My Home Away from Home: Cesuna Italy
Learn about the magical place I get to call my second home: Cesuna, Italy. This magical village located in Northern Italy is small but full of life. (First published 2017)
When I was a kid, there was something magical about sitting shotgun as our car breezed along the narrow winding roads of Northern Italy’s mountain regions. Was it the rumble of the manual transmission as it accelerated out of 1st, 2nd, then 3rd gear? Or the thrill of speeding around tight corners? Was it the trees becoming a green blur or the anticipation as I counted down the signposts - 12... 11... 10... 9... - that marked each switchback, letting drivers know how much further they have until they reach the top of the mountain? Or was it the moments I would catch a break in the trees, catching a glimpse of the foggy low plains that extend to the Adriatic Sea?
No. All of that is just a build-up to the real magic. The stuff that makes your heart beat fast and your breath catch in your throat. When you finally get to the top, and you get this view? Yes, that's what I've been waiting for.
This is my most lasting impression of Cesuna, Italy. Even now, when I'm in the driver's seat, I count the signposts and can barely contain myself when I'm finally able to appreciate the beautiful views at the top. But I would bet real and significant amounts of money that you’ve never heard of this place.
My Cesuna is a sleepy little alpine village. It sits on an altopiano (a highland valley) where my family lived for three generations after relocating from Zadar, Croatia, during WWII. My Nonna Rosa owned a three-story home which became the epicenter of family gatherings. But after she passed, the house was renovated, and each floor was made into a separate apartment so that the remaining family could sell their share of the home. That is, except for my Aunt Lella. She kept the ground-floor apartment. She would travel up from Thiene to escape the heat and maintain the house during the summers.
At one time, Cesuna was a hot spot for winter sports enthusiasts. There was a ski lift and everything. However, in the last 20 years, there has been a change in the climate. It doesn’t snow nearly as much so the lift was shut down and Cesuna’s primary source of income disappeared.
There is still a small population in the town, but many are like my aunt; they only come for the summer’s temperate weather and one other very unique, but very important, reason.
Every August, Italians flock to Cesuna to gather some of the finest fungi in the dolomites — including porcini mushrooms.
Now, Cesuna exists as a small village where one can travel to escape the fast pace of everyday life. If by some chance you ever find yourself in this village, wake up early in the morning, open your window, let the sunshine in and just listen. There is nothing more serene than a quiet morning in Cesuna when you can sip your caffe and munch on a cornetto or a bite of toast and marmalata while looking out at the town or the forests that begin right at the edges of the village.
You can walk through town and purchase freshly baked bread and local formaggio made from milk of cows that grazed the local grasses. Or you can take a hike and explore the narrow dirt roads that are so rarely driven on and find little trails that lead to some of the most beautiful meadows you’ve ever seen.
Or take your car and try and find Bocchetta Paú and take a little hike to where, on a clear day, you can see Venice in the distance. Nearby Bocchetta is a formaggeria where they make authentic Asiago and Parmigiano cheese. Even if you don’t speak the language, smile and try and communicate to the best of your ability; they may give you a little taste of their fresh cheese and, if you’re really lucky, a tour of their tiny shack where the magic happens.
Now that I’ve slowly eased you into it with the cheese let me give you my main food recommendation. There is one restaurant in particular that stands out. This is mainly because it’s one of the only large restaurants near Cesuna, but it's also got incredible views and excellent grilled meats.
The Refugio Kubelek provides a dining experience unlike any other. It’s a meat eater’s heaven and a vegetarian’s hell, and that’s only because one will never be so enticed to break their eating habits as they will here.
The meat selection is varied, and every slice is juicy, flavorful, and cooked to perfection. The vegetables are roasted to extract their maximum flavor potential, and the greens are so fresh and will make you feel a little less guilty for all the meat you have eaten.
Suffice to say, I have never left the Kubelek with an empty stomach and, better yet, your wallet will follow suit. The price for a group of six people eating family-style, with several different plates to share, is a drop in the bucket compared to how much food you can get. As a bonus, nearly every time I have gone, there has been a huge, beautiful Maremma sheepdog with the kindest temperament who will let you pet him and barely acknowledge your existence. He is very well fed.
Cesuna has always had a soft spot in my heart. The memories I have made, the people I’ve met, the history that lies just beneath the surface, it's difficult to communicate just in words and pictures. This is just a tiny glimpse of my home away from home.
If you want to know more about this area, keep an eye out for my upcoming blogs. I will soon republish another blog that dives deeper into the weird world of mushrooms in Cesuna, Italy.