Lefay: east-meets-west in nature

Lefay resort meets the eastern wellbeing classics in an open-minded coupling with Western wellness to harmonise your body, mind and soul through nature, nurture, spa and professional body therapies. In just five days of the Active & Balance program, I learned so much about what my mind and body need not just in that specific moment, time of the year, but also holistically in life.

This energy recovering, balancing discovery package is only available to experience here at Lefay Dolomiti, the newer location of the established Lefay resort on the Lake Garda.

While we were geographically disappointed that the Lefay Dolomiti is not in fact in the Dolomites, the stunning, changing light reflecting UNESCO World Heritage natural area is about 10km hike from the resort to Madonna di Campiglio for just the views or to the core of the jagged sedimentary rock formations about half an hour drive. The Lefay resort Dolomiti is set in the valley running from Pinzolo ski town it faces all the way down south perpendicular to the Garda Lake.

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Nature’s seasonality challenges the body and mind

Conspicuously enough or it just may have been the late summer whimsical weather pattern in the Trentino mountains, each day could not have been different outside. The first summer season day in the seasonally tuned program coincided with the warmest day of our stay. Then we moved to the stiffer autumn swiftly with some cooling off and rainy spells. Winter was chillingly upon us as it snowed overnight in the higher altitudes yet it melted into the water element within hours. And the fourth day springy energy strolling over mossy path in the woods of Amola park kicked us into our heels. The weather played wonderfully challenging games on us and the team at Lefay, but they take you outdoors even when it drizzles so hoodies, water resistant overalls and long pants are advisable to boot into your hiking shoes.

We were further able to change a few of our scheduled mornings in nature to more view-awing locations since we had our own car. The young, energetic guide is on the national Italian ski team, so she welcomed the more active boost into the otherwise rather physically sober program. Suitable for less active population. Yet, flexibility proved to be Lefay’s moulding strength, and we were accommodated with open arms.

My favourite encounter with nature was our stroll through another mossy forest to a wild waterfall in Val Brenta. We were encouraged to use all our senses, inhaling the Alpine scents, touching the rough skin of trees, tasting the sap, walking barefoot over natural reflexology path into the blue-cold river running down from the melting glaciers. We concluded our seasonal connection with a silent meditation on whatever comfortable spot we spotted around ourselves. I found a perfect moss cushion over a stomp on which I wished to remain for the rest of the day.

During our walk through Val Brenta it emerged in my consciousness that: One river contains  different energies depending from which side of the bridge you experience it. A lesson for life.

High tech spa meets tuned in rejuvenation at Lefay

The Lefay resort offers one of the most complete sauna experiences in Europe, perhaps even in the world. The Dolomites have recently embraced the most wowing spas ever built, we have so far experienced three, but the Lefay spa is the most holistic of all. Chromotherapy, aromatherapy and other western well-being tools like cardia-boxing and pilates strength training meet the classical Chinese health knowhow, organic (mostly locally sourced plants) phytotherapy, now international yoga and meditation here in one resort.

Indoors in the spa each afternoon we had lined up a tui na body work treatment and a specific sauna or bath experience to awaken or more consciously encounter each element and its corresponding season. All the therapists I had were excellent, which is rare. Particularly Kristina had a special touch and a wonderful attitude, truly a lovely person and an excellent embodiment of harmony we tried to achieve, well rather tune into. Her practice of qi gong had certainly sensitised her to qi and I could feel the intense energy movement on my body during the treatment.

We started with the summer season in our program. Anyway, the first day was hot and later in the hot sauna ritual, where I was guided to sweat while gently stretching, listening to fiery piano and aromatherapy, so my body and mind got fired up by expelling any anxiety. The Finnish sauna ceremony was adjusted to my requirement to have slightly open door as my own body does not tolerate extreme heat any more, and perhaps there is not much of this tensing emotion in held in my body at all. Also known as Aufguss, the towel-wrapped guide also fanned aromatic oils towards me and had an ice ball ready to stomp my feet over for cooling off midway through the 30 minute yang maximising session in the Red Phoenix zone. At the end I took a cold shower plus walked through the Kneipp knee-high pools to balance the heat with cold yin energy. My senses were certainly expanded and my sense of joy sparked. Alpine salt scrub and a tuna meridian massage rounded up the heart region touching day.

What the resident Classical Chinese Medicine practicing doctor disclosed during our one to one session followed by an acupuncture was that the most challenging is the metal element of autumn. The inflexibility of the material and aspect in nature includes us and our lungs call for attention. The space of the White Tiger was all about humidity, the potential sadness that comes with leaving the summer yang. Two steam rooms evaporated weakness and melancholy from our bodies and a private yoga session with a Japanese shiatsu instructor also our minds.

Fear comes from the dark crevices of winter. The Black Tortoise was a dimly-lit crystal room that has to be reserved for extra charge for all guests not participating in the program. Inside awaited us an intimate ambiance through experiencing floating in a dense salt ‘lake’ and a cave room to relax in before a scrub and hot (kidneys love warmth) mud wrap assisted by the spa therapists. The yin calm of the water element associated in China with winter’s time of rest enveloped us in restful mood. The effortless floating is for most first timers here the favourite sensation in the spa. At first, I stepped in doubtfully of how long I might last just floating on the surface of one of the three individual pools (designed so as not to interrupt by accidentally bumping into each other’s body while floating). Half an hour later I did not want to leave, rest feels wonderful if you let it.

The spring element comes to life in wood which embodies growth. The aromatic bio-saunas with mild temperatures and essences of either orange or rosemary of the Green Dragon dissolve nervousness and reduce impulsiveness in their calming, gentle atmosphere. This is an ideal season to detox the liver from sluggish wintry energy and the accumulated anger.  Forest bathing, known as shinrin-yoku in Japan was scheduled for that morning, but it rained and stormed so hard that I was instead given a qi-gong lesson that I inquired about earlier.

The central water massage crepuscular pool was advised to be used to ground through the earth after each elemental experience. Face and head massage also helps you to recenter. As in Ayurveda and yoga, this area of the body is the most potent connecting point with higher consciousness. Overthinking and being too much in one head, pondering the past and playing with the future throws us away from what is important now when we can change reality by participating in the present. The final stretching of the meridians akin to yoga, shiatsu and qi gong movements totally released any remaining stiffness and stress from my heavily-travelled body.

May food by thy medicine

No wellbeing program can ignore nutrition. At Lefay we were very pleased with the food, more seasonal Mediterranean diet than Chinese, for Western palette challenging flavours. Italy has not let us down and we felt indulgent even.

We had a choice of tea with either the spa menu or a buffet breakfast where we could find the “light”, all high GI sugar-free, mostly dairy-free and some gluten-free pastries, seasonal fruits, make your own juice from assorted cleaned vegetables. We loved the herbed tofu scramble with turmeric one morning, that unfortunately was not made by all the cooks the same. The pastries were delightful without being overpowering. As in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) the correct balance of the five flavors, colours and aromas in one meal is considered essential for the yin/yang balance. The nutritionally balanced, high fibre (prebiotic) meals were satisfying.

At lunch there was a harmonising, inflammation-reducing, three course menu available, but we usually chose two plates. A vegetable-centric starter, pasta or protein-rich main (chicken, fish) and then erythritol-sweetened dessert, perhaps with some ripe fruit. In the afternoon we were sipping on that day’s herbal blend for each season, mostly assemblies from Northern Italian meadows rather than rather unusual and unwelcoming Chinese herbs and who knows what that is used in TCM. Here, the “classical” approach is favoured over what has been commonly practiced in Chinese medicine since Mao’s era.

A two-course dinner of cooked vegetables (like in Ayurveda raw foods are understood as difficult to digest) accompanied by plant-based protein for restful sleep ended up with a herbal infusion of your choice. Besides the seasonal blends, there were calming, detox, and other herbs on hand.

Sleep and regular rest is essential

The rooms at Lefay are luxurious, the beds very comfortable with a wide choice from pillows.

A gas-powered fireplace in junior and suites calms you, mostly the views include some green nature, the shower is spacious even though the open-plan glass wall separation may feel rather like being on a nudist beach, and you get a kettle, tea and water free of charge. The views are disrupted by the rather average ski town, but higher up the mountains elevate the spirit.

As in the Daoist philosophy there are some positive and negative sides of anything. At Lefay the pluses weighed down the not so welcome realities. Most importantly, I would prefer to have the philosophy and explained better during the program’s introduction. Nevertheless, the printouts we received succinctly educated me on about a dozen pages in the most clear way than any book on Chinese medicine I have read to date. The philosophical core of the five elements connected with human psyche’s emotions and the inner organ’s wellness has never agreed more in some aspects with the scientific findings in Western medical approach. No-one can refute the effect of stress on cardiovascular health, digestive disorders, ulcers, and its defective push on many chronic illnesses. 

As our environment indeed affects us, cold, heat, wind, humidity, wildfires, they all shift not just our vitality but also the quality of air we breathe and that directly impacts our wellbeing. It is logical then to train one’s body for the heat of summer by hot sauna and cold exposure, to add some contemplative, calm practices to the darker winter days, to whip ourselves with some active body awakening practices in spring when the days become longer and to accept the transition to shorter autumn days without sadness though pranayama, meditation, qi-gong, yoga and other mind-calming, focus practices. In the east or the west, traditionally we have included alternative customs and rituals into each seasonal variation.

