BOOK | Blue Window | Culinary Adventures in the Alps and Carpathians — Switzerland I France I Italy I — Austria II Italy III


Martina to Malles / Mals (bus) 50 minutes


This is the heart of the Alps, high peaks and hidden valleys, where Italy borders Austria and Switzerland. [snip]

We are in Malles | Mals because we want to see the good work being done by the Vinterra Co-operative.

Malles | Mals to Merano / Meran via Töll (train and bus) 68-83 minutes


With 315 days of sunshine each year the delightful town of Naturns | Naturno alongside the Adige river is the first of several stops we are making on the railway line between Malles / Mals and Merano / Meran. [snip]


Here we go off on a tangent to experience the majesty of South Tyrol. [snip]

Merano | Meran to Bolzano-Bozen (train) 40-44 minutes


Bolzano / Bozen is the ’Gateway to the Dolomites’. Here the traditional food is quintessentially alpine and essentially Austrian, where history in the South Tyrol is never-ending. [snip]


The Deer Hunter

Ötzi was found lying in melt-water on a granite slab in a gully strewn with large boulders, a few metres from the Italian border with Austria, 3210 metres above sea level. Hikers Erika and Helmut Simon, from Nuremberg, made the discovery at one thirty in the afternoon of Thursday, September 19, 1991. They were descending the Finail peak in the Tisenjoch area of the Ötztal Alps. A four-meter-high stone pyramid now marks the find-site.

Ötzi was not, as some have surmised, a herder, bringing animals to graze the rich pastures of the high slopes. And, despite the romantic assumptions, he was not a hunter-gatherer. He came from a valley community – about 1000 metres below Tisen, hardly more than half a day’s hike away – that subsisted on agriculture and herding.

Ötzi had consumed red deer and wild goat meat and wholewheat seeds shortly before his absurd death. Much has been made about the discovery and condition of his mummy, but if Ötzi’s stomach contents reveal anything, it is one amazing fact. The traditional foods of the Alpine regions have not changed much in over 5,000 years.

The general diet of Ötzi’s community would have included cooked, dried and smoked meat (from deer, goat, ibex, pig, sheep), flatbreads (more like biscuits made from coarsely ground cultivated grains), a pot-stew (eintöpf) containing cereals, dried meat and greens, and probably cheese from cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s milk. Carbohydrates from barley, einkorn and emmer grains, minerals and vitamins from berries, fruits, grains, herbs, leaves and seeds, and protein from various meats were essential to the well-being of his community. Ötzi was undoubtably a hunter, a member of an elite group, skilled in bow and arrow work, an experienced and knowledgeable hiker and tracker, and he was probably killed by accident doing a job that would ensure the survival of his community!

Andreas Putzer is an archaeologist based at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano / Bozen. He believes he has resolved some of the mysteries surrounding Ötzi’s life and death. ‘His diet was based mainly on game, ibex and deer, which links him to hunting,’ he says as a matter of course, stating an undoubtable fact. Specialised hunting of big game had become a prestigious activity for the high rollers of Ötzi’s community. His clothing and equipment suggest he was integral to the hunting culture. The hunters, says Putzer, made their own weapons.

‘Ötzi had a very sophisticated bow, he used the best materials – the best wood to make the shaft, the best flint to make the arrow-head, jew, which is strong and flexible, for the bow; he was very up-to-date for his period.’ He had an intimate knowledge of the mountain terrain and was blessed with extraordinary stamina. He was fit and strong, a veteran in the use of a bow. His aim would have been straight.

Unlike one of his companions!

Ötzi had been shot and this has prompted theories about dark motives. Equally plausible is the possibility that his death was not preordained. Putzer, while not dismissing the idea that Ötzi was the victim of a feud, is more interested in the reasons for his presence in the high mountains. ‘They hunted close to their settlements. They needed to hunt because they could not kill their domestic animals. So we have to think they had crop failure. What do you do if you want to eat? The only possibility is to hunt.’

‘The ibex and deer followed different routes and the hunters would have known where they were at different times of the year. The ibex, in particular, roamed close to where (Ötzi) was found. I think it is possible (he was shot by accident). The only strange thing is that they left him up there.’

Strange because Ötzi would have been a hero in his community. The colder climate of the period had reduced agricultural yields, says Putzer, ‘forcing the population to compensate for the loss of calories in the diet with meat derived from hunting activity’. Ötzi provided that food.

