes were very challenging, though no equipment required. We literally hiked 3 hours up the mountain pass to a peak (about 6,000ft) and then descended towards a natural lake filled with mountain water. We stopped for lunch at a nearby Rifugio (think mountain hut for hikers) and had the most amazing meal and probably the best beer I can remember; it wasn't the brand, it was how refreshing it was, the authentic ambiance (lederhosen and all) and the setting in the mountains. Many hardcore hikers entire itineraries consist of hiking rifugio to rifugio --- we opted for daytime hikes, and Relais and Chateaux at night ....
For those of you who love to hike and are not in the Dolomites, there is All Trails. This app allows you to explore trails where you are. You will be surprised by the number, quality, and difficulty of the hikes that are near your current location. You can find the right hike for you by filtering the search by proximity, difficulty, and/or length. The app will present you with a description, directions, and user generated content including reviews and recorded tracks. You can upgrade to Pro for $29.99 if you want the ability to download maps to your mobile device in the event you are out of cellular range. Get out there and hike!
Now back to the Doloimites...We stayed in San Cassiano which is one of the six ski villages in Alta Badia. It has 700 permanent residents, one of whom has earned two Michelin stars! Among his various mentors, Norbert Niederkofler was trained under David Bouley in New York and helped him to open restaurants in Bouley's NY empire. Since 1996 he has been operating in this little town in Hotel Rosa Alpina, a five star hotel. We wandered in for an aperitif and rather than sitting in the dining room, we were offered a table in the kitchen. The artistry, precision and motion of the chefs and servers was incredible to watch. The food was incredible, but what made the experience unique was spending time with Chef Niederkofler in his kitchen, eating his creations. How often can you spend time with a chef of this caliber? He is an amazing guy, has a real fondness for New York (he comes often), and produces amazing food. Written on the arm of Chef Norbert's double breasted jacket, is Cook the Mountains, which is his mission to bring the mountain (Alpine and Ladin) flavor into his cuisine creating a unique regional identity. This is a Find I (and my taste buddies) will never forget.