The vast resort is open to families with kids, indulgent couple weekends and for the sport enthusiasts’ active retreats, so you will not be totally immersed in a secluded, silent meditative space, but in the real world, be it a special spa space with a luxurious bedding. Unless you become a hermit or a solo ocean sailor, you have to face others. One needs to figure out a way to protect one’s energy and wellbeing from the chaos out there. You have an opportunity here at Lefay to face, question, ponder and realise what works for yourself, just be open to what every day brings along and how it makes you feel without judgement but acceptance and it will go not only smoothly, but you will find more balance in life overall. I did.

Ingressi di Milano: the pumping heart and veins of Italian wealth shows glamorous eclectic inner architectural taste

The entrance to a building, be it a home, an office, atelier, studio or an art museum makes a statement to anyone finding their way in here. But what if you are not invited? What if that first gate allows just a finger in, a glimpse, a gold enamelled doorbell with barely suggestive names, even appended titles? Perhaps an inner garden is a tiny teaser of beauty and mystery of what follows deeper inside, through the entryway. Milan’s Centro Storico district lures us to these mysterious boundaries for privacy and posterity with a sensible eclectic taste and even glamour.

A seventeenth century characteristic of private construction in Milano was a savvy adage for humble, practical, even provocative, clandestine opulence: “Bela de enter, pei padroni, brute de fora, pei mincioni”. A city house should be “beautiful inside for its owners, ugly outside for the fools”. The gates and entryways as if whispered secrets hidden to the common eye behind grey facade.

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Entryways: where a communal space intersects with the private

Milan is one of the global epicentres of design and it shows in its voluptuous city architecture for some deemed ugly. Outwardly for many, historically the city appeared ugly, but enter and surprises shower with rare stones, artisan and design perfection, style. While the socialist coldness of decades past still boasts its crests on some administrative buildings, and so does the catholic grandiosity and impressionism of scale next to formerly regal murmurs, the bourgeois good taste beats on the drums of seduction more alluringly than the new developments in the Porta Genova site. Italian marbles, calm shades of calcified limestone, wrought iron artisan gates, lanterns and ornaments, gold leaf enveloping the edges of walnut and oak, bronze, tempered glass, contemporary or classical sculpture, meticulously manicured pine, bonsai, burbling fountain, iconic designer light, and more. Opulence found its home in the Italian economic capital in a more concentrated form than inside Parisian apartment buildings or the uniform post-war fixtures of the royal central London, the ingressi of Milano are like canvases set between the everyday urban and private lives.

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The Italian economic horsepower, central Milan shows when it pleases the greatest density of the most creative and fascinating entryways of any city on Earth. I’ve visited every important metropolis on this dizzyingly fast changing Earth over the past two decades, therefore my judgement is based on direct experience and curiosity-stirring interaction with their architecture, and not on popularity. Only Madrid and perhaps the dilapidating entrance halls in Buenos Aires touch anywhere near, yet the scale, design’s breadth and daring blend of styles was nowhere mastered as strikingly as in Milano’s ingressi. The Arab world may display a wealth of oil money, yet much of it feels too artificially uniform, not fully liberated from its Islamic (beautiful) predicaments yet. Marrakech, a fairytale of an affordable artisan complexity reserved to the privileged few, mostly foreigners buying into its palatial quality, won’t allow you just wander around the Palmeraie and other private domaines or riads to revel in the semi-public allure of its entrance halls. Nowhere grandeur gets as socially savvy as in urban Milano.

La Dolce Vita

Milano in Italian perspective

In the shadow of Rome and by the Medicis empowered Florence, Milan is well underrated in its aesthetic of socially open flamboyance. The former palazzi and bourgeoise residences of central Milan are now occupied by various businesses and wealthy individuals. Their entrances  awe not just architecture lovers and design savvy aesthetes. Random passersby sensitive to surrounding everyday beauty fall into its web of mystery and wows. A flaneur is taken aback by random encounters of daily life. To me, city with unique beauty possesses something visually experiential that draws my heart inside its puzzle of architecture, landscape, urban planning and people. It clicks together in its own way and does not have to bolster with antiquity or an oversized pomp, anyway nowadays denigrated by the busloads, boat tours and flagging herds of tourists. 

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From Catholic, through royal to the force of democratised design

For some with their eyes and hearts half closed, Milan has nothing beyonds its Duomo, cappuccino and gelato. Yet, the Catholic city of Saint Ambrosias (San Ambrogio) and Augustine (Agostino) is filled with countless heart-stopping frescoed churches next to that world-famous magnificent Duomo cathedral. The arched city core was filled with sophisticated statues from DaVinci to a humble monk, men of letters in the Public Gardens (Giardini Publici) and practical not just decorative fountains as Rome’s Di Trevi. A formidable art institution with a hidden botanical garden supported by a former Austrian Empress, the Pinacoteca di Brera was the first public museum. One would hardly argue that the grandest shopping arcade in the world still today, the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle II accessible to all not just these with deep pockets, housing Milano’s oldest book store next to luxury flagships and renowned restaurants. I cold cover a book with Milan’s points of interest, even more with the contemporary additions beyond the historic core like the Armani Silos, Fondacione Prada, the MUDEC, but let’s savour the overlooked details around the Duomo’s neighbourhoods.

Duomo cathedral in Milanocontemporary architecture Pinacoteca di Brera

The annual design fair Salone del Mobile, known as one of the most important in the world, further reminds us that not just by fashion Milan’s bread is earned. Ever since I reentered the Città de la Moda not as a fashion model with a map (two decades ago before smart phones made it into our hands), but as design admiring urban stroller with an analog Leica and an iPhone, I was struck by the sophisticated, blended beauty of many of its central buildings’ entranceways. Perhaps, it was the meeting of the Southern colourfulness with Central European sobriety that captivated my lenses. The mosaics and shapes are elaborate, not caught in Nordic and Japanese minimalism as is popular in contemporary design. Light and shadow meet complexity here in intriguing harmony.

Piazza del Duomo in MilanoOldest book shops in Europe Leonardo daVinci

Ingressi: aesthetic, functional, but in Milan also eclectic

A marvellous photo book titled Ingressi di Milano by Karl Kolbitz (ironically not by local Rizzoli but the German publisher Taschen) informatively documents the appeal of Milanese entryways (get it either at the Taschen brand boutique, Liberia Bocca inside Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle II or at the Armani Libri art, design, photography and lifestyle book shop inside the Armani Emporium) and if anything makes a beautiful coffee table decoration. For me learning about the vast diversity of Italian marble, limestone and the evolution of the city’s noble architectural heritage draws my hunger for knowledge and aesthetic pleasure.

What you and me can admire without restrictions of trespassing into private property is open gates. I find this rendezvous between the pubic and the communal — the entryways under an arched shelter of a hall — that Milan does so well most fascinating. Ushering us into the off-limits private areas of the grand apartments, businesses or show rooms, magnetises like a sexy, semi-open dress on a woman. You get pulled into these visual domaines of well designed beauty. 

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Striking emblems of taste in Italian marble, polished marine sandstone, artfully shaped and coloured glass and metal from steel through bronze, some channel you into their inner garden. At the same time inaccessible, yet letting you visually in. One’s imagination travels beyond the walls. A tantalising experience for creators, dreamers or anyone relishing imaginative journeys. 

Such inviting coexistence in a human-made oeuvre shall be celebrated. While securing its dwellers, at the same time not excluding the “outsiders”. This is art serving its inhabitants, but also entertaining the passersby, who can take their time to pause and give a minute or more to love that opens one’s heart to the world we share. Close to street art and like many costly installations in cities — fountains, sculptures to murals — the ingressi were paid from private pockets for our communal pleasure.

Marbled or concrete, yet in a sophisticated fashion etched artistically for a harmonious collage of elements these cutouts from street reality of Milan stood out. I am not lecturing you here on historical periods and elements of design here, that I better leave to the architectural expert publications, rather I share non-judgementally and without scholarly lingua Franca what made my heart jump.

I hope you enjoyed my direct, mindful encounters with the Milanese entrance halls through the lens of my iPhone and my vintage Leica. While camera is a marvellous capturing device, in some instances it just does not do justice to reality. In real time, live image wows you more while standing there in the plain sight of your own eyes. So it is with the Milan’s ingressi. If my admiration-filled rambling captivated your senses, please do seek visiting Milano and focus your gaze on these peculiar architectural beauties in Brera, Quadriletto de la Moda, around the Duomo, Porta Nuova and Venezia on your next visit.

St. Hubertus: creatively adapt to nature’s whims in elevating mountain cuisine to the stars

St. Hubertus is now one of the most coveted restaurants in all of Italy and certainly the most transformative culinary hive in South Tyrol. Yet, to be a great chef today is a political as much as an economical action. Norbert Niederkofler is one of those leading chefs activists, who stirred to meaningfully transform his autonomous native region of South Tyrol into a more sustainable, authentic and independent micro-economy. His annual event Cook the Mountain attracts transformative culinary talent from around the world, while connecting with local artisans and dedicated farmers, foragers, lake and river fisherman, hunters and dairy masters. I wrote about a similar concept of culinary get-togethers titled Cook it Raw  that challenged the world’s leading chefs into creative adaptation by traveling them into unfamiliar locations. Chef Niederkofler brings the chefs up on the mountain to find and share connections and ideas.

mountain diningchef Norbert Niederkofler

His own team at St. Hubertus orchestrates fine dining seeking quality and local tradition of the product. Michele Lazzarini, the South Tyrol native and well-travelled sous-chef (starting with the Italian culinary legend Gualtiero Marchesi, then cooked in St Moritz, Chile, Denmark, Peru and Sweden), highlights the essential meeting of creativity and ethics in their outstanding book Cook the Mountain: “if you work together, you have to stick together and help each other out”. Theirs is Alpine cuisine elevated yet grounded in the local soil. As Andrea Petrini, Italy’s foremost food expert and the founder of the Slow Food movement wrote: “Less is more, poverty is the real richness.”

