For the poet Giosuè Carducci Cortina it was “beautiful”, for Ernest Hemingway it was “sweet”, for Ruyard Kipling it was “kitsch”. Today at first glance it would be defined as a little faded, overdone.
Everyone has passed by Cortina, actors and rulers, footballers and showgirls, explorers and sportsmen, and everyone has seen something different. The landscape is truly breathtaking, the ski version of dolce vita was invented here. Cortina has exuded luxury and worldliness for more than a century. But the golden years have passed and its history was in danger of ending up like that of many other postcard locations destroyed by mass tourism and exploited for the use and consumption of vacationers – without a happy ending.
After becoming famous to the general public in 1956 thanks to the Winter Olympics, it is now preparing to host the next games in 2026. Meanwhile, the 2021 World Ski Championships led to its return in the headlines: the city has decided not to be caught unprepared and the shock of 2020 could prove to be providential.
The “queen of the Dolomites” wants to be crowned again. Tourism in Cortina seemed to have never known a crisis, but in the last twenty years the statistics spoke of the presence of more and more hit and run Italians, concentrated only in August and December, offset by the constant increase in foreign, European and American guests. The Cortina brand and the views are not everything, the tourist flows are the result of long-term strategies and continuous investments because fashions change and one cannot hope that the cows will be fat forever.
“The Cooperative is an old lady who needs a makeover” said the director of the most famous shopping center in the city, right in the center and where city life is concentrated. Along Corso Italia there are shops for shopping and bars for an aperitif, but next to Chiara Ferragni’s boutique, many would definitely need an extreme makeover.
Fur-clad ladies go shopping alongside families in trekking outfits and trendy Koreans, Russians pop champagne and Venetians drink spritz, while influencers take selfies in front of a faded hotel advertisement billboard – I think it dates back to the eighties, it even features a phone handset.
Cortina is changing its skin, the administration and a group of enlightened entrepreneurs are pulling the ropes of renewal because they know that adequate facilities are needed at the level of guests they want to attract; services for a new generation of customers, younger and more used to travel; activities to adjust the proposal seasonally; clubs, restaurants and entertainment a little more in step with the times. Because, if Cortina created its myth by inventing mountain tourism, today it is rethinking it to found new alpine luxury.
Here is a list of addresses where you can breathe the future of the “queen of the Dolomites”: to learn about history, drink wine at high altitude, have breakfast, sleep under the stars, swim in a designer pool, try the spin-off of a three Michelin star restaurant and sit at the table of the most interesting farmhouse in the city.
The evolving icon
Whether tourism was born first in Cortina, or whether it arrived thanks to the Hotel Cristallo will always remain a mystery, but what is certain is that the imposing Austro-Hungarian style building that dominates the city is a symbol. It was the first luxury hotel inaugurated in 1901 and one of the driving forces behind the sports that have made the Venetian village a world-famous destination. In 1963 it was the set of Blake Edwards’ The Pink Panther with David Niven and Peter Sellers, thrusting Cortina to the collective imagination – an operation repeated in 1983 with Vanzina’s Christmas Holidays. Everyone has passed here, actors and actresses, kings and queens, making the Cristallo the mirror of the destination of yesterday, today and tomorrow. People still swim in the futuristic indoor pool of the 1930s, but it has evolved to allow city tourism to evolve: today it aims at a select clientele looking for a new luxury. In addition to the spa, the Il Gazebo restaurant with contemporary local cuisine, and alpine yoga courses, they have launched the Destination Authority concierge service, a guide that helps guests find “their” Cortina, away from the beaten paths of tourism.
Breakfast at the bakery
A nice patisserie with traditional and contemporary sweets right in the center. It has been 104 years since Adolfo opened a small bakery in Cortina d’Ampezzo, which became a pastry shop in the Olympic era and transformed back into a café with bistro in more recent years. Contemporary and miniature cakes, a great selection of viennoiserie for breakfast (made by them), panettone and leavened products at Christmas, ice cream in the summer. Tradition is not ignored, so you also buy puccia di segale speziata, il brazorà bellunese and apfelstrudel. A little bit of France, a little bit of local tradition, a little bit of international classics like club sandwiches and burgers for lunch. Perfect souvenir to take away: Dolce Cortina, an elderberry-scented pastry for breakfast.
