One winter night, over 10 years ago, Michael and I had a lovely dinner at a remote and very isolated mountain refuge high in the Italian Dolomiti. Rifugi like this are common all over the alps, but usually they’re only open a few months in the summer when they welcome climbers and hikers. You can’t drive or ski to them. This particular place was literally located on top of an Alp, and the only way to reach it in winter was by ski-doo or an hour-long hike up unlit mountain trails through a dense forest.
That evening happened to be a beautiful, clear, starry night so we chose to hike there. But after an hour without running into a soul, either on foot or ski-doo, we started to worry we’d made a wrong turn. We were relieved to spot some lights flickering through the trees and then, a little further along, the refuge appeared. Our hosts greeted us with a warm welcome and once we were inside we realized the place was packed with a lively, boisterous crowd of people. Now where exactly had they come from? We were led to our table (the very last one) through several lovely candlelit wood paneled dining rooms. The food we saw on the way looked and smelled delicious, wine was flowing freely and everyone seemed to be having a blast. Later we realized most of the diners were booked in for a stay. This place had guest rooms too. After dinner we were grateful to be given a sled to help us get back down the trail. It was a truly magical dining experience in a place that was more than a little off the beaten track. The adventure we had getting there made it all the more memorable.
Our return to Pont de Nant this winter brought us right back to that evening. But this time it was daylight, a different country and the walk up wasn’t something we’d planned. As I mentioned in my last post, I’d been wanting to try the Auberge we’d discovered here, quite by accident, last summer. In the winter it is only open on weekends so I’d made our reservation for Saturday lunch. We retraced our route from last July, but shortly after we turned onto that beautiful road through the forest we reached a dead end. It appeared the road to Pont de Nant was CLOSED in the winter when it becomes a groomed trail used by hikers and telemark skiers. We’d have to walk all the way up there!
I am someone who hates to be late for anything, especially a meal. And up until that moment I had also been successfully ignoring a New Year’s resolution too. To whip myself into shape
early sometime in 2015. A 30 minute hike straight up a mountain, on a very cold day that I was neither fit nor properly dressed for was about to put an end to all that. Plus we were going to be late for lunch, which is probably my worst nightmare.
Our server was lovely. He recommended an excellent local white wine and then after lunch he showed us the guest rooms. Yes, you can stay here too. Like the restaurant, the rooms were cozy and warm, traditionally furnished but decorated with a few elegant modern touches. And of course they were absolutely spotless.
I just love places like this. A spectacular setting well off the beaten track and a bit of an adventure to get to. Somewhere you don’t go to be fed, but to be nourished. This is exactly the kind of experience we try to give our own guests at La Petraia. Next time we go back we’re spending the night, or maybe even the weekend.
In case you’re wondering how I made it back down the mountain after all that…
If you go:
Auberge de Pont-de-Nant
Address: 1880 Les Plans-sur-Bex, Vaud, Switzerland
Phone:024 498 14 95
Best to call ahead for reservations. The auberge is open daily in the summer for lunch and dinner. In the winter it is open Friday dinner through Sunday lunch. It has several lovely guest rooms plus, as is common in many alpine inns, a very comfortable larger dorm room with bunk beds that would be perfect for a large family or a group.
In the summer this is the departure point for hikers into the higher alps where there are a couple of mountain farms (alpages) you can visit.