Mountain gastronomic cuisinechef Norbert Niederkofler

Cook the mountain by forging relationships

To lift up your own restaurant you must engage and motivate the nearby providers of ingredient resources. By recognising the worth of their effort through mentioning them on the gastronomic menu and in these famous chefs’ cookbooks, mutual appreciation and trust soar into genuine relationships. A great chef is like the conductor and a tuner of an orchestra. He directs the instruments of ingredients played by the producers into a perfect concert. Further, since emotions always come into consideration by the Michelin guide’s inspectors, most three Michelin starred establishments recognised the importance of these connections and the stories told at the dining table. St. Hubertus was awarded its third star once this emotional storytelling was evident on the delightful menu.

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Meeting with adversity: Following in nature’s footsteps

In the mountains, the importance of catching the moment, the tiny window of seasonal abundance, and the craft of preserving the produce for the lean months in nature, are of the utmost importance. Curing, dehydrating, fermenting, freezing, pickling, pulverizing, vacuum packing busy the team during the overflowing fertility of the summer. Chef Lazzarini poetically sums the synchronised mindset of that harmonious moment: “There is no time like the present.” The contentment with and the respect for the product directs the cooking. Beyond wasteful originality, taste and the responsible use of the entire animal, fish or plant inspire the chefs at St Hubertus. You taste pumpkin oil, not the olive that does not grow up here, pig’s head, rabbit’s kidneys, trout skin, and the ultra-short asparagus season stretched by waxing the whole stem in. Also beverages like the elderflower kombucha were thought out to preserve the memories of the recent season.

Up in the mountains the seasons limit you but also invite savvy adaptability. That is why so often mountain cuisine was defined by aged cheese, dried meat, pasta, potatoes, flour, pulses, dried nuts, jams and pickles. Norbert Niederkofler is the chef who with his young energetic team have proved that one can awe at the human inventiveness even in hard conditions of winter.

At the table, visually, the dining ware reflects the mountain rocky style. The works of the local perfectionist ceramicist Christian Falk show in the hand moulded bowls and plates made to order by the chefs who discuss their needs with the craftsman.

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Genuinely elevated Tyrolean cuisine

Chef Niederkofler’s cuisine can be classified as Northern Italian, influenced by the seasonal nuances and hardships of the altitude. Berries in all forms show up in unexpected dishes, since it is their needed acidity, less aggressive than vinegar, and more at hand than the Mediterranean citruses. Such as with the game, frozen in the desserts and even with pasta and sea buckthorn juice over gnocchi. Further, apples, mushrooms, cherries, goat, lamb, even the old mouton finds his place on the menu. Many of the organic vegetables come from Valentin Innerhofer. Onions, root vegetables, the local star radicchio, leafy greens in spring, whatever the ground gives.

Growing attention to seasonally sensitive foraging and preserving ingredients reshaped St. Hubertus from the chef’s initial Francophile leanings originally to more locally chiming sustainable microcosmos harbouring local producers proudly under his three Michelin recipes. St. Hubertus also joined in reducing food waste. To do more with less increases the true, not marketed, worth when you consume the best artisan produce available.

kitchen at St Hubertuschef Norbert Niederkofler

Culinary experiences at St. Hubertus

For us, first was a large family feast at the chef’s table at St. Hubertus, then came the pandemic years of wanting to return, and finally savouring reunion with my father in law during his annual ski trip to Alta Badia. He has been visiting the crossover of the bright Italian Dolomites and Austrian Tyrol for over 20 years and ate at Norbert Niederkofler’s ever evolving restaurant ever since its conception.

Nose-to-tail cooking barks from the menu you get at the start. We love this gesture, having a menu ahead is a hint of what is to come, still with enough space for surprises fuelled by anticipation. In the current carte blanche trend sweeping the world as fast as the pandemic did, a frequent traveler wears off the – we leave you in the dark – concept. 

Starting with a snack of thin crisp Buckwheat tartlet filled with blood cream, leek and braised white onions, and a hat of aged mountain cheese. The later by sustainable master affineur Hubert Stockner, who uses only hay milk for the maturation of his ripening cheese wheels in a former war bunker dug into the side of a rocky mountain. Next to it on a bare stone was served a delightful marinated and smoked char with reduced horseradish seasoned cream dip.

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Then came crackers mixed with buckwheat flour and lamb fat adorned with dried elderflowers, Alpine thyme, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds and other local dry mountain flowers and herbs. Preserved summer on a carpet of baked creativity.

Moving to Whitefish tartare with elderflower, green elderberries and wild garlic seeds pickles we learned that sourness is achieved by locally foraged means, not by citruses from the South. All fish comes from the lakes, not faraway oceans or seas. A trout cheek, deep fried trout skins and the trout meat tartare is one of the signature dishes.

As are the poor’s man animal proteins such as milk tripe; cows diaphragm; lamb heart and sheep’s rib; bone marrow of mutton; rabbit kidneys with polenta nachos; pork head with berry powders and veal tendon chips. Not for everyone, but this is a three Michelin star kitchen so you can rest assured you are in for a more refined treat than just the whole animal stew. 


Before the meat feast, we got a Carrot bbq (cooked in ash) with local blueberry lentil chamomile “miso” sauce. This vegetable plate can be dressed with burnt leek oil or a “soy” sauce made of lentils and wheat or spelt as we had. A sublime intermezzo!

A double proofed 30% rye sourdough loaf landed on our table still warm. What a delight. Served with Thermomix whipped creamy butter from Michael Steiner’s family dairy, whose 15 horned cows provide also milk for the curd and yoghurt used at St Hubertus. You can visit their state of the art designed tasting room in Muhlwald.

Italian fine cuisinechef Norbert Niederkofler

The Risotto course changes often, but ours was with an orange pumpkin and intense mushroom ragout. Sometimes, dried mouton meet is used over wild garlic in the spring version or you get Orzotto made from pearl barley, one of the oldest grains. The signature recipe is with mountain hard cheese, fenugreek and chicory “coffee” in winter or wild herbs in spring and summer.

Even though South Tyrol wants to claim independence, a pasta course is regularly included at St. Hubertus. We tried the wintery rich Spelt ditalini pasta in game essence.

Still, the most impressive course in our most recent tasting was the Eel with a glaze made of eel carcasses and beef consommé. Served on birch twigs, the skewered river snake nested on a bed of moss. Just the side of eel broth with mountain pepper leaves and lemon balm was too oily.

The two meat courses included tender veal in two variations. Slow boiled and a tongue marinated and slow cooked for six to eight hours with vegetables, herbs and spices served with lingonberry root vegetables Terlaner (local white wine) sauce. Previously, we tried the Veal topped with pearl barley, black currant and purple potatoes. Certainly, perfection of cooking is taken seriously at this three star restaurant, while you get a slightly different dish each time you dine at St. Hubertus.

The sweet courses also evoke the mountains. Assisted with contemporary culinary techniques bonding high tech equipment with traditional naturalness, the accents of nature spark. The “Marshmallow” is a stone pine essence meringue with green apple sorbet and sorrel browned at the table gently with smoking charcoal. It tastes even better than it sounds, fresh, frothy delicately sweet, but more sour pre-dessert. The Cornelian is another small sourness-focused sorbet of sea buckthorn with foraged wild berries.

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Next comes another signature dessert called Dolomiti white. An elderflower ice cream with milk foam, egg meringue and milk chips combines the superb dairy from Michael Steiner. And so you won’t leave craving more sweets, the finale comes out grand with an Italian chic presentation of a brioche served with cream, candied white, yellow and red beets. Sweets dreams before you even set you foot into bed. At our previous meal we were treated to one of the best Apple tarte tatins ever, scooped over with a sublime vanilla gelato, complete perfection.


The wine program is also locally focused. We went for the wine pairing exploring tiny wineries’ bottlings that probably rarely see their regional borders crossed. While many are indigenous grape varietals such as Terlaner, a surprise (with a whale symbol) bottle was the Dolomytos. As the mixed spelling suggests made by a Greek winemaker who moved to South Tyrol while planting his country’s indigenous grapes, his message seems – well the Greek brought the wine to Rome. We also savored some lovely bright Pinots by Girlan and Weingut Abraham. While you dine, you will also learn plenty about the local wine.

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A quarter of a century at the helm of St. Hubertus, Norbert Niederkofler has created and evolved at this signature restaurant at the Hotel Rosa Alpina. The local birds chippered that he will direct the Aman hotel group culinary concept. Since the luxury group’s greatest weakness was dining, his appointment heralds great times ahead.

Nested in the South Tyrol painterly village of San Cassiano, St Hubertus is now recognised as one the world’s greatest restaurants. In the legion with the American Dan Barber, Peruvian Virgilio Martinez, Danish Rene Redzepi, Brazilian Alex Atala, Italian Massimo Bottura and many inspired others, who prove that by looking within one’s garden and specific microclimates, a chef can best improve the food system locally. Norbert Niederkofler with his team are forging the path for a more independent, sustainable future.

For these not ready for a four hour gastronomic meal, a more casual option has popped up on the top of the mountain. The chef’s second business The AlpiNN Food Space and Restaurant can be reached in winter only by the lift to Kroneplatz, but you can drive or hike up in summer.

Joia Milan: the first Michelin starred vegetarian restaurant in the world is in Italy

Joia Milan, the first Michelin starred vegetarian restaurant in Italy and the world survived through the waves of the pandemic. It has changed over the years, and from our multiple meals we had there only to the better.

