How does a South Tyrolean restaurant boasting one of the most spectacular mountain vistas in the world win your heart? One bite at a time.
NO ONE WOULD fault Malga Schgaguler Schwaige if it rested on its laurels and let its jaw-dropping views do all the wowing. After all, the spellbinding sight of the Sassolungo Group storming over the billowy hills of Europe’s largest Alpine pasture — Alpe di Siusi — is enough to make any hiker forget their hunger.
But sitting back allowing the mountains to do most of the work is not in Walter and Martina Demetz’s character. A husband and wife team operating Malga Schgaguler Schwaige since 2016, they delight guests with sumptuous culinary creations and friendly down-to-earth service that makes you feel right at home.
We first experienced the charm of Malga Schgaguler Schwaige a few years ago on a spring hike across Alpe di Siusi. The dishes we enjoyed that day introduced us to the delectable wonders of homemade Alpine cuisine.
This past fall we had the pleasure of visiting Malga Schgaguler Schwaige again. We sat down with Walter to discover the story behind his cuisine and what it takes to run a remarkable restaurant in the Dolomites.
Where Rural Roots Run Deep
The late Anthony Bourdain once said, “food, culture, people and landscape are all absolutely inseparable”. That sentiment could not ring more true than it does at Malga Schgaguler Schwaige.
Founded by Walter’s father and mother in 1991, Malga Schgaguler Schwaige offers traditional South Tyrolean dishes and specialties fresh from the family farm. Nearly all the restaurant’s ingredients — from milk and butter to eggs and cheese to speck and beef — are homegrown.
Sixty-four acres of pastureland surround Malga Schgaguler Schwaige where 15-20 cows enjoy the famous Alpine hay and herbs of Alpe di Siusi. The cows share their leafy bounty with a motley crew of other farm animals including horses, llamas, donkeys, pigs, chickens, peacocks, ducks, rabbits, sheep and a chill gang of goats that will bring a wide grin to your face when you meet them.
Many of these extended members of Walter and Martina’s family roam freely on the grounds beneath the restaurant entertaining guests with their antics, chirps and chatter. In fact, children can dart around with them in a play area that includes a wooden tractor, playground set, sandbox, foosball table and a tempting trampoline.
Walking the farm with Walter, it is immediately evident that his passion for serving delicious dishes begins with a passion for his land and the farm animals he raises. He ensures the animals enjoy a free-range environment where they can thrive as stress-free as possible.
The result? Food that fully reveals robust and fresh flavors as nature intended. By following true farm-to-table tenets and not the latest culinary craze, Malga Schgagular Schwaige instills its dishes with an authentic spirit we find increasingly rare in the world today.
From Farm to Family
Walter, Martina and their three children, Lea, Anna and Max, live on the farm in a home adjoining the restaurant. All support the business albeit the youngsters can only serve up ample amounts of good cheer for now.
From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Martina and Walter’s mother, Christine, conjures culinary magic in the kitchen while Walter and a staff member, Romina, tackle serving the guests. However, the hard work to make Malga Schgaguler Schwaige operate smoothly day after day begins much earlier.
As Walter shared with us, running a restaurant is much like orchestrating a concert: a mountain of work takes place prior to the show and backstage that the audience never sees. A typical day begins at the crack of dawn with farm work.
By 7 a.m. Walter brings the cows down to the pastureland where they graze the day away until he corrals them back in the early evening. The rest of the morning is dedicated to tending to the other farm animals, maintaining their property and prepping the day’s mouthwatering ingredients. In the summer, during hay cutting season, the days begin even earlier usually around 5:30 a.m. with non-stop work until 9:30 p.m.
Of course, all that tiring work does not come without its rewards. When asked about his favorite season on Alpe di Siusi. Walter responded “every day!”. He noted a day does not go by without taking a moment to admire the breathtaking beauty of the mountains — especially in the early morning and at dusk when he has much of the pastureland to himself.
Taming Hooves & Steel
While free time is luxury when operating a farmhouse restaurant, Walter does find time to train for and race his horse, Buddy, in a traditional South Tyrolean event called the Oswald von Wolkenstein Ride. This annual tournament involves a series of horse rides and challenges that take place at four nearby castles.
In addition to horse riding and chasing his children around, Walter enjoys hitting the slopes and restoring old cars and motorcycles. When riding a horse isn’t possible, he also likes to gallop his Harley Davidson across the Alp.
The mountain hut itself has undergone many renovations since his grandfather built it in 1967. Walter envisions continuing to expand the farm and restaurant.
In the not-to-distant future, he would like to elevate the Malga Schgaguler Schwaige experience further by adding another stable. His hope is to make it a place where guests can also educate themselves about sustainable farming practices on the Alpe di Siusi.
Dining at Malga Schgaguler Schwaige
Once you take a seat on the flower-drenched terrace of Malga Schgaguler Schwaige, the enticing aromas swirling out of the kitchen eventually peel your eyes away from the mountain scenery. In the wood-clad menus dotting the tables, you will discover a rich assortment of classic South Tyrolean cuisine to reward tired legs.
We suggest beginning with a bowl of Speckknödelsuppe or a cheese and speck platter. Both are divine. These traditional South Tyrolean specialties have been passed down from one generation to the next for centuries.
If you are craving something less hearty you can also opt for a generous plate of Pasta Bolognese. After devouring your starter, consider the Frankfurter Sausage with Polenta or Beef Goulash with Cheese Knödel. Regardless, you will relish the mountain’s heart and soul in every tender bite.
If you have room for dessert (you absolutely should leave room for dessert), lavish your sweet tooth with Homemade Cream Cheese Dumplings. This sinful treat is like a present. Diving in you discover the warm chocolate filling of each dumpling. It will dazzle your eyes and mouth.
Another after-dinner delight to try is Kaiserschmarrn mit Preiselbeermarmelade. This pancake dessert topped with cranberry jam is a personal favorite of Walter’s. But if you’re aching for Apple Strudel, no worries. You can get that as well with a decadent vanilla sauce.
The restaurant also offers indoor seating in a cozy setting that allows for an intimate meal and drink among friends and family. Even if you can’t see the Sassolungo Group from inside, the charming Alpine decor throughout will leave no doubt you’re feasting amid the Dolomites.
How to Visit Malga Schgaguler Schwaige
The easiest way to visit Malga Schgaguler Schwaige is by taking the Mont Sëuc Cable Car to Alpe di Siusi from Ortisei. From the cable car station, it is a 10-minute hike to the restaurant.
If you choose to hike across Alpe di Siusi from Compatsch instead, follow trail no. 30 and then hop on trail no. 9. You will spot Malga Schgaguler Schwaige perched on a hillside above the Sporthotel Sonne.
Like all mountain huts in South Tyrol, Malga Schgaguler Schwaige operates on a seasonal basis. For the summer season, the restaurant typically resumes operation at the end of May after shutting down when the ski season is over in mid-April.
Malga Schgaguler Schwaige remains open through the summer and fall until the first week of November. The restaurant then closes until early December when it reopens for an Italian holiday. After Christmas and New Years, Malga Schgaguler Schwaige continues serving snow lovers through the winter months and the first part of spring.
While we have only enjoyed lunches at Malga Schgaguler Schwaige, the restaurant opens at 9 a.m. allowing you to savor a delicious breakfast of freshly plucked farm eggs. Could there be any better way to start a day?
Walter and his team close each day at 5 p.m. Undoubtedly, you may find it hard to pull yourself away from the spectacular views and food. But as the song Closing Time goes, “you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.”
We would like to give Walter and his family a special thanks for spending time and sharing their story with us. We can’t wait to return!