Farm to Table at the Adler Ritten Lodge in the Dolomites

I had the pleasure of a truly relaxing and rewarding getaway earlier this month in the Dolomites, an area of Italy I have only scratched the surface of so far, but that is so worth digging deeper into! I was invited to stay at Adler Dolomiti in the heart of the charming centro storico of Ortisei (more on this soon), and at their sister property, Adler Lodge Ritten, in the beautiful, unspoilt Alpine highlands of Ritten (also known as Renon), sitting northeast of Bolzano in the South Tyrol.

At 1,100+ meters above sea level and with the Dolomites as a stunning backdrop, it feels like being in an entirely different world, so it is almost hard to believe that this is just a 3 hour train ride from Florence to Bolzano — and then an incredible 12-minute floating ride in the clouds on a cable car (the Funivia) to a little forest train that brings you right to the lodge in Ritten.

This was an absolutely beautiful stay, I can wholeheartedly say one of the most rejuvenating, relaxing and refreshing stays — the unbeatable mountain views, the heated infinity pool, Finnish saunas with ice cold pools in the forest (and even a private one in the room), yoga amongst the trees, cosy pine cabins with a view and Slow Food-inspired, Farm to Table fine cuisine. But I think another part of the reason this is so relaxing is the format of the stay, which is all inclusive full board, meaning all the food and drink and scheduled activities are all included. The mini bar, the breakfast and lunch buffets, the afternoon tea offering of cakes, and of course dinner. You can help yourself to wine and soft drinks (I loved the local Kohl juices, they are based just down the road and, based on the juice of different varieties of mountain apples in many different flavours, are something special) in the lobby’s lounge area, or ask for a cocktail or a tisane of mountain herbs on the deck. It’s all included. You don’t need to think about it.

For me, dinner was the highlight. I would come back and stay here just to be able to taste head chef Hannes Pignater’s menu again. And actually it is the only way you can taste his food because the restaurant is not open to the public — only for guests. Being a private restaurant, it’s not up for certifications like Slow Food or awards from the Michelin guide, but it is in every way a restaurant that upholds both Slow Food ideals and Michelin quality and skill.

There are two menus offered at dinner, an à la carte menu that changes daily and the Farm to Table menu, which Hannes, who is from Alto Adige, tells me is “his identity.” I saved it for the last night because I like to do that, save the best for last, but honestly the à la carte menu was a delight as well. We tried raw, marinated turnip and a beautiful tomato broth with trout, and venison with coffee and braised eschalot. One of the things that struck me was the taste of his canederli, the traditional bread dumplings of Alto Adige, which were served on a bed of finely sliced braised cabbage and a delicious jus. When cut open, inside were crispy, delicate tasty pieces of cubed potato and Grammlen, pork scratchings, a traditional frugal specialty from Austria and a recipe learned by Hannes’ Austrian mother in law, he tells me. To me it tasted of my Japanese grandmother’s okonomiyaki, which is like a pancake made with cabbage, pork belly and the crispy bits leftover from frying tempura with a dark, sweet sauce over the top and this comparison is something I will never forget.

When I sat down the next day to chat with Hannes before trying the Farm to Table menu, amongst many things we talked about the mix of cultures in this corner of Italy (long part of the Austrian empire, Alto Adige became part of Italy in 1919, in fact 95% of the population speak German as their first language, just 4.5% are mother tongue Italian) with both influencing what he eats at home and cooks for his farm to table menu. He seeks out the most interesting local producers to inspire his menus, from the goats cheese to organic beef (served as a tartare) to the ancient grains for pasta (farro dicocco nero which is made into tagliolini in Hannes’ kitchen and served with local smoked cheese and juniper jus, is being produced in extremely small quantities, recounts Hannes, by a German farmer who grew up here as a child and wanting to escape his city life, decided to farm something that was once all over Ritten and couldn’t be found anymore).

Hannes has built an important relationship with local producers and farmers, many of whom are young and often work part time jobs to help support their businesses. He hopes to be able to guarantee them enough work to keep them going, so they can just focus on the farming, and would rather nurture this relationship with the producers and wait to be able to use their local products than find other quicker or easier alternatives. He pointed out to me that, just like a wine list has the name of the producer, the year and such, that he wanted to do the same on his menu, to amplify the farmer, the face and the person behind the ingredients, which is part of the story to tell — so he does indeed list the producer an the place underneath the Farm to Table dishes.

When I asked if he finds there is something that the clientele asks for that he has to accommodate for — I suppose I was curious if they prefer more “pan-Italian” dishes or if they want the local fare, Hannes rightly tells me that he has long stopped asking what the clients wants and instead offers what he wants to show them, what products he wants them to try. And after hearing how passionately he speaks about the produce and the area, I only want to eat what Hannes tells me I should try.

My favourite dish next to the tagliolini was a last minute change to the Farm to Table menu that night — a wonderful broth infused with locally grown saffron (another young, new producer) and smoked trout from the Venosta Valley. It was absolutely delicious, yet delicate and elegant that felt like a warm, enveloping embrace — a little bit like how I felt about this entire stay.

This was a Press Trip organised by TN Hotel Media Consulting but the views expressed are, as always here, purely my own opinion.

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