Michelin Milano

Well, it had to. Since its inaugural appearance in the Michelin Guide over a decade ago, the “little red book” has included dozens new vegan and vegetarian fine dining restaurants. From Beijing through Vienna to LA and Manhattan, the great chefs and the climate-woke customers commune in upgrading plant-based dining experience. Growing demand for sustainable creative cuisine and inner reflections during the lockdowns turned one of the world’s greatest chefs (according to some sources), the Swiss-born Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison (I dined there once, but was not itching to return) to shifting his entire tasting menu into a plant-based feast on three Michelin level. His countryman, the multi-awarded Andreas Caminada now follows the eco-conscious suite. He has just rolled a vegetarian counter experience at the Schloss Schauenstein village of Fürstenau this summer (the room feels very intimate, but for a smoother timeline it needs more than the two cooks who ran Oz in those few first months. For a fair review, I will be back after its reopening in spring 2022).

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Joia brings joy to eco-diners aware of the current climate change era

Meanwhile in Italy, ahead of its time, ironically today, Joia Milano has been an institution for the eco-minded, creativity-loving Milanese seeking Italian cuisine without taxing animal lives. At first vegetarian, now Joia serves mostly plant-based cuisine from biodynamic local ingredients.

Split into two dining rooms, Joia feels rather rustic. Like a country escape, not fashionable Milanese glamour. We are not as keen on the larger, dark backroom, but entering on your left, we relish in the with daylight-filled space during the late sunset summer months and lunches for most of the year. The contemporary art display reminds me of Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia, another Milanese dining institution (I have yet to review after countless superb meals there).

tasteful art displayMilano design

At Joia now, the wholesome plates playfully entertain the palate without meat, fish and seafood. While not entirely plant-based, dairy, butter and eggs are minimally used and vegan plates are highlighted on the flexible menu. Gluten-free options are honored, and with symbols next to each dish informing about potential allergens such as gluten, lactose, the choices are simplified. The kitchen team headed from its conception by Pietro Leemann is open to create an entire dairy, egg or gluten-free menu for you. Raw plates are also included.

Tuning you into the plant clock (top image), to start, a plate of seasonal vegetables and some fruit with decadent dips, infused oils and vinegars are served in dollops with a whole-grain or gluten-free bread bun. Titled “Not only by bread men live” this amouse-bouche has been served at Joia for years. We love its simplicity with savvy touches of the chef. Next comes the carrot stick in the “dirt” of seeds pot which is an eggplant dip.

Michelin star vegetarianvegetarian Milano

Italian risotto

Spiritual poetry on the menu

In the poetic spirit are titled the other dishes on the chef’s Pietro Leemann menu. Planet, My Dear Planet gives you cruelty-free foie gras, Sister Moon is a gazpacho, Perseverance buckwheat ravioli with mushrooms, while Gong reminds you of time spent mindfully with the chef’s signature dessert. A true Milanese, he calls one of his risottos – Navel of the World.

Not always consistent, the cuisine has evolved from quite an unsophisticated presentation to sensibly artistic plates. A must is the plant-based faux gras. A delicacy created without the animal suffering, while force-feeding the geese as is common in the production of fatty foie gras. The liver-free pâté is made from a complex blend of vegetables (terrine and chickpea and potato-starch-based mock terrine with carrot “mochi”) with agave and chestnut honey under a savoy cabbage dome, served with apple chutney. You can find the complex recipe in the Joia cookbook, and there you also find that sugar and natural sweeteners pop into many savoy plates, so carb-watchers beware!

Michelin stared vegetarian restaurant Joia in Milan

The risotto changes. One summer (in 2015) peaches, pumpkin with summer truffles befriended somewhat awkwardly the white arborio rice. My last version in winter with puffed Venere rice crumble was much more harmonious.

A tasting menu or à la carte choices give any diner even more flexibility. In the age when many fine dining restaurants egotistically give you no choice, and others with confusing multi-page menus with countless alterations (just go to a buffet restaurant, not a creative kitchen), just saying what you cannot eat and being advised by the waiter makes any meal a trusting and simple affair.

vegetarian Milanovegetarian food

After the tasting menu on my first visit, the next meals were à la carte. While some dishes at Joia are exquisite, others were simply not my cup of tea. “Travel Through Time, that has been and that will be” was not only plated for kids (the smiley plate above), but a mashup of flavours, sauces that did not make much sense with the nut and seed crackers and rolled sliver of cucumber. The chef’s cooking has luckily evolved since these quirky old days. More grown-up and sophisticated, and we are glad we gave him another chance. We returned twice recently and were pleased.

vegetarian Milanovegetarian dessert

Beverages in the 21st century spirit: biodynamic, organic, alcohol-free

You can go zero-proof with flowers, fruit, vegetable in a glass beverage menu. Elderflower water is light and hydrating, while “A Tribute to Shirley Temple” cocktail with bergamot and blueberries was more entertaining. There is tea, which I enjoyed with lunch and of course great Italian coffee.

The wine list at Joia is also welcoming with competitive prices (as usually generous in Italy) and vintages going decades back. The 1985 vintage of Emidio Pepe’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo was seductive, but we went for the younger 2009, that was as bright as it was deep. What a 21 years-old! On another occasion we went far South to Sicily with another biodynamic bottle. The sommelier was each time helpful.

best Italian winesSavory soufle

Although creative (I had the signature Gong; a composed sweet course of milk and citrus foam, english vanilla pudding served in a glass jar and a duo of berry-infused chocolates with corn crumble and chestnut vermicelli), the desserts at Joia are too sweet for my palate. I was deeply impressed though by the sand-clock measuring precisely five minutes that the chef suggest at least for you to savour it. Mindfully take your time in relishing the sweet treat. At the end of the meal I left Joia blooming with joy.

There is no easy parking, so public transport (Metro Repubblica or Porta Venezia), Uber or taxi are highly advised.

Via Panfilo Castaldi, 18, 20124 Milano MI

Tue-Sat: lunch 12:30-2:30pm; dinner 7:30-11pm

Langosteria Milano: seafood temple with the best of the aquatic cuisine twists

Italian recipes, Spanish nudges, Japanese wasabi, French grand cru plateau, anything goes at Langosteria as long as it’s the best way to show off the sea bounty brought to the great Milano fish market. The buzzing atmosphere and superb seafood at Langosteria Ristorante in Milano lure regulars in, yet it is consistency that is the magic key to its continuing appeal. The owner and his culinary team proudly take you into “Labyrinth of dreams and flavours, a journey in search of pleasure.” After countless meals there over the years, I can confirm I dive in and come to the surface hedonistically enchanted in wanting to return again and again. The sea on Via Savona tastes as incredible as the best waters around the world.

Now, “Abandon yourselves to the seduction of this journey, be spectators, and protagonists in the search for sparks of creativity”, as the menu ambitiously suggests, for what you are about to experience is more than just nourishment, it is the life under the water itself.

To start your appetite just before your orders arrive, a complimentary snack from puffed grains (recent change, as it used to be warm crusty bread, which I miss) and a teaser usually in the form of some seafood land on your tavola. Warm clams on a bed of diced tomato sauce most recently.

seafood Milan

From the vast menu, we usually select one of the crudos. A raw starter like marinated artichoke with seafood carpaccio, Mazara del Vallo (Sicily) prawns carpaccio with radish, citrus and rucola, yet a must to start with is the slightly tepid signature seafood salad at Langosteria Milano. Tender squids, prawns and octopus bathe in an elegant olive oil broth. I am not a huge fan of tuna, unless it is the best cut served by top Japanese sushi chefs, so whenever it arrives on the specials list, I tend to skip, but once I tried the semi-seared tuna with sauteed girolles over a green herb broth that was better than most tuna dishes in the West. You can order an ice-laced seafood plateau to share either as a starter or larger main. Pick your ingredients from the aquarium facing all who enter the restaurant from Via Savona or just ask the waiters for daily catch suggestions. Beyond the usual oysters, sea urchin, clams, prawns, the rare percebes (often from the Spanish coast) can pop up. Get them by piece or as part of set platter.

best seafood in MilanItalian pasta

Langosteria Milan

To do your meal the Italian way, next comes the pasta mid-course. The seafood orecchiette, the langoustine linguine or spaghetti with Italian tomatoes are one of the best dishes at Langosteria Ristorante. You can also just have the langoustines cooked with champagne (butter) sauce or Catalana style like they also cook crab here with tomato sauce. Either are served in a large lidded copper pot, for the perfect temperature at serving.

Italian seafoodbest Italian seafood pasta

Most of the menu items change slightly and are market on the menu as “new”, yet the signatures remain or if you remember how you liked your seafood cooked the last time, the cooks happily prepare them for you.

artisan producer champagneFrench Chardonnaywhite Italian wineEtna wine

The dessert menu includes the signature L’Agostin cake. Saint Augustine preached for many years in Milan and his legacy penetrates the city from Metro stations, old city gates to sweets gracing Milan’s restaurants, yet the inspiration came from a recipe at a pasticcheria in Verona. With a whipped French accent, L’Agostin is a soft sponge cake with a decant mascarpone gelato, Chantilly, and Cantiano black amarena cherries. A brioche meets panettone. Sicilian Cassata, Campania’s frozen fruits, sorbets, fresh seasonal fruit plate, flaky millefoglie and other sweet inventions will spoon off the evening with a delightful finale. Still having some space and sweets are not your thing? Then a special parmesan (from the vacche rosse breed) and 60-days aged Gorgonzola delectably fill the gap before a nightcap of Italian-roast espresso or a tisane.

