San Cassiano is a tiny village hidden away in the Dolomites between Italy and Austria. The town merges Italian hospitality with Austrian efficiency, a slew of Michelin-starred restaurants and easy access to the famed Sella Ronda, an extensive circular route.
Renowned as one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world with a World Heritage stamp, the toothed peaks of the Dolomites host 12 ski regions with over a thousand kilometres of slick slopes, all accessible with a single ski pass. It can be a real challenge to find a ski destination without the crowds, but San Cassiano is a treasure in the chest of Alta Badia, known for its Michelin-starred restaurants, stunning chalets and an average of 300 days of glorious sunshine each year.
A History of War and Bloodshed
With a bloody past – just 100 years ago the First World War reached new heights here – this Alpine winter wonderland was not always this way. Here on Italy’s magnificent slopes, troops built tunnels packed with explosives and showered grenades and gunfire on the enemy. The soldiers knew their terrain well for in times of rest they worked as mountain guides, but weather and impending avalanches gave this spot an equal measure of deadliness to match its natural beauty.
War played out on these mountainsides, where skiers and snowboarders now swoop and swerve. Visitors can follow the Grande Guerra tour of the region on ski or explore the restored wartime tunnels that echo of Alta Badia’s history in summer when the snow has melted. The view from 1537m Lagazuoi Peak reveals nothing of times gone by, just a fairytale vista over snow flaked pine forests, the odd rustic wooden hamlet and the endless, glistening white mountain range.
Sleep and Eat in Luxurious Comfort
Settled in the foothills of Langazuoi, where does San Cassiano come in? This peaceful village was once the Australian hub supply, with longstanding hotel The Alpenrose playing host to soldiers before they departed for the front line. The building still stands and now houses the region’s most celebrated hotel; the Relais & Chateaux accredited Rosa Alpina, with understated but elegant interiors. It’s also home to the stunning Penthouse Alpina, where guests can enjoy their own private abode within minutes of the lift without losing the luxuries of five star hotel service. Alternatively, a few miles away there’s San Lorenzo Mountain Lodge, an idyllic 42-acre private mountain estate with views over three valleys and its own golf course. For those less inclined to empty the bank vault, there are all manner of cosy, tasteful apartment rentals in town.
Perhaps the finest restaurant here is Rosa Alpina’s St Hubertus, where acclaimed chef Norbert Niederkofler acquired his Michelin stars through fascinating (and delicious) gourmet pyrotechnics. The menu envelops regional delicacies and expels dinnertime delights such as local lamb served with chestnuts or garden snails with earth scent and pine foam. Prices are relatively steep but you get what you pay for, and paired with a stay at Rosa Alpina, it makes for the ultimate luxury retreat.
Other Michelin-starred epicurean eateries in San Cassiano include La Stua de Michil, with a winter-warming menu of roe deer fillet served with nuts and apricots. Over the way, La Siriola follows up a venison sirloin with chestnut soufflé and smoked egg ice cream.
Back to the stellar slopes, which vary from child-friendly greens to easy blues and upwards, offering adventurers a way of working their way up to the six hour Sella Ronda circuit. But don’t be put off by the duration, as it includes time for a sensational lunch in one of the many restaurants that punctuate the route, as well as various pitstops for a boozy hot chocolate in a traditional mountain hut.
San Cassiano is as suited to ski pros as it is to foodie fanatics and that, in our opinion, is what makes this secluded village nothing short of ideal for an indulgent stay in the picture-perfect Italian Alps.
Get here either through Austria – Innsbruck airport is closest at an approximate two hour drive away – or come through Italy and pair with a night or two in Venice, roughly two and a half hours drive away.
If you want to skip the piste-perfect kids, come early and avoid half term, though those with families will relish the fact that children under 8 are given a free lift pass.
What’s more, the Dolomites aren’t just suited to winter. In spring these peaks are equally enchanting with fields of wildflower, crisp mountain air and the gentle pace of existence, while in summer there are crystalline lakes to swim in and a variety of walking trails through sunny meadows.