A breath of fresh air in the gourmet paradise of South Tyrol

“Listen to the young people.” That is exactly what everyone here has said: Norbert Niederkofler. He is the only three-star chef in South Tyrol. The St. Hubertus restaurant at the Hotel Rosa Alpina in San Cassiano, located in the Dolomite ski area of ​​Alta Badia, is considered a training ground for talented cooks and a place of pilgrimage for gourmets.

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The passionate gray-bearded skier is in his early 60s and has no intention of retiring. In the future, on the other hand, very well: in the future of the planet, that of his homeland and that of the pleasure region of South Tyrol. The star chef is the one who cares least about the latter. Because the old have achieved a lot and he trusts the young even more.

south tyrol

get there The train is about to Munich without transition until Bolzano. By car it is south tyrol by the Brenner motorway or by the reschen pass accessible. The nearest international airports are innsbruck and Verona.

weather and travel time south tyrol it’s a year-round destination. For food lovers, the harvest time in autumn is recommended, when it is still hot in the valleys and there is already snow in the mountains. Even in early October, maximum temperatures often rise to 20 to 25 degrees Celsius.

information south tyrol Information, south tyrolean highway 60, I-39100 Bolzano (Phone: 0039 (0)471 999 999; Mail: [email protected]; Internet: www.suedtirol.info)

In the cellars, in the kitchens and on the farms, a generational change is taking place south of the Brenner Pass, and a change of heart. More and more companies are working in a sustainable and organic way.

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Norbert Niederkofler is happy about this and is self-critical about environmental pollution and the climate crisis. “My generation screwed it up, now it’s up to the young people to fix it,” he says.

These youngsters include talents like Kevin Trafoier, who took over the kitchen at the Michelin-starred Tauberain restaurant in Kastelbell from his father Jörg. Christoph Huber is also part of the young guard. At his Zur Blauen Traube restaurant, which opened in 2019 in the Algund suburb of Merano, he cooks locally in creative and radical ways. Like many others, Huber learned from Niederkofler and internalized his constant focus on ingredients from the region.

One could say: Niederkofler is a pioneer among the best chefs in the Alps. After training with star chefs like Eckart Witzigmann, Jörg Müller and Alfons Schuhbeck, he initially found success at St. Kassian with classic haute cuisine, until he turned everything upside down and put his career in jeopardy.

The Wine Route is located in the Unterland of South Tyrol, it is one of the oldest wine regions in Italy. © Gianni Bodini/Alois Lageder/dpa-tmn

Niederkofler no longer wanted to receive luxury products from all over the world to serve his guests what they could get anywhere. This is how Niederkofler became a pioneer of regional and seasonal Alpine cuisine.

All Niederkofler ingredients come from around 50 farms in the region. It doesn’t even use olive oil. Critics were initially skeptical. “An informant warned me that he would lose the second star he had at the time,” says Niederkofler. “But South Tyroleans can be stubborn.” In 2017, the Michelin Guide finally awarded it three stars.

The many top restaurants in Meran and Bozen, led by Niederkofler’s St. Hubertus, have played a key role in South Tyrol’s rise to become a region of indulgence. Niederkofler could be proud of that. Instead, however, he praises the young talents in the kitchen and “winemakers like Alois Lageder, who started it all.”

Radically regional: star chef Norbert Niederkofler (left) is a pioneer in alpine cuisine. © Daniel Hügelle/Rosa Alpina St. Hubertus/dpa-tmn

The pioneer of South Tyrolean wine resides in Margreid on the Wine Route in the lowlands of South Tyrol. It is the southernmost place in the region where German is still predominantly spoken. At the foot of steep cliffs, there is an almost Mediterranean atmosphere.

Besides vines and fruit trees, palm trees characterize the landscape, oleanders and bougainvillea seem to flourish even more magnificently than in the gardens of the imposing villas of Merano and Bozen. It is not uncommon for the basin halfway between Bolzano and Trento to be the hottest region in Italy in summer; climate change is also evident here. However, the winemaker has long ago reacted to this and planted more heat-resistant grape varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon.

Lageder is not one to cling to old traditions out of principle, even though his family has been producing wine since 1823. Lageder is as progressive in viticulture as Niederkofler is in the kitchen.

Before Lageder relied on quality white wines some 40 years ago, South Tyrol mainly produced red wines from Zech, such as Vernatsch, which is traditionally grown in the Pergel system. The vines are guided along wire arches so that they grow together and form a dense canopy of leaves in the middle. This creates shaded paths between the vines.

In Elena Walch’s cellar, wines mature that have a good reputation beyond South Tyrol. © Elena Walch/dpa-tmn

There are still pergola plots around Lake Caldaro. Cyclists and hikers traverse the miles of trails around the warmest bathing lake in the Alps.

South Tyrol has been a destination for skiers, climbers, hikers, cyclists and golfers for decades. Last but not least, it is thanks to Lageder that it has also become a place of pilgrimage for wine lovers. Meanwhile, the winemaker has passed the scepter to the next generation. His son Alois Clemens runs the winery, his daughter Helena deals with marketing and sales. A few kilometers north of Margreid, the grande dame of South Tyrolean viticulture, Elena Walch, has also completed a generational changeover. In Tramin, her daughters Julia and Karoline have taken over the farm.

For connoisseurs, Elena Walch’s single vineyard wines such as “Castel Ringberg” or “Kastelaz” are true masterpieces. Like many other winemakers in South Tyrol, the Walchs offer Gewürztraminer, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling as white wines, and Lagrein, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon as red wines.

You can learn how South Tyrol became one of the best wine regions at the wine museum in Caldaro or, more pleasantly, on a visit to one of the more than 200 small wineries in the region or one of the cooperatives.

“The better South Tyrolean wines became, the more insightful connoisseurs came to the region and the better the restaurants became,” says Norbert Niederkofler. The star chef not only thinks of the best addresses, but also of the excellent inns and mountain refuges. South Tyrolean cuisine is no longer just famous for its endless variations of delicious meatballs. Now it charms with a mix of Alpine warmth and Italian lightness. And that often at a very good price-performance ratio. dpa/tmn

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