Italy’s Best Ski Resorts

Mon, 01/12/2009 - 06:23

Looking for an Italian ski resort for your next settimana bianca? We give you the lowdown on three of Italy’s very best mountain villages: Courmayeur, Cortina and Madonna di Campiglio.

A blanket of fluffy snow covers Italy from the Alpine arc along the Apennine ridge down to the Etna volcano in Sicily. But the muffled white is broken up by a sea of vivid reds, yellows and blues—a sure sign that the skiing season, with its colourful attires, has started in earnest.

From Roccaraso and Abetone to Courmayeur and Cervinia, snow aficionados heading to Italy are spoiled for choice. The Bel Paese may not have the skiing reputation of France’s Val d’Isere and Switzerland’s Zermatt and St. Moritz, but resorts here really run the gamut of skiers’ requirements.

Fancy a different slope every day? Try Alta Badia, Val Gardena or Cervinia, which has some 350 km of pistes under the looming bulk of the Matterhorn. Looking for a beginner-friendly resort? Go for Falcade Caviola, Sappada or Andalo. Care as much for the après-ski as the skiing? Then head to Bormio, Livigno or Sauze d’Oulx.

There are so many lovely mountain resorts in Italy to make your head spin. But help is at hand: if you are after kids’ entertainment, celebrity spotting or some plain good skiing, we have got the three very best resorts where to strut your skis and your brightly-hued suit.

Best Italian ski resort for families: Courmayeur

Old fashioned street lights cast a golden glow on the pretty stone houses of Courmayeur. Snow like whipped cream covers the sloping ‘lose’ slab roofs. Milanese ladies with posh pushchairs and perfectly coiffed hair (under their designer hats) soak up the sun and the panorama in the church square.

But families heading to Courmayeur will find more than ‘just’ breathtaking mountain views, an elegant crowd and picturesque streets. The ski schools here are very good, with English-speaking instructors who know how to enthuse children, and gentle, well-appointed training areas. There are plenty of pistes for beginners to find their legs, as well as many intermediate ones and the odd one for expert skiers.

Children who don’t ski can choose from two snowy playgrounds, both equipped with bouncy castles, trampolines and ‘doughnuts’ that slide on the snow—a larger one in the hamlet of Dolonne, right at the foot of the Mont Blanc massif; and another one up on the Chécrouit plateau, sandwiched between the cable car to the village and the lifts to the pistes. Should the little ones get tired of those, there’s always the sledding in Parco Bollino, just outside the car-free village centre.

A number of good toyshops and a handful of coin-operated rides also pepper the main street, both a must for small children, while older kids will like the ice skating, climbing walls and table tennis of the Sports Centre. And the mid-afternoon hot chocolate and biscuit buffet at the wooden, richly upholstered Bar Roma are a hit with anyone aged eleven or less (and many over-11s).

Best Italian ski resort for celebrity spotting: Cortina

The soaring spires of the Dolomites ring the whitewashed houses, sloping roofs and graceful belfries of Cortina d’Ampezzo.

Set at the heart of the Ampezzo valley, Cortina is undoubtedly pretty. However, inveterate celeb spotters are usually too busy looking at the rich and famous strutting their stuff on the resort’s streets to notice the views. There is a reason Cortina has earned the nickname of ‘salotto dei famosi’ (celebrities’ living room). In the Fifties and Sixties, this was the preserve of cinema VIPs from Italy and beyond—Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, but also Ingrid Bergman, Brigitte Bardot and Clark Gable.

Half a century on, cinema celebrities, including Italian belle Sabrina Ferilli, still flock here, as do politicians, scions of notable Italian families such as the Benettons and the Borromeos, and even top orchestra directors such as Riccardo Muti.

The shops match the visitors’ glitz and opulence with names such as Bulgari and Gucci peppering the main streets. Windows laden with jewels, antiques, art and the very best Italian fashion vie for attention, and credit card action. Oh, and there is some good skiing too.

Best Italian ski resort for all-round skiing: Madonna di Campiglio

Tiny valleys and jagged peaks, granite massifs and thick woods crowded with deer are the backdrop to the pretty, traditional mountain buildings of Madonna di Campiglio.

The Trentino resort is one of the most scenic in Italy—and one of the most established. Its numbers alone are staggering: more than 120 km of pistes (through the links with Marilleva and Folgarida) along the breathtaking slopes of the Brenta Dolomites; 150 instructors; 22 lifts carrying some 33,200 people an hour; and virtually zero queues.

There is skiing for everyone—the vast majority for beginners and intermediates, but also some challenging pistes for advanced skiers. The best-known runs are the sinuous, steep Canalone Miramonti, where a Slalom World Cup race takes place, and the testing Spinale Direttissima, which goes from Mount Spinale straight down to the village. Nordic skiing aficionados can count on some 22km, and the snowboarding is possibly Italy’s best.

Campiglio’s après ski rivals with the ski action—shops are top and run from trendy boutiques to traditional craftsmen. And the food, oh the food. Think mushroom-flavoured cheese, garlic salami, strudel, polenta with deer stew, and ricotta gnocchi served with crimson Trentino wine and preceded by candle-lit aperitifs in the local bars. A meal in Madonna di Campiglio is well worth all the hard, calorie-burning work on the slopes. And a lively nightlife means that the pistes are usually quiet first thing in the morning.