Under a blanket of clouds, which surround the rocky peaks of the Dolomites, the world is emerald green. Even the air, full of moisture after many days of rain, has a different texture, pale blue, like the mist rising from the trees. Pine and larch forests cover the mountainsides; along the way, the scent of the undergrowth is intoxicating.
I’m walking in the rain, in Trentino, and I feel like I’ve stepped into a parallel world, a magical forest where fairies live. I arrived in Val di Fassa, precisely in Pozzo di Fassa, three days ago, under a stormy sky.
Val di Fassa
The streets were empty when I left the car and bags at the Valacia Hotel, a wooden building at the end of the village, warm and cozy, with a stunning view of the mountains. I walked along the creek, listening to its noise, until I reached the town center, where the shops were closed even though it was 5 pm. Then, finally, a light. I find an open shop packed with local products. It’s called La Casa del Formaggio (The House of Cheese) and here I buy a slice of Linzer torte (made with almond flour and redcurrant jam – here’s the recipe) and organic yogurt.
Sitting on the wooden bench under the shed, watching the cloudy landscape, I enjoy my Linzer and smile. No matter if the weather is gloomy; I’ve found my favourite merenda (afternoon snack) in Trentino. And do not tell me that good food is not comforting.
A green world
I quickly get accustomed to this green world that smells of musk and wet earth. I’ve always had a difficult relationship with the mountains, but the need for nature that rises in every person who is forced to live in a big, crowded, polluted city has taught me to appreciate the simplicity of this quiet, slow lifestyle. In the morning, spotting a patch of blue among the clouds, we decide to take a path in the forest, one of the many that depart from the town.
It soon becomes clear that there’s something special about this trail. The trees are thicker, their trunks lumpy. I can hear birds chirping in the distance and the wind singing through the leaves. Suddenly we come across the wooden statues of two women. One is young, beautiful and melancholic, the other is a hump witch with a horrible grin on her face.
The Fairies’ Trails
A wooden “page” of a fairytale book informs us that once upon a time there lived a girl in this valley, who was turned into a statue by the local hag. Yet she found some comfort in the wonderful view of the Dolomites before her stone eyes. We keep stepping over the roots until we get to the next wooden sculptures, where a girl with a heavy necklace and a sad-looking knight await the pilgrims. Here’s their story: the necklace was the knight’s gift to his beloved one, before going to war.
While he was away, the girl was pursued by another man, a prince who convinced her to marry him. But the knight’s gift seemed to be stuck around the girl’s neck and the prince, frightened by this unusual phenomenon, thought she was cursed and canceled the wedding. Trust and love were broken though, and when the knight came home, he didn’t forgive the girl for betraying him and hid himself in the woods forever, leaving the girl alone with her memories.
Cold air, amazing view
More legends await along the winding path that leads to a malga (Alpine hut) overlooking the valley, from Vigo to Canazei. The peaks of the Dolomites are right in front of us. We take the road back to the village then, with the distinct feeling that the fairies’ path has left a trail of magic. In fact there are patches of blue in the the cloudy sky now, and so we decide to take the car and drive up to Passo Sella.
A series of hairpin turns climb up the mountainside, and the view is spectacular. At over 2,000 meters, the woods give way to meadows and rocks, partly still covered in snow. The air is cold, the silence is broken only by the sound of the wind. It is easy to let my imagination run wild in places like this, and imagine to spend the night in the hut listening to old tales and uncanny stories. Ahead, the road climbs down towards Sella di Val Gardena and then Ortisei.
Here we park the car and visit the town, a popular holiday destination in the Dolomites and the place of work of a considerable number of wood carvers. In fact there are many shops selling handicrafts, wooden items and souvenirs in the main street, along with hotels and restaurants. With great disappointment I realize that the bakery I wanted to visit – Butëiga from Pan Hofer – is closed, so I settle for a slice of strudel and a cup of tea in a small café.
The rain starts falling again, but not for long. When it finally stops, we pay a visit to the church of San Udalrico and the historic Adler Hotel, before taking the road back home. Again we stop at Passo Sella: in the afternoon light, the landscape reminds me of certain locations of The Lord of the Rings.
Restaurants in the Mountains
We briefly stop in Canazei to see the typical pastel coloured houses along the creek, the balconies and windows of which are decorated with floral motives and beautiful carvings. Back in Pozza, we get ready for dinner at El Filo, a small and quiet restaurant where pasta is organic, bread is homemade, and desserts are modern versions of traditional Trentino cakes (strudel and Zelten, made with dried fruit and honey).
Le Giare, on the other side of the creek, is just as good; the wood-covered interiors remind of a Tyrolean chalet and the menu features salads made with local ingredients, fresh goat cheese, stuffed dumplings, local meat, and even pizza made with organic flour.
Eating in Trentino is an intense pleasure, almost like admiring the Dolomites. Talking with local people, who are dedicated to farming, milking, and cheese and honey production, make us understand why all the products are so good here. Vegetarians will enjoy the taste of fresh milk, yogurt, cheese and eggs, embracing this simple, genuine lifestyle.
South of Pozza, Moena is a lovely town located on a creek, with colorful houses overlooking the main square, the Gothic church of San Vigilio and several paths leading to the farms and shelters, through meadows and woods. Eager to explore the surroundings, we drive along the road that climbs up to Passo San Pellegrino, where many testimonies of the First World War are preserved. A path takes to Rifugio Fuciade (Fuciade Hut), in the Costabella Group, a typical log cabin surrounded by a snowy landscape in winter and bright green meadows during the summer. It is still closed now; anyways, the rain that starts to fall again forces us to return quickly to the parking lot.
Legends of Ladinia
I suggest making a brief stop in Vigo di Fassa to visit the Gothic church of San Giovanni; in summertime, it’s worth taking the cableway to the Ciampedie and then the walking path to the Rifugio Vajolet, a guesthouse among the rocks. No wonder that the people of Ladinia (as this region is called) believed their mountains were populated by mythical creatures.
During the long winters, families spent a lot of time around the fire, and as women spun wool and men carved wood, they told stories of orcs, dwarves and beautiful girls, like the Moon’s daughter who married the local prince. She missed home so much that she signed a deal with the Salvans, the ancient inhabitants who knew the secrets of nature. In exchange for a safe haven in the mountains, the Salvans wove a silver mantle to give the landscape a lunar color. Since then, the Dolomites are known as the Pale Mountains.
Casa del formaggio / L Malghèr, Piaza del Malghèr, 1, Pozza di Fassa – here you can buy local yogurt, cheese, homemade cookies and Linzer tart
El Filò, Strada Dolomites, 103, Pozza di Fassa – suggested restaurant
Le Giare, Piaza del Malghèr 20, Pozza di Fassa – suggested restaurant and pizzeria
Pasticceria Reinhard, Strada Neva 20, Vigo di Fassa; Via Garber 5, Moena – a lovely patisserie selling cakes, cookies and chocolate.