When I’ve left Turin airport I’ve usually headed north to find a ski resort, sometimes west. Rarely south. That’s just the Mediterranean down there isn’t it?
Well yes, the Med is in that direction. Monte Carlo to be precise if you keep going due south. But before you get to the billion-pound apartments and million-pound yachts of the principality you come to the winter playground of the financiers and insurance tycoons who inhabit and sail them.
So I find myself in Limone Piemonte, an Italian ski resort from the top station of which, on a clear day, you can see the Med shimmering in the distance. But to get into the village we had to negotiate slip-slidey roads cut through canyons of snow. There are enormous amounts of snow down here near the Med – it has hardly stopped snowing since Christmas and massive storms dumped 80cms in a few days last week.
Chains are de rigeur at the moment. We didn’t have them in place on our drive from Turin and paid the price by getting stuck in the snow as we entered the village. A shovel brigade appeared from nowhere and gave us a warm Piemontese welcome by digging and pushing us out of trouble.
The welcome got even warmer when we eventually reached the delightful and stylish Hotel Grand Palais Excelsior – just the sort of place the Monte Carlo crowd would feel at home in for a few days as a break from the monotony of making money in Monaco. Lots of English voices here, belonging to those to whom a double dip crisis probably means the kitchen has run out of hummus and guacamole rather than something unpleasant in the bank statement.
Overheard at the next table (couple talking Home Counties): ‘Darling, do we really need the Ferrari? All we use it for is to drive to the marina and the casino.’
The longer I’m here the more I think this is my kind of ski resort. Apart from the enormously rich people here with whom I plan to become firm friends during my stay (I have arrived with acquaintances of the poorer sort, but I’m sure I can ditch them as soon as I have some more well-heeled pals to ski with), I had no idea that there was this amount of excellent skiing so close to the Cote d’Azur (it’s only about an hour from Monte Carlo by top-of-the-range 4×4).
There are about 16 lifts here in Limone Piemonte, which also confusingly seems to call itself Riserva Bianca. Maybe that’s on the wine list. One of the base areas here is Limonetto. That has to be an ice-cream or perhaps a digestif.
There are even a few black runs. Not very imaginatively named though – they’re 16, 22, 27 and a few bigger numbers too. I did 27 today, which was very nice, long and with sea views. Well, when the haze lifts. I’ve got 32b in mind for tomorrow. That’s another black run by the way, not a bra size.
Meanwhile, I have to sort out a small problem with the head waiter. I foolishly asked for a cappucino AFTER lunch, some time after the strict cut-off point for that particular beverage of 11am. He almost choked with barely-suppressed shock and indignation.
Then to further cement my image as a barbarian I asked a waitress for a hot chocolate in a mountain hut BEFORE lunch. A hot chocolate in these parts is a dessert so substantial you can stand your spoon up in it. Actually, you could probably stand your ski up in it. We’re sure we heard her blurt out to the kitchen staff: ‘Yes, it’s the same guy who asked for a capuccino in the afternoon. It’s all over the papers and I heard about it on the radio. Now he wants a hot chocolate BEFORE lunch. Give it to him, give it to him and let’s try to get rid of him.’
No chance, I love it here too much.