9th July 2022
An Excerpt from my Diary: Foraging in the Dolomites
Madonna di Campiglio in the Trentino region of Italy is a very special place for me. I never tire of the extraordinary beauty of the Brenta Dolomites encircling the town.
I have been a regular visitor to Madonna di Campiglio for over twenty-five years now yet the beauty of the mountains never fails to thrill me and the warm welcome at the Hotel Lorenzetti makes it feel like a homecoming. Every time I come here I enjoy a new experience and on this occasion I experience the joys of foraging in the alpine meadows. I learnt about this event while lunching at Cascina Zeledria.
Tuesday 05 July 2022
Today is the second day of my stay in Madonna di Campiglio and, on rising early, I can see the sun is already shining. After the storms of yesterday washed me out twice yesterday I am determined to make up for it today. After and early, light breakfast I take the Lorenzetti Hotel shuttle bus (an invaluable free service) to the Pradalago cabin lift and go to the top. I use my Trentino Guest Card – a worthwhile purchase as it allows unlimited use of the four cabin lifts that are open in the summer. From the top of the Pradalago cabin lift I have some wonderful views of Madonna di Campiglio laid out like a patterned carpet below me.
I walk down the slope, past the little lake after which this area is named, and stop for a coffee at Ristorante Viviani. This is a favourite haunt of mine both winter and summer for a coffee break. I sip my cappuccino outside, savouring the panorama of grey limestone peaks and dark green verdant forests around me.
I set off to walk down the mountain towards the town – watched by a curious goat that has scrambled up on to the top of a huge rock close to the path. In the distance I can hear the mellow jangling of cow bells. During the summer local farmers graze their animals on the lush grass of the mountain pastures.
After indulging in several cups of cappuccino this morning I feel the need to find a secluded spot to have a wee. Usually, this is not a problem in this extensive wooded area. But, as I survey the possibilities there is a crashing in the trees behind me and a man in running gear, consulting a map as he goes, comes running past me. He is followed by another, then another – within minutes the area around me resembles multi-coloured ants swarming over a large mound. No hiding places for me, so I plod on towards Cascina Zeledria, my lunch stop.
Cascina Zeledria is a family-run farm (malga) and restaurant on the lower slopes of Pradalago. As I walk down the path towards it I have to jump out of the way of another wave of orienteers rushing towards me. Zeledria is the starting point today of the five-day European Orienteering Championships. The age range goes from young children to very active senior citizens and there is even a woman with her dog.
I work my way through a bevy of people warming up to the front of the restaurant where I am greeted by Guido the owner. I brought my groups to this restaurant for many years when working as a tour leader here. Now I am looking forward to a solitary meal on the terrace outside the restaurant. When Sandro brings me the menu I order capriolo (venison) with polenta (a very traditional dish) accompanied by a glass of an excellent Teraldego (the local red wine). Dessert has to be apple strudel for which this region is famous. Both dishes were delicious. I finish with a coffee and a small glass of green apple grappa. While I am eating I am joined by Rossana who works for the family. She tells me about the foraging event the next day. It sounds fascinating and I sign up for it.
Wednesday 06 July 2022
This morning Rossana collects me from my hotel and we drive to Cascina Zeledria. All the paraphernalia of the orienteering event of yesterday has completely disappeared. Replaced by the gentler bustle of a local event. Seventy-one people have registered to take part and are already beginning to arrive. All carrying baskets and scissors in which to carry the flowers and leaves they collect. This event is being organised in conjunction with SAT (Società degli Alpinisti Tridentini) the local alpine society responsible for, amongst other things, the refuges and paths on the mountains. Registration takes place in an enclosed area opposite the restaurant fronted by a separate building where lunch is being prepared.
Tables and benches have been laid out on the grass. I sit down at one of these tables. An Italian lady is seated at the other end of the table. It is not long before she makes a comment. I smile and say she will have to excuse my poor Italian but I am English. Miriam introduces herself, she owns the Chalet del Sogno in town, and we start a conversation. People are streaming into the enclosed space and just as looks as though it might devolve into chaos the departure of the first group is announced. Miriam suggests we join this group and we set off with Maria Angela, our expert in the healing and cooking properties of the wild herbs and flowers around us.
I am in a mixed group of fifteen some of whom are very knowledgeable foragers. They all have baskets and a pair of scissors ready to harvest wild herbs and flowers. I am pleasantly surprised to discover I can follow what Mariangela is telling us and how interesting it is. I make notes as we go along. Some of the plants we see are already familiar to me, for example, Arnica, Cow Parsley and Thyme – although I had hot appreciated the many medicinal properties attributed to them.
We proceed in an orderly manner for the first hour and then the group begins splitting up for various reasons – items are lost, sunglasses and a wristwatch - and their owners and friends turn back to look for them. We traverse and then climb up a very steep slope which some cannot manage – I am secretly pleased to be referred to as being good at walking in the mountains as I bound past two reluctant climbers. We all reconvene back at Zeledria for lunch.
A large pot of polenta is on the boil back at the event venue and more tables and benches are being set up. Bottles of Prosecco, red wine and water are being handed out. The Prosecco is being kept cold in a trough and water bottles are replenished from the water flowing into that trough. A bemused herd of cows watches the comings and goings. Everything is self-service and orderly queues form for each of the three courses cooked by a well-known local chef Bruno Sicher – antipasto misto and pasta combined, polenta with sausage and wild spinach (Good King Henry) and apple strudel for dessert. Each course is enhanced by locally sourced wild herbs. It is a very jolly occasion.
During lunch I am introduced to the special guest, local hero, Ferruccio (Fèro) Valentini, a lover of the forest and expert on the properties and characteristics of wild herbs and also ancient fossils. He found international fame by discovering moqui marbles in Trentino.
Before setting off to walk back down the mountain I visit Zeledria’s farm shop, a treasure trove of cheeses made here on the farm. I select a large chunk of the local Parmesan Cheese – known here as Trentingrana.
It is not often one can boast of having met the cows that made the cheese you are eating.
Valery Collins is the Experienced Traveller An excellent raconteur, Valery has been writing about her experiences on the road since she started travelling 25 years ago. After publishing four books she turned to online travel writing.