Cake named after Saint Augustine

Langosteria Ristorante in Milano has a few children already. The Bistrot and Cafe that we both tried for lunch, welcomed a Southern outpost in Liguria. The greatest fish and seafood seems to go to the restaurant though.

Grower champagne and other sparkling bottles extensively grace the wine list. Ideal for most of the food there. Yet, you also find superb volcanic Sicilian natural wine, big hitters like new Tuscans or special treats like Emidio Peppe from Abruzzo. The French cellar is notable, and who would resist a bottle of Chablis by Ravennau with seafood?  This is marvelous Milano restaurant, where we cannot stop returning to. Ciao, next time!

The magnificent outliers: these rare wines redefine their class in Europe

There are famous, rare wines, established wine regions and awarded winemakers in the Old as well as in the New World. Yet, some incredibly passionate wineries took slightly different approach to winemaking in their region or found very unique pieces of land, where the grapes grow into extraordinary crops unlike any other in their vicinity. Some cost a fortune, others are cheaper than a lunch at a European caffetteria.

While Sassicaia made from Tenuta San Guido’s precious crop in Maremma, Tuscany, is an iconic wine and noone (we were told by many local experts) can have their terroir, that holistic combination of farming (viticulture), soil, and winemaking, it is an outlier of the past. Still copied by many local producers, no hands can reach its unique land’s vines.

Many redefined what wine in their region can be. By surpassing all expectations they paved a new way for others. The magnificent outliers I have selected here are not all trailblazing, young, and intrepid winemakers or wineries. Still, they stand out from their class creating rare wines you will hardly find on the supermarket or a typical wine shop shelves. These are mostly unknown to the majority of the rare Burgundy, Lafitte, Penfolds, Screaming Eagle, and similar labels seekers.

Italian biodynamic wineChâteauneuf du Pape

These rare wines redefine their class in Europe:

In France, voices down, gasping for air or oh la la, but this is something else! Château Rayas is the secret word whispered amongst those lucky to get a hand on a bottle or two. You will never see these Châteauneuf du Pape reds (whites are also made, but these are not the cherries on the cake) at wine tastings, fairs and if a restaurant has them on their list, perhaps there is only one, highly cherished bottle left for you. As the few insiders, we were introduced to this magic Jinn in the bottle by a savvy co-owner, wife of the chef and a sommelier at the Hostellerie Jerôme in Côte d’Azur. Ever since, insatiable, we could not stop tracing these bottles. You are taken on an emotional  journey right from the opening of the cork. The extremely low-yielding wine matured in the rare 450 litre “double-piéce” oak casks changes so dramatically from the first sip through few minutes later, an hour, two, even there hours pass, and you still gasp what has just happened. Rayas is a ride, a rollercoaster of what Grenache can be at its very best. Even the popes would approve this dissenter. Not blending like the others traditionally did from the 13 grapes allowed in the appellation. This pure Grenache enchants those refined Burgundy lovers, for whom Pinot is the king. The 1989 vintage a few years ago at a family-run restaurant in Provence was one of these bottles that stay forever coveted in my memory, but there were plenty more I loved. Important advice with Rayas, keep it aging, decant well ahead and sip patiently! The 2005 was an incredible vintage, for three hours since the opening it twirled and transformed enchantingly, then it closed up so I left it in a glass overnight. Voilá! My breakfast treat was well and alive again, pure liquid magic.

best Rhone wineChâteauneuf du Pape

Italy has had a few resurgent regions popping up on the global wine lists. Barolo in Piedmont as well as Sicily were hip a few years ago. There are some outstanding wines made in either, yet none is as fine as Emidio Peppe‘s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Nesting in an earthquake prone region tucked Northeast from Rome by the Adriatic coast, Abruzzo is a poor farmers land known for rather tannic table wines. Apart from the saffron-gold-labeled Azienda Agricola Valentini, another outstanding producer there that introduced us to the region. Emidio and now his daughters create something similar to what Mr Jacques Reynaud and his son Francois of Château Rayas did in the Rhone. Biodynamic farming and winemaking goes without labelling it such, the wine speaks dynamically, lively for itself. My favourite vintages were 1997 and the 1983. The later tasting so young on both occasions I savored this 37-years-old vintage in the lockdown of 2020. Approachable right from the start without decanting, juicy and traveling me through earthy groundedness, fragrant gardens to sparks of ripe fruit. Emidio Pepe also has an intriguing cherry red rosato made with shorter skin contact of the Montepulciano grape. It reminds me of Sicilian Frappato, also a light-bodied red wine bordering a rosé. Their white wine made from Pecorino, not the cheese, but indigenous Abruzzo grape varietal, is ideal for a zippy aperitivo.

Emidio Peppe wine Italian biodynamic wine

Another ancient wine making country, Greece, has been reborn into an internationally aweing expression of regional diversity. Like Italy, Greece prides itself with a gushing well of indigenous grape varietals honed by centuries of trial and error or stubbornly persevering throughout the ages on their native soils. I asked Lenka Sedlackova, MW and Greek wine expert for her nominations in the outlier category mastered there: Not far from the Gulf of Corinth the Tetramythos Winery‘s entry into natural winemaking may surprise you as something new in a country with vinicultural tradition as old as Greece, yet industrial conventional production has ruled this land of antiquity over the past century. Set in a mountainous Peloponnese peninsula, the altitude weathers off the heat of the summer. Varietals like Agiorgitiko, Kalavryta, Mavrodaphne (today more associated with Georgia), Roditis and muscat. Made into a retsina, blends or dry single varietal wines, these are incredibly affordable mouth-poppers.

Tetramythos Winery

Another, intriguing outlier in Greece, a grape collector I would say, but more commonly today labeled as a flying winemaker, Nikos Karatzas has been touring Greece and looking for interesting projects with local indigenous varietals. His label Oenops means ‘wine face’. Co-creating with growers willing to share his approach open to experiment. He fell for the ancient amphora maturation for some of his creative offshoots. His Xinomavro has no added sulphites, he also works with Limniona and other varietals you will hardly find beyond the Greek borders.

volcanic winevolcanic wines

Spain has also shrug off its mass-produced bulk wines and the old-school legacy of Vega Sicilia and Rioja. While the white wine by Marques de Riscal still arouses me, sherries please my cravings for something nutty, Tenerife, a volcanic island in the Canaries, had sparked my eyes as much as Etna did over a decade ago. Here, the ocean wind tunnels help bring salt water, acidity, and balance to the wines on this warm island in the Atlantic. The humble Listan Negro and Bianco varietals lovingly embrace their volcanic home in the sensitive hands of a handful of producers. Suerte del Marquéz makes a supple, juicy and wonderfully long-mouthed red Trenzado that we like to order when available. Is it age-worthy? I do not know as usually you find them just about 3-5 years old on the wine lists.

By no means these wines par with Emidio Pepe and Rayas, but they much easier to get your hand on and aeons cheaper.

Hiking the Como Lake hillsides

Nowhere can we socially distance more effectively and enjoyably than when hiking in nature, ideally on the less-trod trails. Como Lake hiking surprisingly offers plenty of authentic escapism from its narrow, car-jammed roads lacing its western shore. Byron, Stendhal, Virgil, Plini and Verdi amongst other, inspiration-seeking creative greats, found their muse in the blue-green womb of Lacus Larius. Nested between the lush Alpine hills of Italy and reaching north towards Switzerland, nature and fancy set you free to roam.

Como hikingVilla Lago di Como

No lake beyond the Italian border today still exudes such balance between luxurious elegance and rustic charm as the Apennine peninsula’s third largest, the Lago di Como does. Beyond fashion, Italy — the “boot”, thrives on shapes. A lanky runner with a bucolic woman on his head, the wondrous contour of this lake stirs storytelling invented on its purely accidental façade.

Poetic mood sways one’s mind in a place where even the winds have different names — the northern tivano in the morning and the breva from the south in the afternoon.

Hiking the slow life of the Como Lake

Now that we can finally again breathe the cleaner air outdoors, after the pandemic confinement, hiking lures our soft bodies out. I have hiked the world, but my favourite strolls include some culture, edible pickings and water springs along the route, dramatic vistas, and of course shapely mountains gazelled over in a warm but not hot climate. The Como Lake’s blooming flora and safe encounters with its fauna (no poisonous snakes and spiders here) of its Mediterranean microclimate attract me over the very dry-aired Austrian and Swiss peaks.

HydrangeaHiking Italy

Paths laced with sprawling figs, majestic chestnuts, silver-ash olives, oleanders, kiwis and the fertility symbolising pomegranate trees promise a delicious stroll. From late August till November is the best time to visit if it’s the natural bounty you are after. Otherwise, late spring can be less rainy than the months before.

Villa d'Este on Como LakeVilla d'Este on Como Lake

While my starting point was the majestic Villa d’Este, whose gardens are still otherworldly stunning (the hydrangeas are breath-stopping, and there is even a waterfall beloved by the resident ducks), Como hiking offers more than one trail. On the western side of the lake starting in Cernobbio, the limestone and granite mountains guide you along with a mild incline at first passing a pictorial church with cemetery in Rovenna. You can continue further up inland to Monte Bisbino, passing three crosses, but I prefer the scenic hike north through the village of Moltrasio where the Via Verde starts all the way to Laglio.

