Soon after receiving their second Michelin star in 2017, Gisela and Heinrich decided to rechristen the family hotel as "Terra - The Magic Place". I visited them to experience the magic. It's an enchantment that directly reflects its innate character: organic, cosmopolitan and creative.
South Tyrol, the northernmost part of Italy that borders Austria, was one region I hadn’t been to prior. Upon landing in Milan, I started warming up the little Italian I know: Buongiorno! Mille grazie! Per favore! But as I made my way up the picturesque Dolomites mountain range, I started noticing Austrian-style chalets, and became surrounded by German speakers. I then quickly learned that this little pocket of Italy is actually predominantly German speaking and a blend of the two cultures. It’s also the Italian province with the most Michelin stars- a total of 19.
After driving up the snowy mountains, I arrived at Terra, the highest Michelin star restaurant in Italy. The property immediately stood out from other chalets I passed by. The architecture is modern, minimal, yet cozy. The panoramic windows show off the stunning mountain views and the wooden panels and birch tree springs make you feel even more connected to the surrounding nature. I was greeted by Gisela Scheider, the co-owner and sommelier, and offered a hot tea by the fireplace to warm up after the long journey.
Gisela and her brother, chef Henrich Schneider, took over this property from their parents 20 years ago and transformed it from a traditional ski chalet to this modern gastronomic destination. From design to cuisine, they wanted to create something different than the existing classic restaurants in the region. Henrich's cooking is very inspired by nature. He forages regularly, collects and uses up to 50 different wild herbs.
They have a passion with working very closely with local producers- vegetables, organic meats, cheeses, ceramic artists, and Gisela’s impressive wine collection (over 1,000 in the cellar, 60-70% are local). I asked her if she felt limited with pairing wines from this relatively small region. She explained that South Tyrol has many microclimates which allows for a big variety of wine. There are 40 different grape varieties in the region! The restaurant also uses ceramics from different artists around Europe, with some especially made to match Henrich’s dishes.
I change into my stretchiest pair of pants in preparation for the 12-course tasting menu. One course after the other, Henrich’s artistry shines from start to finish. Each dish is composed beautifully, and executed in ways I never experienced before. The surrounding nature that he forages is definitely at the forefront of his cuisine. They garnish the dishes in powder-form, dried, whichever way that best brings out their textures and flavors.
There is a current trend of foraging, farm-to-table cuisine, but for Henrich, it’s always been the way of life. He finds a modern and refined approach to bringing out the best of what this region has to offer. After an amazing meal, I head to my cozy room and fall into a blissful food coma.
I slowly open my eyes in the morning and saw what I could only describe as a painting- the pink and purple sky lighting the snow-capped mountains as the sun slowly rose behind. I throw on a coat over my pyjamas and ran outside like a crazy person to capture this scene. There are not many things I would roll out of bed this early for, but it was a sight to remember. I watched the rest of the sunrise from the dining room, while enjoying a delicious breakfast.
After breakfast, Gisela took me to visit one of the cheesemakers they work with, Hofaserei Erschbaumer. Upon arrival, we enter a magical cave full of cheeses. They are one of the first cheese producers in this region, and specialize in soft to semi-hard cheeses from cow’s milk. I left with a big chunk of fennel cheese in my backpack as we drive through the most picturesque mountainous roads, surrounded by vineyards on cliffs.
For my first trip to South Tyrol, I think I certainly got the best version of it. Gisela and Henrich are two people who are very passionate and dedicated to their craft. As someone who has lived in many different cities and countries, I asked Gisela if she ever felt the desire to leave. She said, ‘why would I? You have everything here’. After spending a few days here, I couldn’t agree more.