On Top

Precipitously cantilevered over the crest of the mountain, the panorama from AlpinN at the top offers a 360° view over World Heritage peaks

How often do you find three places you’d like to visit (including a great restaurant!) clustered together on a panoramic mountaintop—in a World Heritage area?

You can, at Plan de Corones, the meeting point of the three South Tyrolean cultures: German, Italian and Ladin. (Corones is the Ladin word for “Crown.” In German, Kronplatz.)

Look what’s on the summit:

  • AlpiNN, probably our favourite restaurant in the Dolomites.
  • LUMEN, a museum of mountain photography with the perfect composition of design, science and entertainment.
  • The Messner Mountain Museum (MMM Corones) named after Reinhold Messner, who made the first solo ascent of Everest (and later summited it without supplementary oxygen) and the first person to climb all fourteen of the world’s mountains that exceed an elevation of 8,000 metres, also without oxygen. A museum designed by Dame Zaha Hadid, the first woman to be awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

Plus, if you arrive at noon, you’ll hear the once-daily ringing of the Concordia 2000 Peace Bell.

To get there, you can hike for a gruelling four hours. Or take the largest single-cabin cable car in the world, the Kronplatz 2000 from Bruneck, as we did.

The first of the three structures to be built was MMM Corones, the last of six mountain museums championed by Reinhold Messner, who was born here in the Dolomites.

Kronplatz is South Tyrol’s most popular ski destination. But until MMM Corones opened in 2015, few people took the cablecar in the summertime.

Dame Zaha Hadid, known for her free-form architecture and respect for natural environments, clad the museum in concrete for its look and feel of natural rock. The unobtrusive building tucks into the mountainside like a hobbit home. Its underground galleries tunnel through spaces filled with exhibitions of historical mountaineering equipment, photographs, films and sculptures. 

 

The LUMEN Museum, designed by local Bruneck architect Gerhard Mahlknecht, sits on the former station for the Kronplatz funicular that opened in 1963.

Inside, staircases climb through the middle of the building to four spaces of varying ceiling heights suited to specific installations and displays, a nod to the experience of leaving a funicular. Or climbing a mountain in all its natural diversity.

A “Wall of Fame” is dedicated to the early photographers who lugged their heavy equipment to summit viewpoints. In another space, an impressive giant “shutter” opens to a view of the mountains outside and closes to project a film showing how we damage the mountains. A permanent exhibition showcases what Reinhold is doing to protect the Alps. A series of pulleys emulating mountain-climbing ropes and wires let us alter the nearness of photographs we wanted to get a closer look at.

 

Extending out from LUMEN is the most impressive architecture up here, the AlpiNN restaurant—a lightbox of glass spectacularly cantilevered over the mountain’s edge with wraparound views over the Puster Valley and up to the Zillertal Alps.

The Italian-born designer Martino Gamper wanted the interior to feel like a cozy living room. He succeeded. At the mountain-top table next to us, an old dog laid at the feet of an elderly couple. A stack of logs sat by the fireplace. Folded blankets were ready for anyone feeling an autumn chill.

Martino used local and tactile materials to complement the culinary philosophy (“Cook the Mountain”) of the godfather of alpine cuisine and co-owner of AlpiNN, Norbert Niederkofler. The 330 sq m ceiling is hand painted on natural fabric, and the jagged edges of the snow-white polygonal lamps and the pointy sides of the maple-wood chairs reference the mountain landscape outside.

 

 

Lots of talented people have made Kronplatz a special place to visit. But the person who made it memorable for us was Francesca, our waitress at AlpiNN.

I found this ad on AlpiNN’s website in October, shortly after Francesca would have left for Southeast Asia:

Would you like to be part of a team that makes sure you always achieve top service?  Do you speak perfect Italian, German and English? AlpiNN-Food Space & Restaurant is waiting for you at Plan de Corones, you will work in a unique location at 2,275 m above sea level, together with a young, dynamic and stimulating staff.

If it was the ad to replace Francesca, I’d complement it with this:

Have you mastered the ability to keep guests at your tables super happy, even when you’re frequently interrupted to translate for less-talented staff who don’t speak multiple languages? Do you have a patient yet lively composure with guests who want to know the provenance of ingredients, like the cheese? When hard-of-hearing/smart-ass guests ask you to repeat what you just said, twice, do you have the confidence to be witty, even professionally sassy?

As you might expect, the dining room was full, and the place was hopping. When our first waitress realized we spoke only English, Francesca took over. Immediately, she set the tone, apologizing for the wait and conversing with us in an unexpected manner, professional but with a twist of “Let’s have fun getting to know each other.” Like telling us, “Eight more days and I’m out of here.”

Francesca travels alone, with one carry-on and no reservations, working in restaurants when the need arises. We chatted about New Zealand, Australia and other places she’s been, and asked her about travelling solo. In all her worldly travels, only once has she had a problem. “You won’t believe it. A junkie punched me in the face. In Seattle!”

When I raved about the cheese in the fondue, she told me its name and that it was made in an old wartime bunker.

When she returned to the table and I asked her to spell it out, she did, kindly: GenussBunker. And told me where I might find it.

When I asked about AlpiNN’s gin, she said we’d never taste the same combination of herbs in other gins. “You must try it.”

 

A shot of AlpiNN gin made with schafgarbe, fletchen, Hunds-rose, enzian, thyme and wacholder

People were enjoying themselves. The room was bustling with waitstaff trying to keep up, and guests talking and laughing. “What’s in this again?”Magellan asked when his green spaghetti arrived. Francesca reminded him of the wild garlic and herbs. “I didn’t catch that. Can you say it again?” he asked, playing the fool. “Sar-DINES,” said Francesca. “You have a dish of sardines.”

When the chef came out later to ask how we liked the meal, Magellan said he particularly liked the sardines. A perplexed look crossed the young man’s face.

Returning to our table with the bill, Francesca was laughing so hard she had to wipe her eyes. The chef had confronted her in the kitchen about the sardines. “I just love that guy,” she said, “so young, so serious. I told him it was my inside joke with the table.”

Mountain heroes. Stunning architecture. Creative art. But what I relive the most is lunch. The living-room views, the alpine green of Magellan’s spaghetti, the smell of hay in the cheese, being there with Lynn and Ward, laughing with Francesca. Our most robust memories, it is said (and I agree), are those with strong emotional content. No matter which way you pronounce “content.”

4 Responses

  1. What an interesting place! Love the pics and videos. Kaleidoscope and “pic your photo”. Wasn’t sure what was happening at first, then figured it out. Well done!

    1. To use the fancy image features, we have to use a different editor than what we have used for nearly all of our other 450 posts. It’s been very challenging for we septuagenarians!

    1. You couldn’t wipe the grin off my face when I found the kaleidoscope plugin for our mirror room images! And yes, Messner’s story is impressive.

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