He died where he fell, preserved by ice that crept imperceptibly over his body for thousands of years. Now we are fascinated by this iceman, which does not surprise Putzer. ‘There is a fascination because there is a body and humans identity with their own, also we have his clothes, his equipment … the mummy makes this archeological find more human. You see his clothes, we all wear clothes, you discover his physical problems – he had arthrorois and you say “I have arthrorois”; he was lactose intolerant, “I am also lactose intolerant”. This makes him close to people, that is why he is so famous.‘

Today a walker in the high Alps might eat a meal similar to the last one Ötzi consumed, and not be expected to share the same fate! [snip]

South Tyrol

RECIPE — Bozner Herrengröstl / Tiroler Gröstl leftover meat and potato plate

RECIPE — Canederli al Tastasal bread, bacon, spiced pork mince dumplings

RECIPE — Frittelle di Mele apple fritters

RECIPE — Neunkräutersuppe nine-weed soup

RECIPE — Pasta e Fagioli pasta and beans in aromatic sauce

RECIPE — Schüttelbrot crispy flatbread

RECIPE — Strauben / Frittata Dolce sweet funnel cakes

RECIPE — Torta di Mele apple tart

RECIPE — Zelten fruit bread

RECIPE — Gefüllter Kalbsbraten stuffed roast veal

RECIPE — Liptauer spiced butter and cheese spread

RECIPE — Kernöl-Kürbiskern Aufstrich pumpkin seed oil-pumpkin seed spread

RECIPE — Steirisches Grammelschmalz Styrian lard

RECIPE — Grammelaufstrich mit Knoblauch und Petersilie pork crackling spread with garlic, parsley

RECIPE — Tiroler Marend / Styrian Brettljause farmer’s snack plate

Pot Stew Tradition




Fruit Brandy




Goat Meat / Goat Milk





Finding yourself in Trieste when you should be in Udine was a frequent failing of somnolent riders on the overnight train from Naples in the years before Trenitalia introduced their high-speed trains.

Asleep at Mestre, intrepid continental travellers awoke, wandered out into the city at the top of the Adriatic and found themselves face to face with the bronze statue of a man with a book in hand. So take solace if you find yourself in the same predicament, in the presence of Dubliner James Joyce on the Ponterosso bridge over the Grand Canal in the heart of Trieste, walking in the wrong direction.

Being the wise man that he is, he knows you need to need to turn around, retrace your steps to the central station to get back on track. This done, you must identify the train to Udine, and on arrival in the alpine city, instead of remaining in the station to wait for the next train into the Balkans, you should leave and find the bus that will take you into the heart of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia mountains.


Because only a fool would miss the opportunity to sample the traditional food of Carnia in the restaurant where an ingenious chef left a lasting culinary legacy.

Old and New

In the Albergo Roma on Piazza 20 Settembre in the old town, the chefs who inhabit the kitchen at Restaurant Roma strive to repeat history, as they continue the tradition established by their former chef Gianni Cosetti, who made art with his interpretations of local recipes. One of his chefs said he made ‘a high cuisine of tastes and flavours’ out of Carnia’s meagre fare. Cosetti’s book, Old and New Kitchen of Carnia, remains a culinary masterpiece. [snip]

Albergo Roma

Formaggio di Malga

We first encountered 36-month old Malga stravecchio cheese in Adria during a visit to Arnaldo Cavallari, the creator of the ciabatta. The good people of Malga Alta Carnia had brought samples for the diners and drinkers in the Terrazza in Piazza to taste.

Alas on this journey, Sauris, where they are based, is just off course, so instead we are going to tell you why their cheese (in fact why all the cheese of this region) is remarkable.

It’s all to do with the altitude (1500-1800 metres above sea level), the climate (crystal clear and unpolluted), the landscape (nutrient-rich herbs), the ingredients (raw milk) and the process (slow natural ageing of 18-36 months at 1370 metres above sea level). As the collective put it, ’each piece of cheese brings the biodiversity of the pasture, the effort of the farmer and the skill of the cheesemaker’.

Cheese-maker Sebastiano Crivellaro has no doubts about this. ’The best stories are told by seasoned cheeses that, with their 18-36 months of seasoning, bring with them a piece of the past. The fact that this product preserves the ancient wisdom leads us to reflect, to commit ourselves and to maintain it. This is a product, like few others, that has survived through the sheer force of its goodness and genuineness.’

Once tasted, never forgotten.

Malga Cheese

Carnia to Villach Westbahnhof (train) 73 minutes



These are edited draft versions of some the sections that will appear in the finished book.

Blue Window – Slovenia