Across the plateau we puffed, like joggers with impediments on our feet

IF YOU like the idea of wintry wildernesses but are appalled by the concept of downhill skiing why not try your hand at cross-country skiing instead? This was what I set out to do last month, up on the Seiseralm Plateau, one of the largest areas of high-level plateau in Europe, surrounded by the jagged Dolomites of Northern Italy.

In summer-time this is rolling meadowland, ideal for hiking. In winter, it seems tailor-made for cross-country skiing, with at least 65km of tracks leading around the plateau on circular loops in and out of the woods.

I was staying in Kastelruth, a village at the foot of the Seiseralm Plateau. Italy? Actually this was the South Tirol, the German-speaking part of northern Italy which borders Austria and which has considerably more of Bonn about it than it does of Bologna.

Initially I found the notion of German-speaking Italians bizarre. Verona after all, the nearest international airport, is as Italian as mozzarella. But during the two-hour drive north into the mountains I began to notice bi-lingual signs in Italian and German. Then I saw that half the cars were visiting from Germany.

At over 3,000 feet, the village of Kastelruth was absurdly picturesque, with spires and onion domes dimly glimpsed through the freezing fog and wood smoke. This was a town of blond forelocks, barn-sized houses, Gothic lettering and Bavarian kitsch.

Oddly enough though, South Tirolean Germans were not the only minority lurking in these hills: there were also the Ladins, an ancient Latin people now confined to a few Alpine villages. But they are rarely spotted. Horst Trocker, the young hotelier of the Posthotel Lamm where we were staying, kept telling me how satisfied his countrymen were to be German. And why not?

But what about the cross-country skiing? We started our first lesson the next morning up on the plateau, and I immediately discovered that the nicest thing by far about cross-country skiing compared to its Alpine counterpart is that the shoes are soft and comfortable like ballet shoes and do not threaten an immediate loss of blood circulation. On the other hand they do not provide support to the ankles, and flop alarmingly when you lift one foot. You cannot "lean into your boots". Given that the pace doesn't usually exceed a slow jog there is nothing particularly dangerous in this but keeping your balance is tricky to start with.

We began practising the required marching motion, arms and legs in-out, arms and legs in-out. I then discovered that cross-country skiers spend their time shuffling along through parallel tracks that have been pre- cut in the snow by a machine. In-out, in-out, across the plateau we puffed, like joggers with impediments on our feet.

To judge by my own performance it takes at least two or three days for a beginner to progress to an easy gliding lope through the tracks.

If you only have six days in which to learn you might find that your first experience of cross-country skiing is a lot about hard work and not very much about relaxation and enjoying yourself. Only on your second trip will you come to appreciate the pleasure of gliding silently through snow-bound copses.

Not that cross-country skiing is the only diversion on the Seiseralm. The rocky, jagged Dolomites form a fantastic backdrop. And there are jollities such as standard Alpine skiing, snow-shoeing or hiking along surprisingly well-laid paths.

But the bit I enjoyed most of all was conversing about culture with our instructor: a German-and-Italian-speaking Ladin. The ultimate European.

cross country fact file

Jeremy Atiyah travelled as a guest of Inntravel (Tel: 01653 628811). One week half board in the 4-star Posthotel Lamm in Kastelruth (Tel: 00 39 471 706343) costs pounds 610 per person up to 13 March, and pounds 533 per person from then until the early part of April. This includes seven nights dinner and breakfast plus scheduled BA flights London Gatwick to Verona, rail transfer and taxi (fly-drive prices are a little higher; child reductions available). Ski equipment hire, lessons and lift passes are not included in the price, and should be paid for locally.

News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'