A veritable spaghetti of pistes

The Italian mountains are among the most spectacular in Europe
Click to follow
The Independent Travel
The weak lira has forced Italian skiing to the top of the agenda for many British skiers. Happily, the days are long gone when Italian resorts sold purely on price; you can now expect efficient modern lifts, state-of-the-art snowmaking and some of the most assiduous piste-grooming in the Alps. The Italian mountains are among the most spectacular in Europe, and are dotted with deliciously distracting mountain restaurants. The resorts range from valley towns to remote mountain retreats; here is a tour of the 20 most appealing.

Directly west of Turin, the road and railway make for the Frejus tunnels beneath the Alpine watershed to France. Just on the Italian side is Bardonecchia - a pleasant, towny resort with a fair-sized intermediate ski area, the main drawback of which is a lack of altitude.

More interesting for a week's holiday is the Milky Way - with a claimed 400km of piste, one of the big linked areas of Italian skiing and indeed of the Alps in general. Sauze d'Oulx is the Milky Way resort to head for. Low prices and an impressively extensive, partly wooded local ski area are again attracting large numbers of Brits, but its reputation as prime lager-lout territory is history. It is no beauty, but has the feel of a village, which is more than can be said for Sestriere, over the hill.

This high, bleak resort has reliable snow and some excellent skiing (it's the venue this winter of the world skiing championship). But it's a sprawling mess of a village, with poor access to the rest of the Milky Way. A better alternative is the modern ski station of Sansicario.

The next concentration of resorts, north-west of Turin, is around the long Aosta valley, which comes to a precipitous halt at the foot of Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco on this side of the frontier). Or it did until the mid-Sixties, when a road driven beneath the summit of Europe instantly made Courmayeur the most easily accessible resort in Italy. Despite the lorries thundering past, the old, partly car-free village is also one of the most captivating Italian resorts, with stylish shopping as well as varied nightlife. The Mont Blanc massif offers spectacular runs for good skiers, but the local ski area is rather small and monotonous, mainly appealing to red-run skiers. It does have comprehensive snowmaking, though.

A few miles down the valley is La Thuile. It sounds French, and half the accessible skiing is actually in France - above La Rosiere, visible across the Isere valley from Les Arcs. The road over the Petit St Bernard pass is a piste in winter, skirting a ski area that is not huge but has something for everyone. You can stay in a modern complex at the foot of the slopes, in the partly restored old mining village a walk away, or in sprawling suburbs reached by bus.

Across the Aosta valley, side valleys stretch away towards a different border. Cervinia's skiing links with that of quintessentially Swiss Zermatt, but the connection is of little value - Zermatt's best skiing can't be reached in a day-trip. Cervinia itself is unique: nowhere else offers such an extent of sunny, snowsure, gentle cruising terrain, free of nasty surprises; but advanced and adventurous skiers will soon get bored. Italian jollity goes some way to make up for the dreary, mainly post-war village; but there's something to be said for staying down the road in Valtournenche - not least the splendid home run at the end of the day.

In the next valley, although miles away by road, is the quiet, traditional village of Champoluc, at one end of the three-valley Monte Rosa lift network embracing the even quieter villages of Gressoney and Alagna. It is no rival for the Trois Vallees (and in fact you have to ski off piste to get to Alagna), but the area offers a real sensation of travel on skis over friendly terrain, and the scenery is impressive.

Also close to the Swiss border but in the centre of the Italian Alps are several more-or-less isolated resorts. Much the most compelling is Livigno; its killer combination of a fair-sized, high-altitude ski area and low duty-free prices attracts more British skiers than any other Italian resort. It's awkward to get to and to get around - the village sprawls for miles along its wide, bleak valley - but the buildings are traditional in style and small in scale, and the "car-free" centre (complete with petrol station) is pleasant.

Most people get to Livigno via Bormio, a medieval spa town that is much more difficult to recommend. Consider it only if you like red slopes, and don't mind a lack of flattering blues and challenging blacks; if you like the idea of polishing your intermediate technique on a few long runs; and if you're happy to choose between staying in the atmospheric but inconvenient centre of town and staying in a modern skier's suburb.

Madesimo's skiing is not much more extensive but it is much more varied. It's an attractive mountain village, despite modern expansion, but is reached by the world's scariest hairpin road.

Finally, in the north-east of the country, north of Verona and Venice, are the Dolomites, an area distinguished by mind-blowing scenery and an amazing amount of skiing, mainly of easy or intermediate difficulty. The necklace of runs around the Sella massif has few equals, and the Dolomiti Superski pass covers these plus hundreds of other lifts in separate resorts.

Selva is the best-known base - a lively village, traditional-style but not super-quaint - and is one of the best-placed for exploration of the region. Its local skiing has exceptional snowmaking coverage, too. But consider also Corvara for its direct access to the Alta Badia area (also accessible from San Cassiano), and tiny Arabba for its challenging, north- facing skiing off the main Sella Ronda circuit.

The Dolomites are at their scenic best a few miles away around Cortina d'Ampezzo, the most upmarket of Italian resorts and a great place for leisurely lunches in the sun. Dramatic, pink-tinged spires and cliffs rise abruptly from the gentle slopes around the town, giving picture-postcard views throughout the ski areas. In a detached Dolomite area away to the west, Madonna di Campiglio is a sort of poor man's Cortina; the scenery may be not quite as spectacular, but the skiing is less fragmented.

Comments