You can’t really teach people how to be great hosts. It either comes naturally, or not at all.
Stefano Zulian, owner of the Baita Cuz, is one of the naturals. The Baita Cuz is a mountain restaurant-with-rooms, in the small and underrated Buffaure ski area in the Italian Dolomites. Buffaure lies above Canazei, on the other side of the Val di Fassa from the Sella Ronda – and a large proportion of the canny skiers and boarders who go there seem to pass through Stefano’s front door. After you’ve been welcomed in, it’s not hard to see why. This must be the friendliest mountain restaurant in Canazei.
We first dropped by at about 11am to book a table for lunch.
“How about a bombardino to warm up?” suggested Stefano. A Bombardino is the local pick-me-up in these parts – a mix of Vov (egg liqueur), whisky and rum, warmed up and topped off with cream
“We were thinking of a coffee,” said Elisabetta, my guide.
“Then a calimero would be perfect,” came the reply – and before we could think of reason why not we’d been presented with a drink in three layers: cream, espresso and bombardino. It’s named after a cartoon character on Italian TV, and drinking it is a weird experience. First of all the coffee winds you up, then the alcohol relaxes you, and finally the bombardino gives you enough energy to ski for another three hours – enveloped by a warmish fug.
We skied fast. Elisabetta’s accelerator is broken and essentially she only has two speeds – stationary and Mach2, a fact somewhat concealed by her elegant style. Buffaure was the perfect place for her today: it may be close to the Sella Ronda, but hardly anyone goes there, and the pistes were deserted all day. What’s more, despite the thaw last week – followed by a deep freeze over the weekend – every piste we skied was soft and grippy: a testament both to the snow-making skills of the Dolomite resorts, and the northerly aspect of many of the slopes. We had a blast, and froze our faces in the cold north wind in the process.
Then it was time to go back to Stefano’s.
I thought a glass of water would be a good idea before lunch. Stefano poured us a spritz, instead: one part Aperol, one part Prosecco and one part soda water, finished with ice and slice of orange.
Then he brought over a bottle of Trentino Merlot. They make proper wine in these parts – as anyone who’s sampled Ferrari Metodo Classico will know – and this Grigoletti 2007, Antica Vigna, was a case in point: a massive mouthful of red which had both depth and subtlety. We drank it at a table groaning with food – local cheese, local salami, local pickles, and local rye bread, peppered with cumin seeds. Then we out-localised even that lot with a plate of ciasoncie: pasta stuffed with figs, flooded with butter, and topped off by a puree of apples and figs. And if that sounds like nothing you’ve ever eaten, that shouldn’t be a surprise: it’s a Ladin dish. The Val di Fassa is a stronghold of the ancient Ladin language and culture, which has survived in the high Dolomite valleys.
While we ate, a steady stream of skiers washed around us: local ski instructors, Danes, Germans, Italians, and even the ski-police who patrol the pistes. Then the lifts shut on the slopes outside and the late-afternoon sky flooded with colour. We left just as the ski-police came down to make sure everyone was going home
What a day. We had some great skiing – but it’s Stafano’s welcome that I’ll best remember.
Check out this Youtube clip of the 70th anniversary of the Pozza di Fassa brass band – celebrated with a concert perched on the vertiginous Torri del Vajolet. Stefano organised the excursion…