Nestled in South Tyrol, in the heart of the Dolomites, the Val di Funes (Villnösstal in German) is one of the last remaining unspoiled Alpine valleys, a place where the locals have long been carefully protecting their cultural identity and gastronomic heritage.
For decades, the inhabitants of this valley in the shadow of the majestic peaks of the Odle Group have resisted the siren call of mass tourism, refusing to build the ski lifts that would connect it with the nearby Val Gardena and Val Badia. As a result, the Val di Funes is now a paradise for hikers of all abilities and other travelers who come to enjoy its tranquillity and breath-taking panoramas. The valley is now recognized as one of the “Alpine Pearls,” “soft-mobility” destinations where tourists can enjoy sustainable activities without needing a car.
What really makes the Val di Funes stand out, however, is the quality and authenticity of its food: from mountain farms producing cheese, rye bread and speck to the Valle Isarco vineyards, where world-famous Müller Thurgau and Riesling wines are made. This heritage is enhanced by osterias and restaurants that highlight the unique treasures of the area, like Pitzock, run by Slow Food Cooks’ Alliance member Oskar Messner, a skilled interpreter of local products such as lamb from the Villnösser Brillenschaf sheep breed, a Slow Food Presidium.
As a result, it was a natural choice for Slow Food to work together with the many artisan producers, skilled restaurateurs and hoteliers of the highest standard to create South Tyrol’s first Slow Food Travel destination, turning a spotlight on the valley’s uniquely high-quality and sustainable gastronomy.
This process has made it possible to link together many examples of excellence in the Val di Funes and develop eco-gastronomic experiences, like aperitifs with Villnösser Brillenschaf charcuterie, wine-tasting tours, foraging walks and rye-bread-baking workshops.
The Slow Food Presidia
The Val di Funes is home to the Villnösser Brillenschaf (“spectacle-wearing sheep from the Val di Funes”), the oldest sheep breed in South Tyrol. The sheep can be recognized by their white fleece and black rings around their eyes (the “spectacles”), and the black coloring on at least a third or a half of their ears. In the past the breed was raised for meat and wool. Their meat is of excellent quality, thanks to the animals’ natural diet based on pasture grass and local hay, with only a small percentage of cereals (corn, oats, bran). A group of three friends, two restaurateurs and a shopkeeper, have started a company called Furchetta, collecting the lambs from the farmers once a week, slaughtering them and distributing the meat, mostly to restaurants. They are also experimenting with the production of charcuterie. The Presidium wants to increase the breed’s numbers by promoting its meat on the market and also using its wool, transforming the Villnöss sheep into a valuable resource for this beautiful Alpine area.
Several farmers in the valley raise Alpine Gray or Grigio Alpino cattle, one of the oldest cattle breeds in the Alps. Long-lived and very fertile, the breed was once used for its milk, meat and labor. Now it is reared for its milk, particularly suited to cheesemaking but also consumed fresh, and for its excellent beef. Like other native cattle breeds, its numbers were decimated by unhelpful livestock policies and the spread of intensive farms in the last decades. The Presidium supports the work of the National Association of Alpine Gray Cattle Farmers, which brings together farmers who only rear pure-breed animals registered in the breed’s herd book. With them, the association has come up with rules governing the production of both dairy and beef.
How can I organize my trip?
If you want to organize your trip yourself, have a look at the map and contact the businesses you’re interested in directly. Together with them you can put together a custom itinerary! Or if you prefer to use a travel agency, contact the Val di Funes tourism office: www.funes.info – firstname.lastname@example.org
The project for the creation of the Val di Funes/Villnösstal Slow Food Travel destination has been developed with support from the GAL Dolomiti Val d’Isarco, thanks to the European Commission’s LEADER funds, and implemented by the Val di Funes Tourism Agency in collaboration with Slow Food.