Three winter days in high Val di Zoldo: skiing, hiking and traditional ice cream
Introduction: a bit of history
Val di Zoldo (‘Val de Zoldo ‘, in Ladino traditional language), located at the feet of Belluno Dolomites and crossed by the Maè river, right tributary of the Piave, is a little-known valley, still far from the mass tourism. Officially founded only in 2016, by the merging of the municipalities of Forno di Zoldo and Zoldo Alto, it counts little more than 3000 inhabitants. The birth of the Zoldana community is referable around the year 1000, when the feud was consolidated, distributed in villages that still bear that time’s same name. Administered by the only Pieve of San Floriano, the most significant monument in the valley, Val di Zoldo attracted the attention of the powerful lords for the development of mining activities, especially metallurgical, passing in the centuries of hand in hand to several families, until the acquisition by the Serenissima Republic of Venice, for whose Arsenal became the main supplier. After Napoleon, the Austrians arrived, then the annexation to the Lombard Veneto Kingdom, and finally to the Kingdom of Italy in 1866. With the advent of modern industry, the factory gradually disappeared and many inhabitants were forced to emigrate, mainly in the Americas and in Germany. It was at this time, between the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, that the people from Val di Zoldo (‘zoldani’) became particularly renowned as ice-cream makers. After the liberation of 1918, the valley was able to restart, in the Second postwar, thanks to a discreet development of tourism, increased in the ’80 years after the opening of the Civetta ski Area (annexed to the wider Dolomiti Superski in 1992).
A day on skis: from Pècol to Alleghe, via Fertazza Peak
The view on the south face of Civetta Mountain, at sunset, from Pècol di Zoldo.
In the late afternoon we arrive at Pècol di Zoldo, where we have been hosting for several years by the ‘Meublè La Baita’: Manola and Emiliano are very happy to see us again, we always appreciate their welcome, the lovely bed and breakfast, quiet and clean, and their delicious homemade jam. Pècol is a fraction of the municipality of Val di Zoldo, with just 200 inhabitants, but this is not a place to underestimate. In fact, it rises on the eastern slopes of Mount Civetta (10564 ft), while to the south East rises Mount Pelmo (10393 ft). Last inhabited center before Passo Staulanza (5849 ft), which connects Val di Zoldo to Val Fiorentina, in the second half of 1900 Pècol was an important point of support for the pioneers of the dolomitic climbs, such as the British mountaineer and explorer Francis Fox Tuckett. Pècol is still the most convenient place to reach the gondola lift of the Civetta ski area.
We get up early in the morning and, after a great breakfast made of fresh bread, fruit, yogurt, local cheeses and salami, we prepare for a day on skis. The snow this December has not been seen if not rarely, but the slopes are very well artificially snowed and the weather is wonderful. We reach Col Dei Baldi, and finally the Belvedere-Fertazza Refuge (6033 ft), for a lunch on the tables in the sun with a hot sandwich with peppers and ‘pastin’. Pastin is a typical meal from Belluno, included in the list of traditional Veneto regional products, consisting of pork and beef meat roughly minced, topped with an infusion of white wine, garlic and spices. It is usually grilled, after having given it a very uniform circular shape, for which it is also called Rodela de pastim (‘pastin wheel’, in agordino local language), but it can also be eaten raw. The slopes lead us to the base of Alleghe village, where the sun begins to disappear, leaving just the view of the frozen lake, then we prepare to enjoy the sunset in the Dolomites, from the beautiful panoramic terrace of Cima Fertazza: we are so lucky that, although for a few moments (but that’s how it usually is), the Enrosadira (rosadura in Ladino, or ‘ pink tinged ‘) slowly strikes all the surrounding peaks: Pelmo, Antelao, Sorapis, Croda da Lago, Becco di Mezzodì, until disappearing and leaving in the sky a set of never seen colors, from orange to purple-blue that then starts to become blue toward the night… a fairy tale. The silence and peace that this moment gives us, far from the classic noise of the midday skiers, are priceless, as the view that surrounds us. We start to feel colder and, once the show is finished, we collect the photographic equipment and happy, but also a little sad to leave, we start the descent to the village of Santa Fosca: by tracing wide curves we feel free and, except for the snow cat that is about to start its work, we are the masters of the track. After a warm shower and a bit of rest, we spend the evening in the warmth of the ‘Stube del Patriarca’ in Pecol, two minutes walk from Meublé La Baita: the restaurant offers excellent meat, but if you prefer a vegetarian dish, you can taste delicious dumplings (‘canederli’) with netted and melted cheese. At the end of the dinner, even if we are satiated, we cannot miss our favourite stop-over, the Solèr. The ice-cream parlour, meticulously furnished in wood with a typical Ladin style, offers not only exceptional ice cream, typical of Val di Zoldo, made with natural ingredients and without preparations, but also excellent homemade cakes, such as the Sacher cake, the ‘Lienzertorte’, the pear and chocolate cake, the buckwheat cake and many more. The mistress, always ironic but kind, welcomes us and updates us on the latest news of the valley.
