Modern Ticino nomad comes home

Chef Claudio Caccia has come full circle, having returned to Ticino

If Dötra is not the end of the world, it is at the very least the end of the road – about as high and as far north as you can get by motorised transport in Ticino.

This content was published on February 6, 2009

After spending the past 20 years globetrotting - living and working on every continent except Antarctica - Ticino chef Claudio Caccia now calls this alpine hamlet home.

"I used to feel good in Honduras and French Polynesia, but here I have my smells, my weather," Claudio says, when asked why he has chosen to settle in this isolated alpine hamlet, after spending so many years in tropical climes.

"Every season has a different smell and I missed them when they weren't there. The scents of the trees and grass - these are my childhood smells. There is only one season in French Polynesia."

It's a Sunday evening in late November and the last guests – a few hikers – have gone home.

The gourmet cook is in the kitchen preparing his version of risotto, being filmed slicing and dicing by swissinfo video journalist Michele Andina. The pungent smell of melted gorgonzola fills the air in the low-ceilinged, stone restaurant that Claudio, his partner Françoise and their dog Kiriku have made their home.

Growing up in Mendrisio in southern Ticino, Claudio dreamed of far away places and became a cook so he could see the world.

Jakarta and James Bond

"I saw a James Bond film and part of it was set in Jakarta so I said I want to go to Jakarta and I did," he said, remembering his disappointment at life in the Indonesian capital where he worked in a five-star Hyatt hotel. "You jump from air con to air con and never walk in the street because it's too hot and humid, and polluted."

The risotto prepared, we sit down to eat, and ask him about the two decades the couple spent on the road. Claudio counts off a few of the stops as if they were the peaches, pineapples and papayas on his shopping list. We sense the exotic fruit has lost its appeal for him.

Claudio and Françoise actually started their travelling in Canada, before going overland through the Americas and on to other continents.

Seoul and Santo Domingo

There were sojourns in Miami and Rio de Janeiro, Bali, Seoul, the Maldives and Santo Domingo where he and Françoise ran their own restaurant - as they did in Honduras and N'Djamena, Chad. There was also a spell at a French cooking school in Colombia, and work running the kitchen in a fine dining Italian restaurant during another stop in Canada, this time in Vancouver.

"I don't want to travel anymore," he says finally. But what would bring them to settle down in one of the most isolated spots in his home canton, reached only by a steep, narrow road made treacherous much of the year by snow and ice?

"This could be Canada or Nepal," he says. "We don't like urban environments. We had a restaurant in Chiasso [in southern Ticino] but we didn't like living there so we tried to find something in the mountains."

Claudio and Françoise looked up ten alpine communities in the phonebook, calling the local administrations to find out if there were any restaurants available for lease. Their first call was to the village of Olivone, and didn't need to look further. The authorities directed them to what has become their new home, the "Grotto Dötra".

"We liked it right away," Claudio says.

After dinner, he leads us outside to enjoy the views of the mountains, the edges sharpened by the setting sun.

"I'm not interested in paradise," he says, lighting a cigarette. "But I want to be here. There is no aggression or dangers. There's wildlife, good smells and nice weather."

After a pregnant pause to enjoy the majesty of the surrounding peaks, he admits that he may at last have found his Shangri-La.

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Olivone

Key facts

The Grotto Dötra is located at 1,800 metres above sea level at the end of the Blenio valley.
The restaurant is open all year.
The hamlet of Dötra belongs to the commune of Olivone.

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