Cernobbio hiking Grand Hotel Tremezzo

After about over an hour of mostly flat strolling your gaze reaches Bellagio, the painterly town on the horn of the split of the Como and Lecco lakes. There, Magda Guaitamacchi nested in  Salita Serbelloni 27 creates beautiful ceramics. Further along my trail, towards Monte di Urio, I saw perhaps the most beautiful kitchen view under the sky, literally, the alfresco cooking stove (pictured bellow) inspired a wonderful, affordable life in this northern corner of Italy. Nearby a beekeeper sells honey, an authentic Slow-food souvenir. I descended down to Urio, catching a ferry back to Cernobbio.

beautiful cemeteryComo Lake

This trail surely inspired many of the locals to a peace of mind. Strolling along, I was assured that it seduced countless intrepid visitors like myself. The inventor electric torch by Alessandro Volta was a Como resident, indeed a spark happened by the lake.

Beware, the Internet search yields lots of ultra commercial mind-washing on Como. Go spy on celebrities in Hollywood and let the Clooneys enjoy their family life by the lake. Enjoy the luxurious grand hotels (Tremezzo, Villa d’Este and Mandarin Oriental) and do not hatch plans around who stayed where. You would miss the most important part of the trip, the indescribable beauty of this area that many astute writers gasped at, wordless.

Italian ceramics

Como hiking is magic. You do not only wander through the orchards, eyes widely gulping from the lake vistas, but the trails take you through tiny villages offering a glimpse into the simple life here on the Lago di Como. Higher above the shores, the life gets more rustic, calm and away from the glamour and the visiting tourists who often can spoil the potential of the experience being here, in this moment, at this wonderful place on Earth. The Mediterranean microclimate leaps onto this pre-Alpine zone.

Italian lifestyle

I hope my photo gallery of the above images taken during my fulfilling hikes on the Western hillsides of the Como Lake will inspire you to stride along on your next visit to this northern Italian region. Heavily hit in the spring 2020 Covid crisis, Italy is currently open to welcome Europeans.

As some popular travel destinations have opened for the summer season in Europe, the numbers of Covid cases in most are rising. The  heavily hit economies are anxious to herd in visitors. Italy, reliant on foreign tourism wants to break the unfortunate struggle, and if you really want to get to see the boot less besieged by traffic, this an opportunity not to be missed. Still, precautions must be taken and visiting less potentially crowded hotspots is better, so skip the pretty lakeside towns and head up to the hills! The view gets even better from the high up.

CLOSED Mantra: finely tuning Italy to raw plant cuisine

It is a terrible loss, but Mantra, the first raw restaurant in Milan better than most plant-based restaurants and cafes (read my vegan reports from LA) in the United States, where the raw foodism trend originated, closed. In Italy, the land of love and enunciated passion for its ingredients from the claws of sea clinching the South to the Alpine mountain-scape of the North, the potential for vegan dining is huge. Follows my homage to what was once our favourite raw food eatery in the world. I originally posted this article in 2016.
contemporary restaurant designMantra raw food

The sustainable sound of Mantra Milan

The location yielded in part the success of Mantra, but foremost, it is the creative spirit of its talented chef Alberto Minio Paluello, who heads the glass-walled raw kitchen with a zeal of a prophet. Paluello trained at the plant-food learning epicentre of Matthew Kenney‘s Academy in the US. Yet, his translation of raw food into reality is much better. The health-glowing chef creates more flavorful dishes than most of the Kenney’s operations in North America now. Still, he keeps the presentation up to the contemporary high dining standards. Edible flowers, lush green tips of herbs and a drizzle of olive oil, naturally cold-pressed, makes you think of dining at Noma or any other Nordic icon of contemporary gastronomic eloquence.
RAWV beet ravioli at Mantra
If in a hurry, which is not the tone Mantra resonates, you can just veer in for a daily juice fix, a raw nutty or dehydrated fruit snack liberally weighed on from hanging dispensers or bike your carbon emissions off in a smoothie. I mean exactly that! As you pedal on the orange stationary bicycle, your movement swirls the blender attached to it. I have not tried, but you can if you dare. A smart invention of a local genie passionate about the environment as much as his raw sense of humour. From the snacks the CRACK Almond and shiitake mushrooms crackers impressed me the most, the PAT airy dehydrated kale chips marinated in cashew cream and bell pepper are also a standout.
The takeaway juices are served in recycled plastic bottles, food in paper boxes, water is filtered through a Japanese carbon system (a black stick lingers in your jar absorbing the impurities in tap water) and the produce is mostly local with the menu changing seasonally. Expect different flavours in January from June.
Seasonal Ingredients calendarVegan nut balls

In tune with the Italian seasons

Unlike in the always warm and sunny California, the changing seasons in Europe cast opportunities as well as limitations on the patron that pays attention to the seasonal availability of ingredients. On the wall across from the juice and dessert bar counter, hang the illustrated local plant calendar month by month. Still, the youthful chef is as resourceful as are the founders of Mantra, who often help by keeping an eagle eye on the happenings inside and at busy times wait the tables. Their presence assures that feedback is immediately processed and that everything runs smoothly. In the restaurant business, it is well known, that the relationship between the owner and his chef benefit the quality of execution and better communicate the vision of both to the customer.
Raw vegan Pumpkin ravioli

Vegan slow lifestyle choice for all ages

At lunch you see lone professionals enjoying a healthy lunch instead of the ubiquitous glutenous panini stuffed with salami, a mother with her fashionable teenage daughter venturing into the vegan lifestyle and health conscious friends chatting over leafy plates. Dinner is more fun with mostly organic cocktails and wines adding to the gourmet pleasure served at Mantra. The service flows in a healthy pace, which in a yogic practice means the waiters and the kitchen staff do not pump their arms faster than their breath frequency. Most of the global citizans of the modern fast food nation may get frustrated, but if you know it ahead you plan accordingly. Enjoy the conversation with your dining partner or bring a book if you eat alone.
raw vegan soup

Plant raw food plated beautifully

There are not many restaurants where takeaways are taken as seriously as the plated dishes. Our take-out not just survived the three hours drive from Milan to Monaco, but the flower petals and verdant herbs topping the dishes looked stunning at our dinner table at home. An effortless healthy feast after indulgent dinners in Italy brought us back to balance.
After two lunches at Mantra and two exciting takeaways, our recent favourite menu items were:
RAWV Pumpkin ravioli: a small starter, yet the best raw vegan ravioli I have had to date. Filled with pine nut and spinach “fondue” and topped with zesty cilantro (coriander leafs), lime and pumpkin seed pesto it was further freshened by sweet and sour vinegar marinated apple chunks. [pictured in the takeaway box above] In summer, I had Beet ravioli with lemon cream stuffing and yellow bell pepper sauce. A perfect display of seasonally changing ingredients.
TAB Hemp seed tabbouleh with mint oil, cucumbers, pomegranate seeds. On a side of this large salad was smashed delicious beet and pomegranate hummus with cumin crisps dehydrated from a blend of chia seeds, beet juice and cumin spice.
vegan raw food
ROT Rotolo wrap: bell pepper dehydrated wrap filled with vegetable crudites and creamy, perfectly ripe, avocado. Spiced through a ginger sauce this is an exquisite light lunch. Dehydrated foods can keep up across the seasons.
INSY WAK Algae and mixed leafs seasonal salad: a large and rich salad marinated in lime with tahini vinaigrette. Cucumber pickles and a ginger foam brought up the sour dimension while hemp seed and spirulina gomasio (seasoning) upped its nutritional super-status.

We were not as keen on the winter ZPAG SNIP raw carrot and parsnip noodles with sweet saffron and orange dressing (the summer zucchini with pistachio nuts version is much better); the perhaps too mushroomy POL walnut and mushroom balls (=polpettine) with marinara sauce (rich tomato paste); and the winter ZUP Tomato fondue that was too rich and for my taste too acidic soup (=zuppa) served slightly warm in the cool season. Again, we preferred the summer ZUP take of tomatoes and herbal olive oil.
The names may sound wacky, but these are the mantras of the dishes. Chant them if you want for a holistic experience.
plant-based cafe in Milan plant-based cafe in Milan

Cold pressed but also warmly embracing drinks

The warm drinks I love are the lattes made from a generous homemade almond milk. The “milk” is unsweetened for your choice in the Matcha Tea Latte, while in the Salted Caramel Latte with empowering maca, sweetness comes naturally from the caramel. A good selection of teas and herbal infusions with a house style touch get a tea lover’s thumbs up.
The juice selection is not extensive, but good enough. Mantra is not just a liquid detox outlet, but a wholesome lifestyle concept. The sunny ZEN blend of apple, ginger with carrot is my favorite. The names are confusing as another ZEN is a green juice mix. As are the AUM mantras of carrot, orange and lemon blend, while another is bright yellow pineapple, apple and mint. To their labyrinthine mashup, I must credit their balanced flavours so not just my body but also my happy taste buds enjoyed sipping on these liquid nutrient bombs.

raw juice

Mantra is a rare healthful choice for a weekly vegan breakfast, weekend brunch, lunch or slightly different dinner than your usual meal out in Milan would otherwise be. If you spend a couple of days in this fashionable Italian city, rejuvenate at least through one meal there. You will be surprised as the flavours are better than at most Milanese restaurants, and that says a lot in itself!
🕗 Mon-Sat: 12noon-midnight; Closed on Sunday

✉ Via Panfilo Castaldi, 21, 20124 Milano, Italy

☏ +39 (0) 2 8905 8575

Learning biodiversity through farmers markets in Turin, Italy

The farmers markets in Turin, Italy, are the most intriguing botanical affairs for edibles in Europe. If you wonder what the difference between citron [cedro] and lemon is, keep reading as more confusing, unusual, yet superior ingredients are found at the green markets around Italy’s first capital.
Piaggio Ape

