With the winter sports season almost upon us, skiing enthusiast Jan Henderson reflects on an action-packed break in the Dolomites
The style and charm of the Italians, the friendliness and efficiency of the Austrians, and the stunning scenery of the Alps – sounds like a winning combination, and you can find it all in the Sud Tyrol area of the Dolomites.
Add some spectacular food – both on the mountain and down in resort – and plenty of great skiing on beautifully prepared pistes... what more could you ask of a skiing holiday?
I sampled the resorts of Alta Badia and Ortisei on a weekend break to the Dolomiti Superski area back in late March, and I’m happy to report that the Austro-Italian mix really is a great match.
The resorts look mostly Austrian, but feel very Italian – the mixture reflecting a long and complicated history, going way back to the pre-First World War Austro-Hungarian Empire and ending with Italy in charge since the end of the Second World War. But there’s a third vital ingredient at work here, helping to make these high, snowy Alpine valleys unique – Ladin.
Ladin is a remarkable language that harks directly back to Roman times, and brings with it its own traditions and way of life that is embraced by just four Sud Tyrol valleys, two of which are Val Badia and Val Gardena. Ladin seems to add an extra charm and spice to the area and its people, which is reflected in the warmth of the welcome, the fine wines and the genuinely delicious food.
The Italians take their food at least as seriously as they take their skiing, and find delightful ways to marry the two. A supreme example of this is the impessive Comici Hut, nestling high in the Dolomites at the top of a series of lifts and right beneath the towering Sassolungo, which makes claim to be the highest fish restaurant in Italy.
Comici Hut (don’t think hut, think substantial indoor and outdoor restaurant) is certainly one of the best restaurants I’ve eaten in, with a wide variety of fresh fish brought in from Venice every other day turned into an array of great dishes. You’ll need to book to bag a table for lunch here, although the outside terrace is more informal and you can enjoy an Aperol Spritz (a Campari-like aperitif mixed with prosecco) and delicious bite-sized fish snacks. You may even spot a celeb or two – Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso are among the famous names to have eaten there.
And if your tastes, and your wallet, stretch to more fine food when the lifts are closed in the evening, head for the sumptuous, Michelin-starred La Stua de Michil restaurant in the La Perla Hotel in Alta Badia. The hotel and the restaurant reflect the style, but also the idiosyncrasy, of owner Ernesto Costa – there are unusual touches everywhere. If you have time, opt for the tour of the hotel’s unique Mahatma wine cellar – half wine cellar, half theme park, and well worth half-an-hour of your time.
Of course there are many much cheaper restaurants both up the mountain and in the resorts, and most display the same Italian flair for good food.
OK, so much for the food, but what about the skiing? After all, that’s the main reason for being in the Dolomiti Superski area. Well, I’m pleased to report that – on the fairly brief acquaintance I made with the pistes – it’s really rather good.
I was there in late March and, although there was plenty of snow, the unusually hot weather meant that the pistes were at their best in the mornings – and by afternoon had turned into deep porridge which was not much fun to ski in at all. But I saw enough in the mornings to realise that this is a really extensive ski area, beautifully prepared and maintained – all-in-all a paradise for intermediate skiers.
The Sella Ronda is a 24 kilometre fully linked circuit that can be accomplished in an energetic day’s skiing by an average intermediate skier – pretty much all blues and reds. Conditions didn’t allow for me to try it, but my colleagues and I – all skiers of distinctly average ability and sitting squarely in the intermediate category – were assured we would be able to achieve it without major difficulty.
But there’s much more to the area than just the Sella Ronda, and there’s plenty to keep most intermediates happy just taking the lifts out of Alta Badia or Ortisei. And, conditions permitting, there’s plenty of challenges for more accomplished skiers, while friendly ski schools and gentle nursery slopes also make it a good destination for beginners.
If you are going skiing with a mixed ability group, then Alta Badia or Ortisei would be destinations that should keep everyone happy, from beginners to experts. And if you like to combine your skiing with good food and wine, then you will definitely be heading to the right place.
For more information about skiing holidays in the Sella Ronda and the Dolomiti Superski area, log on to www.crystalski.co.uk
For information about skiing holidays in Alta Badia log on to www.altabadia.org