Mount Pelmo, seen from the track that descends to Pecol di Zoldo, in the Civetta ski area.
Marmolada mountain, seen from the track that descends to Alleghe, on the eastern side of the Civetta.
The lake of Alleghe, seen from behind the Belvedere-Fertazza refuge.
Città di Fiume refuge and Val Fiorentina
The next day, I’m excited for the trip I planned because, although it is simple, it’s a new adventure: we will reach the Città di Fiume refuge (6289 ft), where I booked for dinner, and will return in the evening with the night lights. The refuge, whose name reminds of the people of Fiume town in exile, is located at the end of Val Fiorentina, and is a stage of the Alta via N. 1 of the Dolomites, as well as of the Via Alpina. It was obtained in the ’60 years, from the ancient Durona hut, dating back to 1600, when it served pastoral activities (you can see the three-room arched portal, typical of those dedicated exclusively to stables); I return here every year appreciating not only the position, in front of the Col of Puina, at the foot of the majestic northern wall of Pelmo and Pelmetto, but also the style of low environmental impact that the managers have been able to confer. The base of the refuge is also an excellent starting point for many ski mountaineering tracks on the Pelmo, as well as for some beautiful snowshoeing rings, if conditions permit. After having a not too early breakfast and having bought some sandwiches at Pecol market, we load the backpack with some hot tea and some down jackets: we do not give up a couple more of micro spikes, because we were told that the path to the refuge, not presenting snow and due to the variable conditions of the last days, is very icy. In the twenty minutes of car driving that separate us from the beginning of the path, we stop at Staulanza Pass, right under the Pelmo, and we have lunch. Once you get to the parking lot (along the SP251, the last hairpin on the right, coming from Pècol), we wear our micro-spikes (essential to proceed safely) and we start over the path No. 467: the walk takes place lightly sloping in the middle of the forest and passes through Malga Fiorentina (5902 ft), an ancient alpine pasture of the inhabitants of San Vito di Cadore village and now renovated with a casera, a barn and a shelter for shepherds. After about 1h of walk and a few photographic stops, the view to the Pelmo gradually opens and we arrive at the refuge. The initial idea was to photograph the sunset from the vantage point of the refuge, but the presence of clouds is not helpful. We decide to continue following the n.467 path, which cuts to the left of the Puina Col and connects Val Zoldana to the Ampezzo Dolomites, thus becoming part of Alta Via 1. It’s a good choice, because back there, thanks to a strong wind, the clouds are thinning out, leaving a blue rosicaean color that marks the beginning of a majestic sunset over all the peaks that open just before: from the left, the Lastoni de Formin, Croda da Lago , the Becco di Mezzodì and Rocchetta of Prendera, up to the final fork (6696 ft) that offers us a spectacular view on Marmarole, Sorapis and Antelao. After tasting this beautiful but cool moment, we go back admiring the clouds blazing by the sun, that slowly thinn leaving the first stars of the evening to shine, above the peaks of Civetta and Marmolada mountains. Happy to find ourselves finally in the heat, we enjoy the silence of the refuge, where to keep us company are only the refuge managers absorbed in the reading and the cheerful crackling of the fire in the stove. Dinner is served at 7pm: appetizers of local cheeses and salami with giardiniera, barley soup, polenta, grilled cheese and mushrooms are our choice; everything is delicious. The evening has now fell since a few hours and, after wearing the various layers previously warmed at the heat of the fire, covered with my down I get out of the little door illuminated by the beautiful Christmas tree. I walk away a few meters far from the refuge, my eyes soon become used to the darkness and in the total silence of the night I start to admire the celestial vault above me: I am touched by a so simple and at the same time so beautiful view and , excited, I shoot my first photos of the white snow wall of Civetta mountain reflecting the night light. Half an hour later, my companions of adventure, who look at me from inside the refuge as from the illuminated small windows of a nativity scene, join me and we begin the descent: we are surrounded by the silent night, accompanied only by the cracking of our micro-spikes that break the ice. For a moment, I turn off the head lamp and, not only do I notice that my eyes, aided by the glow of the snow, manage to see the trail of the path, but I marvel looking up the tops of the fir trees that stand out against the black sky: I am happy with the essentiality that the mountain gives me every time and with everything we do not need to be happy, up here: not even a head lamp to see. At the parking lot, I remove the spikes and turn the nose up, I try to impress this view in my memory to remind me to come back soon.
