LIKE CHALK AND CHEESE, GASTRONOMY AND TRADITION IN THE SARNTAL VALLEY
Getting here, however, is no mean feat. The hamlet of Auen is tucked away high above the main village of Sarnthein, so this involves either a drive up a winding road or a bracing walk. “At the beginning our remoteness was a bit of a problem” admits Heinrich Schneider, who runs the Auener Hof together with his sister Gisela. The hotel/restaurant, originally built by their parents, is the highest Michelin-starred restaurant in Italy, at an altitude of 1614 metres. Since last year they have also had 3 Gault-Millau chef’s hats and they have long been a byword for lovers of good food. But it’s not possible to simply turn up at the Auener Hof. For one thing, they only serve dinners. For another, the choice is between a 9-course and a 16-course menu, prepared under the supervision of chef Heinrich Schneider in the open-plan kitchen. What distinguishes the exquisite dishes are the unusual combinations of rare mountain herbs which Heinrich Schneider himself picks in the woods and meadows every day. Gisela Schneider is a wine sommelier and recommends suitable wines for each dish from her wine-cellar with over 1000 different labels, many of them small, high-quality vintners. Like the spa and the library, the eight guest rooms and two suites are grouped around the Terra Restaurant.
Who doesn’t dream on cold dreary winter days of walking in a pristine winter landscape with glistening snow crunching beneath your boots and with a clear-blue sky above? This becomes reality in Auen and Sarntal. The winter path to the ‘Stoarnenen Mandln’ starts from the small car-park in Auen. According to legend, the summit of the Stoanerne Mandeln was where witches gathered for their wild orgies. Whether the stone cairns really are witches turned into stone who become flesh and blood only on the Walpurgis Night – well that remains to be seen. But this summit plateau exudes a certain magic and, to boot, offers amazing views of the Dolomites. Winter hikers can borrow toboggans from the Skihütte, a huge incentive for children to walk to the top in the knowledge that they can toboggan down afterwards. While the Auener Hof is quite sophisticated, the Skihütte is much more down-to-earth, with hearty South Tyrolean fare like ‘Herrengeröstel’, roast potatoes and home-made elderflower cordial. Whoever has walked up from Sarnthein with touring skis can relax in the sauna and if in the evening it’s too late to ski down to the valley, then what can be nicer than to sleep in one of the seven rooms with traditional furniture, thick duvets, creaking timber floor-boards and a toilet along the corridor? Quaint and cosy. To suit every pocket. Open the whole year round and walkers will appreciate the choice of 3 warm dishes available throughout the afternoon. The traditional little Christmas market in Sarnthein held during the four weekends of Advent is not to be missed. Another fascinating tradition on the three Thursdays before the winter solstice are the Klöckler, young boys prancing around the village in the blue aprons, wooden clogs, fearsome masks and innumerable bells, making a huge din and who will only move on once bribed with a suitable gift. A fertility rite harking back to the mists of time.