One of many perks to living in Milan is the close proximity to the Alps and pre-Alps where there are many hiking trails open year-round for outdoor enthusiasts and foodies alike. After a scenic hike that really builds up an appetite, you can reward yourself with a delicious home-style meal at a “Rifugio” aka a rustic restaurant and refuge after a long day’s hike. Here are some of my favorite spots to hike along with their corresponding nearby Rifugios.
MONTE SAN PRIMO – Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
By far, this is one of the most scenic hikes I have ever taken. Depending on whether or not you want to hike to the peak, it is a pretty easy walk. The trail is fairly narrow for most of the path (therefore single file with the occasional pass). About two-thirds of the way up, the trail becomes more challenging especially in the winter. It is straight up climbing a steep mountain. Prepare for your ass and thighs to hurt a little the next day. It is well worth this view of Lake Como when you start to feel the burn…
This trail located in the Italian pre-Alps is a little over an hour away by car from Milan. The address to Rifugio Martina’s parking lot dedicated to hikers as well as restuarant patrons is Località San Primo, 22021 Bellagio CO. From there, it is a 15 minute walk to this mountain restaurant (1300 mt) which is strategically located at the start of the hiking trail. I recommend hiking in the morning which will take between 2-3 hours and eating at the Rifugio upon coming back down the mountain.
Since 1928, Rifugio Martina offers local typical food of different kinds of roasted and stewed meat accompanied with Polenta. The restaurant’s speciality is “Polenta Uncia” a regional dish of Como, ground cornmeal cooked in a copper pot for hours with loads of butter, cheese and garlic. It’s like the Italian version of an American comfort food such as mac n’ cheese, but waaaaaay better. The wine kept coming and the bread was perfect for soaking up all the savory sauce.
MONTE BOLETTONE – Difficulty: Easy
Another magnificent and scenic hike, unlike the covered, wooded hike of Monte San Primo, Monte Bolettone offers an open panoramic view of the landscape. From the top, you can see the plains stretching as far as the eye can see between the mountain and the Milan’s skyline, as well as Como Lake on your right. The trail can be icy in the winter so proper gear is highly recommended. Compared to San Primo, the trail is much wider. That is until you start to approach the summit where it then becomes a narrow climb. There are several routes, one is to reach the top and come back the same way. While the other option is to do a circle and come back a different way. I recommend the latter – as that is more exciting in my opinion. Both routes take you back to the starting point and take between 2-3 hours round trip.
Also located in the Italian pre-Alps near a town called Erba, this trail is about an hour and a half drive from Milan. Rifugio Calcciatori is located at Via Capanna Mara 1, Alpe del Vicerè, Erba, Italia. This address will take you to the start of the trail which is just past the restaurant. The drive up the mountain is very windy and scenic. On a clear day, you can even see the skyline of Milan in the distance. It is quite a sight, just be careful to still focus on the road since it is extremely narrow with a lack of guard rails.
After a nice hike, nothing beats a warm cozy restaurant with a fireplace, delicious cheese and cured meat platter and wine. That is exactly what this place has and the view of the sunset was not too shabby either. The mountains looked purple and gold while the sky turned all different shades of cotton candy while we ate to our hearts content and got tipsy.
SANTA CATERINA VALFURVA – Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
The start of this trail is at the base of an alpine valley in a ski village located within the Parco Nazionale di Stelvio. Home to many FIS World Cup races, this region is only accessible by road, via Bormio year round and in the summer by the Passo Gavia, which connects to the Passo Valcamonica. The hike is windy and at times steep. During the winter months, temperatures can fall to -30 ° with abundant snowfall therefore ski clothing and even snow-shoes are recommended. The hike to Rifugio Sci 2,000 (highly recommended, amazing food at 2,000 meters) takes approximately an hour to an hour and a half. For those that want a more arduous climb, there is the option to continue hiking up to Monte Sobretta which will take another 2-3 hours.
We drove up from Bormio, a nearby town 30 minutes away famous for it’s natural hot springs. Upon arriving to Santa Caterina, it is clear that this town is completely centered around it’s Ski Resort. We parked in the Ski Center’s free parking lot and walked up to the main road. After going underneath a small overpass, we came across the start of the trail, indicated by the map and additional signage (see above).
RIFUGIO SCI 2,000:
This place is truly a gem of high altitude. Located at 2,000 meters above sea-level, Rifugio Sci is not your average ski lodge. It would be blasphemy to even think to compare this place to the over-priced frozen hot dogs and fries that are typically served in ski lodges in the United States. Two thirds of the lodge is an open, cantina, cafeteria style space while the other third of the lodge boasts a more formal dining experience. The quality and presentation of food remains consist throughout and the service is outstanding.
For starters we had the Sciatt Su Letto di Cicorino – which simply put is fried balls of locally produced cheese – sooooo good. For my main, I ordered a regional specialty: Pizzocheri which is a type of wheat pasta cooked with spinach, goat cheese and potatoes. This was accompanied by fresh Bresaola (thinly sliced cured beef) and local cheeses. My better half ordered a selection of free-range grilled meats which included lamb, beef filet, chicken and sausage. The Valtellina region is famous for producing the world’s best wines, so we picked the Vino Rifugio 2000 DOC which is a local red. The DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata (Controlled Designation of Origin). When you buy an Italian product with these labels, you are buying the end result of hundreds of years of careful culinary perfection.
For dessert I enjoyed the most delicious apple strudel of my life. It was served with vanilla gelato and some type of creamy liquor sauce that held some resemblance to spiked egg nog. Coffee (espresso) and digestif drinks were on the house which was so nice and generous of the owners. All in all, major score! Amazing lunch after a cardio-thigh and glute burning climb.