Enrosadira on Pelmo, Antelao and Marmarole, view from Belvedere-Fertazza refuge.
Trail 467, Alta via N. 1, with views of Croda da Lago, Lastoni de Formin and Becco di Mezzodì mountains.
Città di Fiume refuge at sunset.
Nocturnal starlit on the south-west side of Civetta Mountain.
Val di Zoldo: food and traditions
Unfortunately, the following day it is time to return to the city, but first we enjoy the shining sun walking and shopping for local food in Pècol. In the co-operative we buy ricotta cheese, butter and Mountain cheese (in summer you can buy them directly at Malga Vescovà, not far from Passo Staulanza, after a nice 40min trek); at the local butcher, my friends get pastin, speck and chops of smoked pork, while I get some homemade traditional dumplings (canederli). The dumplings are a typical dish not only in Val Zoldana, but also in Trentino and South Tyrolean regions, which was born in antiquity as a ‘poor’ traditional meal among the peasant of southern Germany, in the Bavaria region. Indeed, it is a mixture of stale bread, milk and eggs, which can be added cubes of speck or cheese, then formed with balls, and served directly in the broth, or dry with melted butter and grated parmesan. If you like meat in all its forms, you have to try ‘pendole’. These strips of smoked meat, salted and flavoured with spices and mountain herbs, derive from an ancient way, typical of Longarone area (near Belluno), to preserve the meat in the lean times, or for those who, like the woodsmen, had to move away from the village for a long time. The meat, beef, pork, sheep or goat, was cut into strips and left drying in front of the fire of ‘ Fogher ‘, the chimneys of the houses, fed by beech wood, which gave the meat the characteristic aroma. Nowadays, the meat is predominantly beef, and is smoked and dried with sawdust of beech and juniper. The ‘Casunziei’ (casoncei in Ladino) are another typical dish from Belluno, consisting of a wrapping of fresh, half-finished pasta with a filling of pumpkin or red turnips, sprinkled with melted butter and flakes of smoked ricotta, another tradition of the valley.
In addition to food, in Val Zoldana you can find many testimonies of the past tradition. The melting furnaces are one of these. In particular, the Book of Feuds of the Bishopric of Belluno, documents the existence of 6 melting furnaces already in 1365, nominated as the villages present at today: de For (Forno), de Maresono (Mareson), de Peculo (Pecol), de Sancto Nicolao de Zaudo (San Nicolò di Zoldo), De Donto (Dont), de Sancta Maria (Santa Maria). With the decline of the mining and the closure of the ovens, from the second half of 500, the great production ceased and the workers specialized in small artifacts, giving life to the craft of the ‘ Chiodarolo ‘ (chiodarot, in Ladino). The Museum of Iron and Nail, in Forno di Zoldo, preserves many exhibits and as much historical documentation on these ancient trades, which are now practically disappeared but which represent the soul of these people. Finally, but not least, what made Zoldani famous in the world is another activity, quite different from iron: ice cream. At the end of 800, Zoldani and Cadorini (people from Cadore area), along the roads of the world as emigrants, began to produce and sell ice cream in the border lands, starting from Germany, then extending to Japan, Canada and South America. Although it is not known the origin of the recipe of ice cream, nor how it came to the first craftsmen, it is thanks to the people of this small fraction of land, now called ‘ Land of ice cream makers ‘, that ice cream has become a popular food, accessible to all, as well as one of the most appreciated Italian artisan pastry products in the world. If earlier it was possible to admire the first machines used to produce ice cream at Zoldo, together with the equipment of the time and typical ‘carrettini’ (ice cream cars), now we are waiting for a new ‘Val di Zoldo and Cadore ice cream museum’ opening, planned in Pieve di Cadore. You can still taste the traditional Zoldo ice cream in one of the 4 ice-cream parlors in the valley: a unique taste that will surprise those coming from the city, for its lightness and intensity of flavors, thanks to the skilful use of the best natural ingredients and the mastery of processing of these real craftsmen who have handed down the art of ice cream for decades from a ‘bottega’ (small shop) to another.