Postcard from... Italy



In Bormio, the phrase "the Russians are coming" is out of date: they're already here. "And thank goodness for that," say the hotel and restaurant owners in the Italian ski resort.

The owner of the Magenin Bar in the pretty northern Italian spa town's central street spells it out. "We're glad the Russians are here, because with the crisis, Italians only come at weekends now."

In some of the restaurants, Russian menus take precedence over English ones. And local hotels and tourist offices have had to gen up on Ded Moroz, Babushka and Snegurochka, as Slavic winter myths join the local tale of Babbo Natale.

"This is elite, quality tourism, even better, some say, than the American tourism of 30 to 40 years ago," cooed La Provincia Settimanale newspaper this month, indicating that the snobbish reaction to new Russian money seen on say, the Tuscan coast, hasn't manifested itself among the easy-going folk of Bormio.

That's not to say there aren't culture clashes. It was amusing to see the manager of the town's ancient and rather chi-chi Roman baths discussing with a group of Russian tourists in pidgin English the correct protocol in a spa, after the visitors began running around and flicking towels at each other.

Bormio officials say rich Russian visitors are drawn by the town's famous spa and baths – and the appeal that the town holds for so-so skiers who can whizz down from 3,000 metres to 1,200 metres without having to stop once. As a resort, many of the tour guides say that Bormio flatters ordinary people, too.