Is the journey the destination, as they say — or is the best destination really just a good meal? If you’re more for the latter, the rifugio-hopping tradition of mountain-goers in Trentino-Alto Adige is the life for you. If a tree falls in the Dolomites and no one is around to hear it, it might still make a sound. But if one takes a hike without a stop at one of this area's quaint, high-altitude restaurants, well, it's almost as if that hike didn't happen.
We’ve compiled some great places to hike to if you’re in Trentino-Alto Adige, the spotlighted region in the latest issue of Bellissimo, Italy Magazine’s quarterly, subscribers-only digital magazine.
The mountains are waiting and so are the steaming plates of polenta and pasta.
Alta Garda: Rifugio Altissimo Damiano Chiesa
Not far from Milan, this rifugio is perched atop Mount Altissimo di Nago overlooking Lake Garda. Its views are far-reaching, from the Padana plain to the south to the Dolomites in the north.
The rifugio was built in 1891, and was on the front lines of two world wars. It came out of the latter damaged but was renovated in 1955. The surrounding mountaintop also carries scars from the wars. You can visit the remains of World War II trenches and adjoining fortifications in the area, as well as a military cemetery.
Come for the views and stay for the classic, belly-warming mountain fare: polenta, stewed meat, canederli, and a plethora of cheeses. Wash it down with a cold beer, but make sure to complete your meal with some sips of their homemade wild herb grappa.
Altitude: 6758 feet
Open: May to mid-October, weekends with good weather in December
Rooms: One 7-bed room
Accessibility: By foot (hikes of 1 to 2.5 hours) or mountain bike
Val d’Ega: Rifugio Oberholz
After a day wandering the slopes — in skis or hiking boots — on the Obereggen ski area, a stop in this rifugio will have you feeling like you’re dining in a chic restaurant in northern Europe. Its unique architecture creates a dramatic aesthetic inside with a curvaceous ceiling of wood beams, bare concrete walls and simple interiors. Three large windows overlook the slopes and surrounding valley. The menu has a wide variety of dishes with local ingredients, such as mushrooms, deer and cheeses.
(This rifugio was also featured in our article about architecture in Trentino in the most recent issue of Bellissimo.)
Altitude: 6876 feet
Open: December 3 to April 16 and June 11 to October 9
Accessibility: 1-hour hike, chair lift from Obereggen, e-bike
Val di Non: Rifugio Cacciatore
The start of the hike up to the Rifugio Cacciatore comes with a disclaimer: You are entering bear country. A sign at the trailhead demonstrates how to handle a brown bear sighting, but don’t worry, they are rare. The hike up — or a taxi jeep ride if you prefer — takes you to the base of the Brenta Dolomites, the southernmost range of the Dolomite mountains, in the Adamello Brenta Park. This is the Val d’Ambiez, a branch of the High Val di Non.
The rifugio is ensconced in a valley encircled by ragged limestone cliffs. This area of the Dolomites has remained wild and feels worlds away from civilization. Keep an eye out for wildlife — not just bears — or observe the colorful wildflowers below in search of the revered Stella Alpina, or Edelweiss. Then head inside for the coziest of lunches with the hut’s “Ricette della Nonna” cooking — based on grandma’s own recipes.
Altitude: 5971 feet
Open: June 20 to September 20
Rooms: 25 beds in rooms of 2,3,4, and 6
Accessibility: by foot 3-hour hike, taxi jeep
Val di Fassa: Rifugio Passo Principe
Lunch at the Rifugio Passo Principe is otherworldly. Above 8000 feet, you enter a moonscape. Although the trail to Rifugio Passo Principe is easily accessible, it’s a great starting point for the more experienced adventurers at the intersection of several high-alpine trails and a via ferrata line, for which you need harnesses. A visit in the winter makes it the perfect spot to warm up as the world outside hibernates under its white shroud. Whatever the season, the rifugio is a memorable location for the heartiest of meals as you admire the surrounding marbled peaks piercing the sky.
Altitude: 8530 feet
Open: end of May to mid-October, weekends in February and March
Rooms: 25 beds in rooms of 8 or 10
Accessibility: cable car from Vigo di Fassa then 45-minute hike
Alto Adige (South Tyrol)
Val Gardena: Gostner Schwaige
Gourmet dining at 3,000 feet: At the Gostner Schwaige, the meal is the destination. The location is entirely self-supporting, growing, raising, foraging and making most of what they use. The menu reflects the flavors of the Seiser Alm, the largest high-altitude Alpine meadow in Europe, where it is located.
“Everything is already available to us. We just have to open our eyes and realize the wonderful gifts, which our Mother Earth offers to us. There are just so many things to see, feel and taste. In this lies the real soul of our South Tyrol,” says chef Franz Mulser.
Do not miss the Kaiserschmarren, a typical regional dessert made of pieces of fluffy pancakes with different toppings: raisins, apple sauce or jam.
Altitude: 3182 feet
Rooms: 4 suites in nearby Aussergost Hof, same owner
Accessibility: by foot, cable car or bus open during limited hours.
Val Badia: Gardenaccia Hut
The Gardenaccia Hut has all the classic choices you want for a post-hike meal in the Dolomites: canederli, polenta, strudel and unidentifiable herbs steeping in bottles of alcohol for that post-lunch kick to get you back down the mountain. If you want photogenic scenery, this is your place. The white hut with green shutters and wood railings stands out against the rocky meadow and pine forest beyond. If you wish to skip the stringent sips of grappa, catch a few rays and maybe a snooze on the reclining chairs in the surrounding meadow.
Altitude: 6725 feet
Open: June 11 to October 9
Rooms: 40 beds in rooms of 2,3, and 4
Accessibility: 40 min hike from La Villa
If you go
Bookmark this map of our rifugio picks to plot your stops.
Check out the Winter 2023 issue of Bellissimo for more top Trentino-Alto Adige intel, including an inside look at one of the region's more modern takes on the rifugio tradition.