Masi Wine Bar
Amarone with a view
Drinking Amarone at 1,778 meters with the priceless view overlooking Cortina? Yes, you can. The Masi Wine Bar “Al Druscié” opened at the end of 2018, bringing the best wines of Valpollicella directly to the Dolomites. For the past forty years, Masi launched an ambitious project to enhance historic wine estates in the region and today the wine bar offers its many labels on one of the best international stages. They range from €5 per glass to much much more for rare bottles, meat and cheese plates for €17.50, generous traditional dishes for less than €20 and apple fritters, blueberry jam and whipped cream for €8.50. The proposal is truly democratic and can be enjoyed in the modern wooden room or outside on the panoramic terrace. The Masi Wine Bar is located at the start of the legendary Col Druscié A slope, in front of the Forcella Rossa, Olimpia and Vertigine Bianca slopes, theater of the World Cup ski races. For skiers and those who go trekking in the summer it is a perfect pit stop, but for all the others it is an opportunity to take the 7 minute trip up with the new Tofana-Freccia del cielo cable car which in 2020 replaced the “old lady” inaugurated in 1969.
Farmhouse, starred restaurant and dairy
Contemporary mountain cuisine, philologically flawless, made only with local ingredients and for the most part produced in the family farmhouse. The San Brite of chef Ricky Gaspari finally and deservedly received a Michelin star in 2020, the latest expression of a family from Ampezzo who (against the current) have remained faithful to age old cultivation and breeding. Over the years they evolved from catering on the slopes, to transforming dairy products and finally arriving at gourmet cuisine: the Brite universe is the perfect starting point to get to know Cortina on the first day and to come back the last for a
Be careful not to get confused: El Brite de Larieto is the family farm where, overlooking the stable, you can taste traditional local dishes, simply well made and cared for by the hand of a professional chef. Pasta, bread, cheeses, herbs … all their own production. The checks do not exceed €30, both at El Brite and at the refined table of the San Brite – a fine dining Nordic-style restaurant where, instead, raw materials are enhanced without seeking reinterpretations, simply serving a high-level signature cuisine (and extreme pleasure). El Brite de Larieto and San Brite are faces of the same love for the land, of the same knowledge, of the desire to make guests feel good and entertain them. With a panoramic view of the mountains, the advice is to always come for lunch and stop to buy wonderful yoghurt and cheeses in the small and delightful shop at the Piccolo Brite Dairy.
Hostaria in Cortina
Chef Max Alajmo's temporary
The new temporary winter restaurant of the Alajmo group has opened at the Ancora Hotel in Corso Italia (taken over by Renzo Rosso, owner of Diesel) for the winter season. Hostaria is a format of informal clubs with a proposal of simple cuisine, wines, cocktails and a musical rhythm that accompanies the whole day. At the Terrazza e Veranda bar you can stop for a coffee with a pastry from Alajmo, drink a flute of Champagne or eat a sandwich signed by the chef. At the restaurant you will find the classic dishes of Max’s cuisine such as fried scampi rolls, Piedmontese cowhide battuta on tree bark with white truffle, risotto with hare, amarone and white truffle, but also a historic dish by Mamma Rita, the beetroot gnocchi in gorgonzola sauce or roasted suckling pig, mustard foam and coffee powder.
Starlight Room Dolomites 360°
Sleeping under the stars
In complete solitude, under the stars and surrounded by mountains. The most romantic and immersive experience in Cortina is that offered by the Col Gallina Refuge which offers guests a fully-equipped suite, transport, dinner with a bottle of wine, a steaming soup and a buffet breakfast at the refuge. You get on board a Land Rover and are dropped off and left in silence to enjoy the sunset and the arrival of the Enrosadira, when the Dolomites turn pink before night falls. The sky full of stars is a unique spectacle, and at dawn the next day it is repeated with the first glow of the morning.
Faloria Mountain Spa Resort
The pop hotel with a spa and a green swimming pool
The swimming pool has been published in furniture and design magazines all over the world, but Faloria is not only this. The historic hotel reopened in July 2020 with a series of unprecedented services making it more comfortable for the “work from home” crowd. You could also relax in the sauna and Turkish bath, in the wellness area – and obviously in the reserved alcoves by the pool. Modern, pop, accessible in terms of prices and approach, the Faloria is the hotel of choice for the new generation and, after the renovation, the sign of the times for an entire destination. The style traces the furnishings of the traditional Ampezzo house, revisited in a contemporary style, and the lobby welcomes you with a large stube where the fire crackles. Shuttle to the slopes in winter, lunch box to eat in the room or to have a picnic in summer, collaborations with Brite and organized walks on the paths of the Great War. To experience Cortina in every season.