What did the Romans ever do for skiers? Well, unwittingly obviously (Julius Caesar never, I think, boasted to the Senate: I Came, I Saw, I did a bit of fabulous free-riding), but more than you might think — especially if you head to Pila. For this Italian ski resort is set high above the wonderful town of Aosta, one of Northern Italy’s finest Roman towns and full of atmosphere and stunning, incredibly well-preserved Roman architecture and artefacts.
As much as you may have come here for the skiing, as I did, I promise that you can’t help but be drawn in by the palpable ancient history of this beautiful town.
We stayed a night, at the elegant four-star Duca d’Aosta hotel in the town centre, and had a delightful time transporting ourselves back a couple of millennia to marvel at the Arch of Augustus, which has stood at the town’s entrance since 25BC, the triple-arched Porta Praetoria, the amazing Roman crypt and the theatre, dating back to the time of Emperor Augustus.
But what the Romans never thought of doing (they were really good at conquering, but not so hot at carving) was building a gondola from the town that would soar halfway up the mountainside above, and there constructing a ski resort with well-groomed, snow-sure slopes benefiting from a high tree line to give good visibility in bad weather. That was all to come much later.
We took the long gondola up to purpose-built Pila and met former Italian downhill team racer Lorenzo Quagliotti. He was the proud downhill forerunner at the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics, and our guide for our two-day stay. As a downhill racer, Lorenzo likes to ski quite fast — and the mostly red and black runs of Pila, which are quiet during the week, like to be skied fast. So all in all it was a perfect combination and that’s what we did for two days: we skied fast.
On a clear day, and we had nothing but clear days, the Matterhorn is visible from the slopes in one direction and Mt Blanc in the other. Not a bad view for the occasional moments it was possible to glance up from the task of keeping in Lorenzo’s straight-down-the-fall-line ski tracks.
Pila is surprisingly expansive — 15 lifts and 70km of runs — and the whole place is ski-in ski-out. We stayed at the three-star Lion Noir (also used by Inghams), full of character and with the most stupendous views from its glass-walled lounge.
You can drive up to Pila — there’s an 18km scenic approach road that’s pretty well non-stop hairpins — but the gondola is easier and quicker and you don’t need a car in the resort.
Ah, but what’s this? Lorenzo has suddenly switched from racing mode to relaxation mode.
Because it’s not just fabulously-groomed, fast and uncrowded pistes that Pila is known for: it also has some wonderful mountain restaurants. In Lo Baoutson, under Lorenzo’s guidance, we had incredibly-good pasta. Which set us up for a bit more incredibly-fast skiing in the afternoon.
The following day, we had an equally impressive feast on the sunny terrace of La Baraka, with great traditional Italian favourites but particularly famous for its amazing burgers.
And the mountain gourmet delights of Pila don’t end when the sun goes down. For dinner one night, we were whisked through a snowstorm up the mountain by a piste-basher (one with a spacious heated cabin mounted on the back) to the La Societe restaurant where we enjoyed a candlelit supper in surroundings of startling elegance and sophistication for a hut set high on the slopes.
Veni, vidi, recepit eos in convivium, as they would have said in ancient Aosta.
And the next day, well, obviously, Veni, vidi, feci plus quidam quaedam mei fugit ventus.
Inghams has seven nights at the three-star Lion Noir in Pila, on a half-board basis, from £729 per person, including return flights from Gatwick to Turin and resort transfers. If you prefer to stay down in Aosta and make the most of the lively town and the sightseeing possibilities, while using to gondola to go skiing, Inghams has seven nights at the four-star Hotel Duca d’Aosta, on a bed and breakfast basis, from £749 per person, including return flights from Gatwick to Turin and resort transfers. For more information and to book, visit Inghams or call 01483 791114.
More information on Pila and the Aosta Valley at www.aosta-valley.co.uk.
Footnote — Latin translations
I know this addendum is not necessary, as it’s well-known that all MadDogSki readers are accomplished classics scholars, but just in case:
Veni, vidi, feci de skiing — I came, I saw, I did some skiing
Veni, vidi, recepit eos in convivium — I came, I saw, I had dinner
Veni, vidi, feci plus quidam quaedam mei fugit ventus — I came, I saw, I did some more of my favourite runs