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Snow, Food and Fashion – Cortina Style:
I’m not a great fan of the listicle. But sometimes, just sometimes, I travel somewhere and there are clear and distinct things which make that place special. Cortina is such a place. For me at least, there were three things which really marked out this charming Italian ski resort.
My trip to Cortina was, ostensibly, to visit the charming boutique Hotel Ambra. But, I had enough time in my two night stay to find out a little more about the town. Arriving on the Cortina ski express in the early evening, I had very little idea what to expect. I have never been skiing, nor have I visited a ski resort in season, albeit right at the start of the winter season.
Hotel Ambra is about 5 minutes walk from the bus station. Arrive, as I did, when it is dark and you’ll find the hotel all lit up on the outside. There’s a neat reception area and a cosy bar-lounge. While the hotel doesn’t have a full restaurant, someone is always on hand to offer you a drink, be that a cup of tea or something stronger. I checked into my room, the charming Mirandolina theatre room on the second floor and went off to have some supper.
The restaurant/bar just across the street was the kind of place where I can really imagine spending the evening after a day on the slopes. With legs of prosciutto hanging in the window, the menu comprised a mixture of pasta dishes, pizza and of course plates of freshly cut prosciutto. Nothing wildly off the food scale, but definitely all excellent quality. My appetite roused by the Mountain air, I ordered far too much. But, it was VERY good and I managed to eat most of a plate of prosciutto, followed by a pasta dish, followed by a panettone.
The next day, Elizabetta Dotto, owner of Hotel Ambra, was kind enough to show me a little more of Cortina and the surrounds. We started with a visit to an isolated, fairytale-like building on the edge of a small, woodland lake. There, we drank local sparkling wine as an aperitif, before heading off to Ristorante Tivoli for what Elizabetta described as ‘a light lunch’.
Gentle reader, I am wise enough to know that there is no such thing as a ‘light lunch’ in a Michelin star restaurant. Although you are quite often served tiny tasting portions of food, it is almost an inevitability that there will be amuse bouche, palate cleansers and more. And, that you will definitely NOT want to skip dessert when it looks this beautiful.
Ristorante Tivoli was no exception. Apart from being totally charmed by chef Graziano Prest and his team, we dined on a whole assortment of ‘light’ dishes. Actually, they were all very light, there was just rather a lot of them.
I particularly like the beautiful selection of cooked and raw fish. The plate had a whole range of fresh seafood dishes – in the centre scampi carpaccio with caviar and around the outside seabass with sea salad, amberjack tartare, lobster and avocado, king prawn with a yoghurt sphere, cuttlefish in dry martini jelly, crab with cucumber, red prawn, oysters and lime foam, fried amberjack in a sepia crust and fried scallop.
And, the pasta dish of bottini with pumpkin liquid, fried pumpkin, smoked ricotta and pumpkin seed was a dish which just exploded in the mouth with flavour.
The desserts were as packed with flavour and texture as they were beautiful to the eye.
And the wine pairings were just perfect.
I have to admit to being surprised. The interior of Tivoli is very traditional, a chalet style restaurant with hand embroidered cushions and lace curtains. It doesn’t feel as if it is going to be a Michelin standard restaurant. If anything everyone is too friendly. But, actually, when it comes to the serious business of eating, it matches the best in London. No wonder, as Elizabetta said, it is booked up during the season.
Later that day we went to Al Massimo or supper, an excellent contrast since the food here was traditional, hearty mountain fare. I probably over-ordered again.
First, home made and locally foraged nettle soup followed by rosemary tagliatelle with rabbit and olive ragu
then loin of venison with raspberries, red onions and finferli mushrooms dish. But, it was worth it. I also suffered an extreme case of food envy when I saw the truffled poached egg with taleggio cheese fondue – that despite the fact that it was based on egg!
Now, in a couple of days it, is not possible to get more than an impression of the dining out scene in Cortina. But, that impression was excellent – it’s clear there are a lot of options – from fine dining to comfort food and from traditional to modern.
If food wasn’t enough, Elizabetta also took me around some of Cortina’s boutiques. The owner of hotel Ambra is herself a rather glamorous lady and with true Italian style she went shopping wearing a dress she’d bought from one of the boutiques.
She looked stunning – though her look is perhaps not for a shrinking violet type like me. I did love some of the clothes, bags and jewellery we saw, though I would have needed a padlock for my credit card if I’d been staying any longer.
Cortina has an excellent selection of upmarket boutiques, together with a huge, rambling bookshop, general department stores, a scattering of upmarket ski gear boutiques and interiors shops full of designer items. Many wealthy Italians have a second home in Cortina and the town centre offers the kind of shops you’d find in Bond Street, London, with just a nudge toward the outdoors.
So strong is fashion in Cortina that the town has it’s own fashion weekend, wit live shows, new openings, music, entertainment, fashion and art in the streets of the town centre.
Finally, but clearly in no way ‘last’ Cortina is a wonderful winter sports resort. Now, since I don’t ski, I am relying here on my own experience taking the Faloria Cable Car to look at others skiing and snowboarding. A short, two stage journey takes you to a stunning piste, with chairlifts to the top and what I’m told are quite short runs. I spent a happy morning in the restaurant here, watching the boarding and skiing. As it was a couple of days before the main season start, it wasn’t busy – and I can’t really provide an assessment of what it would be like mid-season.
It was, however, truly stunning, with spectacular views out across the town to the mountains of the dolomites and Tofana.
Elizabetta told me that the other side of the town has alternative ski slopes which are a little more serious. They were not open out of season, but there’s another cable car which will take you up to Col Druscie and on to Ra Valles. Serious ski bunnies will find blue, red and black runs there.
As I mentioned, I don’t ski. But, as a venue which hosted the Winter Olympics in 1956 and which regularly hosts world cup ski championships I suspect it is fair to assume the skiing in Cortina is worthwhile.
Apparently, although Cortina is a popular destination for Italians, 70% of them don’t come to ski. And, after my short visit, I can only agree that there’s plenty to do whether or not you are there for winter sports.
Thinking of visiting? Why not pin this post for later
I stayed at Hotel Ambra Cortina
Via XXIX Maggio, 28
Tel 0039 0436 867344
Supper on the first night was at Dok Dall’Ava
I ate lunch at Ristorante Tivoli
I ate dinner at Al Camin Cortina
With many thanks to Elisabetta Dotto, proprietor of Hotel Ambra for her hospitality and for showing me some of Cortina.