Seeking biodiversity while traveling

Traveling the world, always seeking the best foods and above all rare local gems, has excited me ever since I packed my first suitcase. I was heading for Italy, and two decades later I keep returning. I circled the globe countless times. Exploring local food in depth, the magnifying glass of curiosity tied my belt of knowledge tighter. China, Thailand, Colombia, Peru, Japan, Morocco, California, and Italy emerged as the most diverse ingredient hubs. Mexico was a close tie. Some markets were Anthony Bourdain’s hives of “W.T.F.! This is real”: frogs jumped our of the buckets in Bangkok, fried bees and beetles ‘winged’ on me in Southern China, snakes whirled the water in buckets in Hong Kong, horse heads freaked me and my sister out in Cuzco and offal tuned my stomach into yogic inversions in Istanbul.
Wiser through experience, these days I tend to float towards fruits, herbs, spices and vegetables. In that regard, Italy feels more like home to me. The Slow Food nation celebrates its native plants with the flamboyance of an Armani-clad male. French ingredients are too polished, usually less fragrant, and further from their delicious, yet less regulated wilderness.
la dolce vita Italian markets

Farmers markets in Turin

Even if you are not an obsessive foodie like myself, never miss checking out the farmers markets in Turin. It is a cultural trip, for food is a serious social affair in Piedmont. The former royal capital of Savoy is a dichotomy of its former grandeur and rustic I-do-not-care shabbiness. Yet, here the oldest cafés in Europe frame the flaky facades, the Italian constitution was negotiated at its first parliament, best quality chocolate is made traditionally and in the contemporary single estate purity.
The farmers markets in Turin are as distinct as the produce sold at them. Turin’s reputation as a socially liberal city draws authenticity and diversity in.
Italian mountain cheeseslow life in Italy

Porta Palazzo Market

The Porta Palazzo Market is the busiest and at times messiest of all. At the biggest open market in Europe, almost 700 vendors trade under the naked sky and inside the market halls daily, except Sunday. Regular hours and policed geolocation are its hallmarks. It’s not all hyperlocal. One vendor brings delicious sweet mangoes, pomegranates and other sun-lovers from Sicily.
The vast space shields a covered fish market, butchers hall, cheese and dairy in controlled temperature environment. Blended in is an imported bounty outdoor market and my favourite local farmers market tucked behind. Cheese makers, sausage specialists, vegetable growers, free-range egg vendors, mushroom foragers and wild flowers pickers from the Cuneo Province stream in.

Over the years of hedonistic tourism, my tastiest discoveries at the farmers markets in Turin were:
The citron (Citrus medica), a large fragrant citrus fruit with a thick rind. It is one of the original citrus fruits from which all other citrus types developed. Sliced ultra-thin like a carpaccio, poured over olive oil and gem salt, a gourmandise at its best.
For five years in hay-aged goats and sheep cheese.
Crosnes: I was disappointed by the stringiness of the “Chinese radish” also known as Chinese artichoke by the only Asian vendors at the market, who sold me a tough, rough, almost tasteless crosnes. I enjoy the twirled roots’ delicate nutty taste (boiled and grilled with butter), but these were a tough chew. To their credit, their flowering pak-choi and Chinese garland chrysanthemum leaves were extraordinary.
The less spicy than Asian but a juicy daikon (originates in the Mediterranean).
Scorzonera (black salsify), a black, long, radish-like stick that peels off into white nakedness.
Barba di becco, in a flan with cheese
An abundance of wild greens such as bittersweet grespino comune.
Diversity of oranges – some honey sweet, others flowery fragrant, some extremely juicy, others more firm.
Saltwort, known also as agretti and barba di frate (scientifically Salsola Soda) with its mineral taste reminds of seaweed crossed with spinach. Excellent blanched or parboiled and served with white fish.
The cardoon from any producer was too bitter, only eggs, butter, cream or other smoothly enveloping ingredients balanced it.
Ancient grains like barley in all shapes, einkorn, spelt, kamut and millet.
Beans (fagioli) of dozens of subtypes and other colourful dried legumes, some resembling artful ceramic fragments.
On the fringes, cables, electronic jumble, third-hand scarves and plenty of waste-not appliances and frocks that some posh citizens would call rubbish – are being haggled with multi-ethnic entepreneurs.
Piazza della Repubblica, Torino
 Monday – Friday 8:30am-1:30pm; Saturday 8:30am-6:30pm
slow food Italy

Mercato di Campagna Amica

More like a co-op is the Mercato di Campagna Amica. The “Friendly Land Market” assembles regional growers and mainly food artisans on the city’s squares on weekly rotations. On the third Sunday this March the Piazza Madama Cristina was spring festive, the pace more relaxed and it felt more clean, orderly and spacious than the rather suffocating Porta Palazzo’s hush.
Here, the local high society shops. Nevertheless, the emblems of the “km0” [kilometro zero] philosophy clashed with exotic, imported cocoa in locally made chocolates. Otherwise foodstuff proximity is the guiding principle at this Turin market.
I bumped into its bright yellow stands while jogging towards the Po river. Like at other farmers markets in Turin you find: Ancient grains and flours, cookies bread (gluten-free), home-baked cakes, Piedmont wines, Fontina Valdostana, Robbiola cheese, Ricotta, Primosale or Seiras di mucca mountain cheese. Piedmont DOC hazelnuts – raw, roasted, pureed into paste, pressed into fragrant oil or incorporated into pastry, pasta and snacks.
Specialties: Bagnet ross, a typical Piedmontese tomato and pepper sauce.
Marmalades with peach and ginger or Pom Matan – a native green-red apple variety grown around Turin.
Barley, rice and hazelnut puffed crackers (galette) and wholemeal spelt pasta by La Peracca.
Marmalades, typical Ligurian pesto, creative organic and biodynamic dips and condiments by Molino del Conte in Alessandria. I  liked the nettle-olive and golden purslane (portulaca oleracea, also known as little hogweed) accompaniments to pasta, fish or meat. The later, omega 3-rich, salty stems with their tiny leaves are healthy for their antibacterial, antioxidant, depurative and diuretic potencies.
Sundays 9am – 7pm


Market of natural and ecological products with 34 exhibitors in front of the municipal house. Monthly, thematic demonstrations and classes include wine tasting, bread baking, stone milling, tincture making, everything bees or garlic, even global organic cotton presentation.
 Piazza Palazzo di Citta, Torino
Fourth Saturday of the month (excluding July and August)
free-range eggs

Ogni frutto ha la sua stagione

A market based on seasonal products organised by the Italian confederation for farmers.
 Piazza Carlo Alberto, Torino
Third Sunday of the month.

Biological market alla Giajone

A fair trade initiative of Tutto Un Altro Mondo, New World and City Ward 2 underneath the arcades of the Giajone farm building. Coffee, tea, herbs, chocolate, sugar, biscuits, cakes, candies, honey, jams, Italian rice, pasta, cous-cous, quinoa, spices, freshly squeezed fruit juices mix in books, magazines and information briefs about fair trade.
Via Guido Reni 102, Torino
Saturday: 9am-1pm

Mercatino delle erbe (Herbal market)

The market of typical plant-based Piedmontese products. Vegans rejoyce at this animal-friendly affairs.
Via Garibaldi e Piazza Palazzo di Citta, Torino
First Sunday of the month from 9am

Donne in campo (Women in the field)

A purely feminine market of agricultural and handcrafted products from Piedmontese women producers. Social justice, not a touristy hanky-panky.
Via Roma, via Cesare Battisti & Piazza Carlo Alberto, Torino
Second (June) & third Sunday of the month (March, June, September and December)
On weekdays smaller markets shuffle around Turin and the nearby towns. Find an updated rotation calendar on Piemonte Coldiretti Torino website.
Slow Food Italyseafood market
The farmers markets in Turin are not as scenic as the monthly organic market in Dolceaqua, where Monet found his muse, but they are the most multi-ethnic, to slow-food dedicated urban food assemblies in Europe. The foundation of modern, immigrant Italy itself streamed from Turin. The Slow Food University nearby in Pollenzo and its graduates disseminate its ethical values so proactively that the local consumers chime in.
I love visiting particularly late in the fall, winter and early in spring when the Alps are snowcapped with fluffy hats. The annual cycle of seasonal impermanence had almost vanished from our cosmopolitan globalised lives, but the resurgent locavore trend revived the quest for nutritional quality and harmony in the millennial lifestyles. Buying food directly from the produces is more emotional and transparent pursuit that brings more satisfaction with one’s diet.

Ristorante Piazza Duomo Alba

Ristorante Piazza Duomo in Alba is a dichotomy of delectable mystery. Located in the core of the cobbled Alba, the splendour of the Duomo cathedral levelled on the primo piano of the restaurant, you may dine veiled in ignorance. The square you see is not named Piazza Duomo as in Milan or Florence, but in a true nationalist pride, you sit at Piazza Risorgimento, the liberal political movement that rid the heeled boot of royalty, transforming it into emotional Italy as we know it today.
Italian architecturegastronomic restaurant in Alba

Piazza Duomo in Alba: Italian emotions, Japanese precision

Enter the fuchsia door, and the play with meanings goes on – your cravings will and won’t be met at Piazza Duomo. It all tastes marvellous, rest assured, yet it depends on your expectations since surprises lace the three Michelin star plates. Enrico Crippa inserts some unexpected – grown locally from faraway seeds – ingredients into the menu. Beyond legendary Milanese kitchens, working in Kobe and Osaka, Japan, formed the Italian chef’s experience and culinary sensitivity.
Italian gastronomyItaly Michelin
In an authentic Italian expressionism, feelings guide his work: “I believe that only with yearning can there be real pleasure: there is always a small gap that cannot be filled, as in love.” Desire, longing for more, philosophically tease your palate. As with a good book, the chef skilfully authors tension. Mystery cloaks the sprawling table with delectable secrets that only your palate attentively plugged in the brain can riddle out.

