Isarco, the Valley in wonderland

Starting from Rio Pusteria, a series of delicious places for a summer in Alto Adige

by Annalisa Cavaleri
The total green of Valle Isarco, where cows and go

The total green of Valle Isarco, where cows and goats happily pasture, infusing they merriness in the excellent milk used by artisan dairy farmers to produce excellent products

So you don’t know what to do this summer and you don’t feel like going to the beach? Then it’s time to take the Brennero motorway and go to Alto Adige. Your place for peace is holiday area "Sci e malghe Rio di Pusteria" in Valle Isarco, a totally green kingdom among the mountains, where time seems to have stopped. The main town, after which the area is named, is Rio Pusteria, and above it, there are the ski resorts of Maranza-Valles. All around, one can find villages with medieval castles such as Rodengo, woods, paths for walks and bike routes.

In this area milk and cheese rule: it is here that Degust, Hansi Baumgartner’s firm, is located. This refiner who is now famous all around the world buys cheese from highly selected local producers and with passion and creativity makes them even more special. Some cheeses are matured in barrels that used to contain whiskey, others in hay that was handpicked at 2,000 metres above the sea level, others in must, in vinasse or in flowers. The shop, where one can find over a hundred types of cheese, is in Varna, near Bressanone, though the maturation is made in a World War Two bunker in Rio di Pusteria. Here there is space for 5,500 items that rest in rooms with a 90% humidity and a constant temperature between 5 and 12°C.

One of the products on sale at Capriz, a concept store dedicated to goat cheese

One of the products on sale at Capriz, a concept store dedicated to goat cheese

For those who love the intense flavour of goat milk, in Vandoies there’s Capriz: this is an open view dairy farm, a concept store and a restaurant where one can taste goat cheese of all kinds. A local farmer who breeds and looks after three hundred goats supplies the milk. On the basement, there’s an interactive museum, entirely dedicated to goats, very fun for children who can learn how milk is transformed into cheese in a fun way.

A place that will steal your heart is Malga Fane, also known as “Heidi’s village”: this is a group of ancient mountain huts with wood roofs, placed in an glacial alpine basin, where everything is kept as one hundred years ago. There are three hundred cows for butter and cheese made on the spot. A lunch at refuge Gatterer Hütte is not to be missed: it is specialized in delicious canederli: with spinach, traditional with speck or with liver, with buckwheat filled with cheese. There are also sweet canederli and the famous Kaiserschmarren, a sort of delicious, thick broken crêpe made with eggs, milk, flour, sugar, vanilla and raisins and paired with blueberry jam or warm mashed apples. Malga Fane can be reached on foot by walking on ‘Milk Route’ n. 17 or with a shuttle from Valles.

Another stop not to be missed is Jurgen Theiner’s distillery Brennerei in Vandoies di Sopra, who six years ago specialised in distilling fruits of the forest, roots and wild berries. One hundred kilos of fruit and lots of work make a litre and a half but when smelling the glass one is flooded by such a natural scent it seems as if you had a basket of fresh fruits of the forest under your nose.

Of course, wine is also a must: between Rio di Pusteria and Sciaves it is possible to visit Santerhof, the most northern winery in Italy. The company grows organic grapes and fruits. Besides the wines, the artisanal organic apple juice also deserves to be tasted: ten thousand bottles per year of a sweet juice with an acid finish that never tires.

Moreover, hotels offer all their guests a convenient, free, all inclusive card called "Almencard": it includes the free use of all public transport (bus and train in Val Pusteria and some ski lifts), and access to the various museums in Alto Adige as well as discounts in restaurants.