Cortina by Barù

Photographer, flaneur, foodie philosopher and surfer, Gherardo Gaetani dell’Aquila d’Aragona, aka Barù, shares a glimpse into Cortina.

I’ve lived in many mountain ranges from the Alps to the Andes, and Cortina is the most beautiful and dramatic mountain valley in the world.  I always say you could take one of its mountains and place it alone somewhere else and it would become a coveted national treasure. [In 2009, UNESCO declared the Dolomites, which includes Cortina, a World Natural Heritage area for their unique and monumental beauty.] In Cortina, you are surrounded by nature, by colour and by dozens of pinkish massive rocky peaks in an open, non-claustrophobic valley. 

A long-lasting golden age from the 1950s through the 70s at the very peak of la dolce vita, Cortina still has a reputation for attracting the nouveau riche from all of Italy. But there are two sides to Cortina – the life-sized fake lips, dressed in furs coats and drenched in way too much perfume that strut around town, and then there are the Ampezzani. 

The Ampezzani (people native to Cortina from both parents) are an old mountain clan that, legend has it, settled in this valley running away from the barbaric invasions with the fall of the Roman Empire.  The Ampezzani lived in a tight community-  a sort of kibbutz – where everyone had to contribute to survive the long winters.  They divided the lands amongst the families and formed a sort of cooperative to manage it all, which still stands today.  Out of this came out strong local traditions and identity, including ladino, the historic language, and costume.  The Ampezzani are mountain people and, I would dare say, not the most welcoming to strangers, but if you are of the right character you might be brought to that inner circle and then you will live Cortina in all its glory.

It feels like a change is about to happen in Cortina, not only because the 2026 Olympics or the 2021 Women’s Ski World Cup will be held here, but because it is a place too beautiful to have been neglected for so long.  The golden age will return, don’t miss out. 

Restaurants

Villa Oretta, Ospitale, Al Camin, Tivoli, El Camineto, Leone e AnnaEl Brite (in a forest!), Da Beppe Sello (at the bar), Jaegerhaus

El Brite de Larieto

Bars

The bar at the Hotel de la Poste is one of the original Italian cocktail bars, it’s an institution.  Even Hemingway had a drink there, weird… but do be careful you have to go to the old bar, they will guide you to their new bar (they are really proud of it) where bad plastic surgery and the wrong music played too loudly are at hand.  I suggest you have a couple of drinks in the old traditional, quaint and classic bar and then join the circus for a couple of laughs. 

If you fancy a wine aperitvo, The Enoteca is the place to be.  There are two rooms, but it’s mandatory you sit at the bar for the full local experience.  Try their little whole wheat bread sandwiches butter and anchovies or the one with gorgonzola and their asparagus and egg tramezzino (a typical white bread sandwich from Veneto).

If you’re looking for one of the cheesiest nights out head on over to the VIP Club, where the preppiest of the preppy, young and old, unite around a piano and dance to the worst Italian music all night.  It’s actually quite fun. 

For locals and drinking only

Bar Sport and Panino Top Bar (not fancy), no tacky Roman tourists thus you won’t get annoyed.  Don’t tell anyone!!

The famous American Bar Hotel de la Poste

Rifugi

Rifugio Dibona is my favourite. I suggest you walk up – it’s beautiful, hour-long hike.  When snowing, bring a sled to help make the way down much easier or very dangerous, depending how much you drank. 

For one of the best views, I suggest Rifugio Pomedes  atop the Tofana mountain.  Reachable by chair lift. 

Drive or walk up to Malga Federa. During the winter, Unimog crawlers bring you up but don’t forget your sled for the way down. 

Rifugio Pomedes

Coffee and Local Treats

Pasticceria Lovat, do try their hot chocolate it’s one of the best I have had

Pasticceria Alverà has sweet krapfen, similar to a donut but no hole and it’s filled with either custard or raspberry jam. 

For a savoury treat, well, for me it’s all about landjaeger, a little salami made of venison or pork, or carne secca, Alpine beef jerky. 

Where to stay

There is a lot happening on the hotel side of things in Cortina. For me, the two best options are Hotel de la Poste, centrally located and an institution, and Hotel Menardi, a quaint family run hotel that feels like home. 

Shopping

The zona pedonale, aka the center of town is lined with shops. Amongst the most interesting ones are Mauro Guerresco and Ghedina Zuccaro where you can find Tyrolian clothing. 

La Cooperativa di Cortina, a kind of alpine Harrods, will cover most of your shopping necessities.  

Entrance of the WWI Tunnel with Lagazuoi Grande behind. Photo courtesy of Lodewijk Biemond

Fun

If you don’t ski, I suggest you start, or try cross country skiing. There are about 70km wroth of cross country trails around the town. From Cortina to Dobbiacco it’s an easy 7km fun.

Ice skating in the beautiful Stadio Olympic del Ghiaccio, built for the 1956 winter Olympics, and a favourite of James Bond. You can also catch a hockey game there, which is always great fun.

In the summer, there are endless walks and likes you can go on.  The most beautiful and interesting to me are the Lagazuoi tunnels, WWI and WWII routes which lead to caves in mountains where soldiers lived and fought the war. 

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