Travel journalist Jan Henderson enjoys the chic resort of Madonna di Campiglio.
I love skiing – and I love skiing in Italy… where else could you blast round beautifully prepared and mostly uncrowded pistes with a mad Scotsman in a kilt and later enjoy unfeasibly large cocktails in an après ski bar for just five Euros a pop?
OK, the Scotsman is exclusive to just one particular place, but the sparsely populated pistes and surprisingly good value drink – and food – are common to most Italian ski resorts.
In this case the resort in question is Madonna Di Campiglio, nestling at 1550m between the rock towers of the UNESCO World Heritage Brenta and the glacier of the Adamello-Presanella, the highest battle front of World War I.
About a two-hour transfer from Verona airport, Madonna has the feel of a traditional Italian town, spreading about three kilometres along a wooded valley and with a surprising array of bars, restaurants and upmarket shops clustered in the traffic-free centre; no grim Bauhaus-style purpose-built and soulless French resort, this – but for all that, access to the slopes is quick and easy from various points in the valley, with a mixture of chairlifts and cable cars, and even the odd drag lift, to whisk you up the mountain.
And when you get up into the lift system there’s a varied and extensive array of runs both above and below the tree line – Madonna boasts 150 kilometres of skiing in three areas, Madonna di Campiglio itself, Pinzola and Folgarida Marilleva, with altitudes between 850m and 2500m. So not the highest ski resort in the world, but it has a good snow record nonethess, and an impressive array of snow-making machines to keep pretty much all the key slopes in good condition.
When we arrived there hadn’t been much snowfall for a couple of weeks – it had all dropped the other side of the Alps, mostly in Austria – but the pistes were still in pretty good shape, and a timely overnight dump of about 10cm of fresh snow ensured that next morning conditions were just about perfect with a clear blue sky, pristine white mountains and powder under your skis… what more could you want?
Cue one mad Scotsman in a kilt to show us the best runs and the best views in this lovely ski area, Crystal Ski Holidays’ very own resort rep John Johnstone. Although 100 per cent proud Scot, John loves Italy and the Madonna di Campiglio ski area and knows it as well as anyone – in a breathless three hours he whisked our group round many of the best runs in the resort, from blues to relatively kind blacks…. and all in the infamous kilt that has made him something of a local celebrity. Every time we paused, curious Italians would approach to get a selfie with John or shake his hand… and not infrequently inquire as to what he was wearing under the kilt (super-warm Merino wool leggings, as it happens – the man may be mad, but he’s no’ daft).
As John showed us, Madonna’s ski area has plenty for everyone – ample nursery slopes for beginners, loads of wide, friendly cruisy blues and reds to help intermediates have fun and build up their technique and confidence, and enough steep and deeps to satisfy the experts. When conditions allow there’s plenty of off-piste both high up and through the trees, while four snowparks keep boarders and freestylers happy.
When the lifts close for the day the town comes into its own – it is popular with well-to-do Italians who flock to the resort from Milan, Verona and even Venice, and fur coats and furry boots, designer clothes and accessories are very much in evidence as they promenade the pedestrianized Piazza Righi in the centre of town.
But despite the chic and elegant ambience, the après ski is surprisingly affordable – especially when you compare it to France, Switzerland or Austria. Our group headed for the Café d’Or in the centre of town to sample a wide array of sizeable and expertly-mixed cocktails from Negronis to Aperol Spritzes to Margharitas – and all at an eminently reasonable five Euros each. Included in the price they serve you trays of delicious bite-size pizza slices and other nibbles, plus a large bowl of crisps – almost a meal in itself.
If you are eating out, there’s a wide choice of restaurants in town – we went to the cosy Cantina del Suisse where one of our party munched his way through the largest piece of steak I have ever seen, and on the last night to Home Stube, a packed and popular Tyrol-style eatery where we tucked in to a variety of home-made wursts (sausages) followed by a flower pot (really!) full of the most delicious and moist tiramisu, all washed down with craft beer.
On a half board Crystal ski holiday there’s actually no need to eat out – our hotel, the Golf, offers an excellent full four-course evening meal with a mix of buffet and waiter service; and in the morning breakfast is a choice of cooked dishes, cereals, pastries, fruit, meats and cheeses – more than enough to set you up for a hard day out on the pistes.
The Golf, situated on the edge of the resort, but close to the Groste 1 and Fortini Express lifts and also with a free regular minibus service to the town centre, is new to Crystal this year and offers communal areas featuring tall ceilings and decorative patterns – great spaces for relaxing and unwinding, especially by the large open fireplace, while the elaborate wooden bar is ideal for relaxing with a drink in the evening.
If you really want to unwind you can make use of the hotel’s spa and wellness facilities – a modern indoor pool overlooks the surrounding Brenta mountains from large picture windows, while there’s also a sauna, steam room and whirlpool. The spa and wellness facilities come at an extra charge.
The twin rooms are spacious and comfortable with ample storage and spectacular views across the impressive Brenta Dolomites. All rooms have free WiFi, flatscreen TVs with UK channels, a minibar and air conditioning.
While Madonna di Campiglio may not have the massive piste mileage of the biggest French and Austrian resorts there is plenty to satisfy most skiers and boarders – and it is certainly far more relaxed and attractive. Add the great value après ski and restaurants and you can understand why it is so popular with the Italians – and growing in popularity with British skiers looking for that something extra.
New for this winter season Crystal Ski Holidays (www.crystalski.co.uk; 020 8610 3123) offers a week's half board at the four star Golf Hotel from £589pp including flights from Gatwick to Verona and transfers (price given is for departure on 2 February 2019). Direct flights from all major UK airports available.