Eating & Skiing our way across the Dolomites
Adding a new country to our European programme had been on my radar for some time and it became clear that many of our clients were keen to experience Italian ski resorts.
Known for extensive skiing, stunning vistas and good value, not to mention the food (more on that later), I was really looking forward to eating – and skiing – our way across three fantastic resorts in the Dolomites, in preparation for adding ski holidays in the Italian Dolomites to our winter 2016/17 programme.
Together with my colleagues Karen (Senior Ski Specialist) and Catherine (Ski Product Support and fluent Italian speaker), we flew into Venice Marco Polo airport in March and hopped into a hire car to make the two hour journey to our first stop of Cortina d’Ampezzo. Popular among well-heeled Italians with a penchant for fur, this resort really is the place to see and be seen in Italy. With many holidaymakers more intent on sashaying their way along the beautiful cobbled streets of the car-free, traditional town centre, we found that the slopes were relatively quiet.
Split into two main areas (Tofana and Valoria), we spent a great day on the Tofana side enjoying some lovely cruisy slopes and taking in the immense scenery.
I think it’s fair to say that many properties in Cortina d’Ampezzo have relied on the resort’s iconic reputation, meaning that some hotels haven’t been in a rush to undergo renovations. That certainly cannot be said for the two handpicked hotels that we are featuring: the luxurious 5-star Hotel Cristallo overlooking the resort and boasting an impressive array of facilities, and the 5-star Grand Hotel Savoia, located at the entrance of the resort and offering more laid back luxury.
Dining out in Cortina d’Ampezzo was a real treat. Make sure that you book a table in advance, particularly at weekends, as Cortina tends to be an incredibly popular weekend destination with the Milanese!
Our next stop was the charming village of San Cassiano, a mere 45 minute drive from Cortina d’Ampezzo. Despite such a short distance we had crossed over into the South Tyrol region. Formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, this area manages to combine efficient Germanic organisation with a laid back Italian attitude. Add to that access to an immense ski area and it’s a winning combination.
Like Cortina d’Ampezzo, San Cassiano is part of the Dolomiti Superski area. Where Cortina is only linked by road, San Cassiano is right on the doorstep of 1200km of interlinked slopes in the Dolomiti Superski – yes 1200km! It’s safe to say that Catherine, Karen and I felt like children in a gigantic playground. Even our guide, Claudia, was clearly thrilled at the prospect of a day getting some mileage under our belts as we decided on getting stuck into the Sella Ronda circuit, a 40km loop with the most jaw-dropping views.
We thought the day couldn’t get any better, how wrong we were! Claudia explained an initiative underway on the mountain, the ‘Gourmet Skisafari‘, whereby each of the Michelin-starred chefs in the area put together a signature dish and then teach it to one of the on-mountain chefs. This has created a gastronomic ski adventure, enabling hungry skiers with a taste for fine dining to sample these dishes at 15 mountain restaurants, for a fraction of the usual price.
After prising ourselves away from the slopes we returned back to the village to enjoy the fantastic hospitality of the exceptional 5-star Hotel Rosa Alpina. This stunning property excels in every area – wonderful service, spacious rooms and fantastic restaurants: breakfast alone was impressive and the friendly staff were quick to react to our table’s love of freshly made pancakes and maple syrup.
The other property we are featuring in San Cassiano is the 4-star Plus Hotel Fanes, which is perched just above the heart of the resort and offers fantastic views, especially if you venture into the outdoor hot tub – wonderful!
Madonna di Campiglio
The third and final stop of our trip was Madonna di Campiglio, a favourite among British skiers and it’s not hard to see why. The car-free cobbled resort centre is overlooked by the incredible surrounding mountains and the skiing is varied with plenty to keep you entertained – and the sunshine certainly helped too!
Karen had skied in Madonna earlier in the season so she already knew her way around the slopes, which was handy as it took a little time to get our bearings with access to the ski area split by the valley. There was plenty to get our teeth into and we enjoyed travelling to the edges of the piste map, rounding off the day by testing out the Audi sponsored race gate.
The properties in our programme in Madonna di Campiglio include the beautiful 4-star Plus DV Boutique Chalet Hotel, which is a quirky hotel with modern alpine décor, a real passion for the mountains and justifiably very proud of their cuisine.
We’ll also be featuring the 4-star Plus Hotel Chalet del Sogno, which we were lucky enough to experience first-hand. Located right beside the Spinale gondola, our bathroom looked out onto the slopes so you could brush your teeth while watching the last skiers head home! The hotel is made up of suites which are all traditionally decorated, many with original tiled Italian stoves, and boasts the fantastic Due Pini restaurant, which was the ideal location for our last evening where we enjoyed perfectly crafted ravioli, tortelloni, fregola, the list goes on… and naturally each course was accompanied by an appropriate glass of the region’s finest wine.
From what we saw and experienced in Cortina d’Ampezzo, San Cassiano and Madonna di Campiglio, my expectations of Italian ski resorts were totally surpassed, so much so that I’m already planning to return on my own ski holiday, although next time I’ll try to consume slightly less truffles!