Biodiversity: local bounty beyond the truffle

You wonder, I am in Alba. The seasonal rarity, the local, wild, white gem – the truffle – will be served in the short-spanning fall season, but the fragrant mushroom does not dominate the menu, it whispers from the underground. The chef highlights herbs and vegetables in his creative meets traditional Piedmontese cuisine. Each plate shows some, even the chamomile desert. Grown on the Ceretto property, a family villa cum sprawling organic winery near Barolo, the garden provides endless inspiration for the signature Salad 21,31,41,51… Changing daily, a seasoned ‘dashi’ broth from the diverse plants drips into a glass container designed exclusively for the restaurant. You eat the leaves with tweezers to taste the personality of each herb, flower, leaf, root, even seaweed. All eventual plants are in latin inscribed in a blue-green card that you can keep. You can purchase the glassware and the custom-made tweezers for at home entertainment as I did.
Alba Michelin restaurantPiazza-Duomo-Alba
Cautious, we ordered a la carte at our first visit a few years ago. Developing trust with Enrico Crippa’s cuisine, we dove into the nine-but-more courses La Degustazione recently. The menu can be lighter with his vegetal touches. Still, the tasting menu is a royal affair for your belly. We barely walked into our suite just a duo of doors away from the dining room (the promising wine list prompted us to book one of the in-house rooms). English may introduce slight misunderstandings, so be clear and ask the waiters for repetition since they often got lost in translation. Nevertheless, their pleasant attitude excuses any trouble.

The signature tasting menu at Ristorante Piazza Duomo in Alba can accommodate small alterations. Two changes were the maximum the chef was willing to surmise, so my husband had to keep the gout-arousing scallops if he wanted pasta instead chestnut with liver risotto (ethically, no foie gras for me), and fish in the place of lamb (when I eat meat I must be sure I consume it all, and here, personally I smelled waste) as I did.

three star Michelin Italy
The portions a la carte are large, yet plenty of green shoots, flowers and vegetables star Enrico Crippa’s plates, lightening them slightly. In any case, first, you are treated to tiny teasers with your aperitif (sparkling, a wide selection from whites by the glass and some Coravin luxuries or a cocktail like negroni et al.). The snacks include elegant puffed rice crackers, copied like the abundant salad by Matteo Baroneto at Ristorante del Cambio in Turin. Del Cambio version embellished the crackers with a rainbow of natural tints – beetroot juice, greens, black sepia ink, seeds. His salad is richer, with less purity then at Piazza Duomo.

three star Michelin Italy

The Beginning…

In La Degustazione, the amouse entertainment that is spread all over the table is over the top, a meal on its own. It reminds me of Pierre Gagnaire, one is overfed to the point that you can hardly point out what you like and what not. I was professionally focused enough, and found it all delectable.
“The Beginning” of antipasti included:
Anchovies, green sauce
Puntarelle and burrata cheese
‘Bruxelles’ sprouts and flowering mustard
Mushrooms – preserved micro button mushrooms with flowers
Sweet marinated pumpkin with Piedmont hazelnut, borrage flower, and fresh herbs
Romanesco florets and leaves in cream
Meatless ‘caponet’ for me as my husband relished the regular foie-gras and meat stuffed vegetable. Like petits farcis in Niçoise cuisine, a squash blossom, cabbage, pepper and other vegetables envelop ground meat filling.
Piazza Duomo artArt in Alba

Restaurant interior that rises questions: pink walls, cages and vines

At lunch facing the windows on the ochre brick arches of the Duomo cathedral are the best tables. After sunset looking at the frescoed walls inside the main dining room intrigues more. You will not forget the quirky interior, ever.

The soft peach-hued arches were frescoed with imagination of Neapolitan artist Francesco Clemente in 2007. A crawling grape leaf as a tribute to the Ceretto family business branches into metaphorical depictions along the walls. Inspired by the Langhe landscape, a stag peaks from a window, otherwise life and emotions like love puzzle you as in an art gallery.

There are eight tables in the main dining room. A less memorable bright room behind a cosy lounge is for larger groups. 
The artistic pursuit drives the success of Ristorante Piazza Duomo. The genie strikes the mind when it is open, so the chef may draw from his subconscious or after an intense brain storming.
best restaurant in Piedmontcontemporary gastronomy

The sea meets the Alps with tradition coated in innovation

In contrast with the Piedmontese meet-centric cuisine on the foothills of the Alps, the proximity of the Mediterranean imprints enough seafood on the menu. Our Scallops, Mediterranean Sea Urchins and sheep’s Pecorino blended mountains in. The quality of the Sardinian scallops was not what an Atlantic specimen would bring along, less tender and rather flabby. The pudding with sea urchins would make Japanese chefs laugh, far from Hokkaido’s plump richness.
cooked sous-vide
Everything else was superb though. A delicate Cod and pumpkin, cooked sous-vide, the tender fish dissolved on my tongue like a dollop of fresh cream. Served with gorgeous red nasturtium flower and its leaves the canvas was naturally tuned in.
Instead of the lamb main course we had Seabass, Fiolaro broccoli, Bagna Cauda. The last, a local 16th century specialty of garlic and anchovies was mellowed so not to overpower the superb wild fish. The crisp sprouting broccoli introduced more leafy greens and vibrant garden colours of flowers added feminine charm.
seasonal vegetables in Michelin menu
Still, in Piedmont one must have veal. The Fassona Garibaldi was also tenderised gently in slow sous-vide preparation. For me a Chambertin Grand Cru Burgundy (poured through a Coravin) accompanied lovingly this sublime Piedmontese cut of veal. The Garibaldi style includes a Marsala sauce with spices in the young meat. The best veal in Piedmont I have had to date.
Piedmontese veal cooking with tea
Next landed another staple on the menu, the silky smooth and gooey Potato Cream seasoned with Lapsang Souchong tea. Like the french aligot, it is dangerously delicious. In fall, the white Alba truffle is shaved on top instead of the smoky Chinese tea.
The Under Brush of mushroom ravioli instead of the risotto with foie gras was a superb choice. Seeing unfinished plates of the risotto at other tables, our al-dente pasta with fresh spinach leaves forest tea broth were a better match in the now overwhelming tasting menu. Cheese puffs were served with it on the side.
We could not imagine eating desserts, but we did.
Pre-desserts include a fine Piedmont D.O.P. hazelnut crisp, exquisite fragrant chamomile sorbet, slightly sour candied orange triangles, a cold-brewed infusion, and a disappointing mushy bread stick coated in milk chocolate (together with the bread basket, the weakest morsel of the night).
Michelin dessert
It was time for either a coffee by Lavazza with famous estates like the Jamaican Blue Mountain staring the menu or tea. The tea menu is not specific enough for a camellia snob like myself. Simply marked as Taiwanese oolong, Chinese green tea, when asking for details did not help I went for an Italian tisane. The special blend of cardamom, liquorice, orange was meant to facilitate a better digestion. Feeling really full, I mused that a post-dinner walk through old Alba would do better than the tea.
Michelin pastry
mignardiseHazelnut Tart
Yet, more sweet gourmandise with the digestive Tisana Speziale arrived. Local specialty – the hazelnut cake Tarta a la nozziole, a milk ‘latte’ shot, chocolates, … My brain could not process it any more. We got an extra cake in our room.
Burgundy Pinot Noircarta di vinos

The wine program measures up to the expectations of a wine region setup. Two lists: “Only Piedmont” and “All the Rest”. The owner of the building and the restaurant, the Ceretto family (their other projects include a tavern La Piola, Relanghe confectionery shop sourcing from its hazelnut orchards, and curated art exhibitions in the region) includes much of its cellar in the Piedmont album. At Ceretto all estate-owned vineyards (160 hectares) are organic, some, in Barolo and Barbaresco (20ha), plus the Monsordo Bernardina Estate vineyards (10ha), employ biodynamic principles

By the glass, the offer is so generous that Coravin, the bottle preserving system enables more special wines like the famous ‘Super Tuscans‘ to be sipped by the glass, seduced us. Special tasting journeys include a €500 Nebbiolo feast of three rare local wines that my husband embarked on. Barbaresco Crichet by Pajè 2008, Barolo Gran Bussia 2009 from Roagna and Ceretto’s precious Barolo Cannubi San Lorenzo 2006.

I was more cost-conscious, selecting a better value Grand Cru Burgundies (€60-80). For most of the tasting menu, these lighter, rounder, more fresh less tannic French Pinots work better. 

loungecontemporary artAlba accomodation
Ristorante Piazza Duomo in Alba is a project of desire by the Ceretto family. Enrico Crippa was called in to fill in the creative culinary gap in traditional Piedmont. Since 2005, the ascent from the first star within a year from opening and third within a decade, now includes four, contemporary rooms filled with art and connected to the gastronomic restaurant. A convenient gourmet staycation in Alba. The fresh, minimalist rooms feel like being in a house. Just step through the doors to be greeted by the Italian staff in the restaurant’s spacious lounge. 
What we further appreciate is that the chef Enrico Crippa focuses solely on his culinary projects in Alba, not seeking faraway fame of virtual social stardom.
Piazza Risorgimento 4, 12051 Alba (Cuneo Province)
 +39 0173 366167
Lunch 12:30 – 2pm; dinner 7:30 – 09:30pm

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