Elegant, refined and devastatingly beautiful – Italian ski resorts are well known for many reasons, not least the food. Here are our top five in all Italia.
Centre of the Milky Way and a Brit favourite…
The friendly village of Sauze d’Oulx is a lot more traditionally Italian than you might expect, given its reputation for being so popular with Brits. In fact the connection has helped mould it into something quite special. There are second-generation Brit families living here, the mini-migration starting years ago after some visitors decided that holidays here were just too good to end.
‘Bitter on draught and live Premier League’ is advertised at many bars – but the maze of cobbled streets and squares is charmingly Latin. Sauze is part of the Via Lattea, the Milky Way, which encompasses the resorts of Sauze, San Siscario, Sestriere and Claviere – with Pregalato just a gondola ride away. There’s also the French resort of Montgenevre included, in all about 400 kilometres of slopes. The area was chosen to stage many of the events for the 2006 Turin-based Winter Olympics.
Super groomed for high altitude cruising
Cervinia is one of the jewels in the crown of Italian skiing, with a multitude of wide, sweeping, snowsure cruising runs. The slopes are tailor-made for carving – it’s often like skiing on a steeply sloping autostrada, perfectly groomed and flattering to the style. The great slab of rock looming above the slopes is called Monte Cervino here, rather than the Matterhorn, but Cervinia’s skiing is linked with that of Zermatt in Switzerland.
For great snow in early or late season, Cervinia is the place. It also links with the village of Valtournenche further down the valley. One of the world’s longest runs starts from Plateau Rosa, up on the glacier, and sweeps seemingly endlessly down to Valtournenche. Cervinia was one of the very first purpose-built resorts, its creation ordered by Mussolini, which shows that Il Duce did have one good idea at least.
For feasting, fashion and fabulous skiing
The ultra-fashionable ski town of Cortina d’Ampezzo, fascinating and historic, is beautifully situated in the gorgeous Dolomites. There’s great skiing to be had, but a further reason to head there is the fabulous choice of mountain restaurants, offering the best of Italian cuisine.
Seeing and being seen in some of the elegant boutiques and antique shops of the Corso Italia, one of the most fashionable streets in skidom, is to many of the Italian aristocrats and glitterati who come here a greater draw even than the fabulous slopes. This means the slopes are rarely crowded.
This heady combination of old wealth, youthful vibrancy and staggering scenery has meant Cortina d’Ampezzo is a quirky resort that has steadfastly refused to be pigeon-holed. The skiing is divided into three main areas – Faloria, Cristallo and Tofana. Cristallo boasts the steepest marked piste in the Dolomites, the formidable Forcella Staunies.
A gem of a ski resort in the heart of the Dolomites
Val Gardena is in the Sud Tirol, in the heart of the Dolomites, and comprises the three chic, fashionable and attractive villages of Ortisei, Selva di Gardena and Santa Cristina. The Dolomites are one of the most imposing mountain landscapes in the world, with the sun splashed and ever-changing colours of orange, red and pink lighting up the many soaring rock faces.
Val Gardena was recently voted Italy’s Best Ski Resort. The skiing here is part of the Superskipass, which offers an incredible 1,220km of slopes across 12 ski areas, including the famous ski circuit of Sella Ronda. Val Gardena’s most famous run is Saslong, a classic course on the men’s World Cup downhill circuit. It is very significant in Britain as it’s where the UK’s best known skier, Konrad Bartelski, came second in 1981 – an achievement yet to be beaten by a Brit for a men’s downhill race.
For chilling out – and a big X factor
There is a big mountain feel to Courmayeur, with Mont Blanc towering over the slopes – but the majority of the pisted runs are perfect for good intermediates. The big challenge here is the off-piste and there are some classic runs, particularly from Cresta d’Arp, the top lift station. Helicopter drops are also possible.
The village itself is charmingly Italian and has lots of cobbled streets. It’s one of the most chilled-out resorts you’re likely to come across and a great destination for short ski breaks, either midweek or long weekend, with smart shops and trendy, chic, bars and restaurants. The resort also has an X-factor separating it from other ski areas – it has some of the best mountain restaurants on the planet (make reservations immediately at Chiecco, Maison Vieille and Christiania).