Skiing, Italy: Courmayeur

An old mountain village set below Mont Blanc, Courmayeur has always had one major drawback: the centre, with its cobbled alleyways, is cut off from the ski slopes by the traffic thundering up the Aosta valley towards the Mont Blanc tunnel. But this year, as a result of the catastrophic fire in the tunnel, the traffic has stopped; and the cable-car up to the Plan Chécrouit skiing base will sweep across an all but deserted highway. The locals are enjoying the peace and quiet so much that, despite the commercial risks, they are campaigning for permanent controls on the road's lorry traffic.

An old mountain village set below Mont Blanc, Courmayeur has always had one major drawback: the centre, with its cobbled alleyways, is cut off from the ski slopes by the traffic thundering up the Aosta valley towards the Mont Blanc tunnel. But this year, as a result of the catastrophic fire in the tunnel, the traffic has stopped; and the cable-car up to the Plan Chécrouit skiing base will sweep across an all but deserted highway. The locals are enjoying the peace and quiet so much that, despite the commercial risks, they are campaigning for permanent controls on the road's lorry traffic.

Courmayeur's skiing is characteristically Italian, with lots of scenically beautiful runs dropping down into the trees beneath the Mont Blanc range. But from the 2,755m Cresta d'Arp there are off-piste routes in three directions, one of them to the nearby resort of La Thuile; and for adventurous (but not necessarily highly skilled) skiers there is the breathtakingly beautiful Vallée Blanche, which runs 20-odd kilometres down to Chamonix. Even within Courmayeur's ski area there are some good journeys - for confident beginners and inter-mediates - winding down through the trees to the valley bottom.

The village itself, car-free and well-sheltered from the roar of the main road, is absolutely delightful, with wonderful bars and restaurants on the cobbled via Roma: I became a regular at the plain-but-perfect Piazzetta when I was last there. ( The Good Skiing Guide also reckons the resort's mountain restaurants offer the best value of any in the world.) Note, however, that while it's a pleasure to stroll down via Roma in the evenings, it's a longish hike in the mornings to the cablecar base, which is at the southern end of the village.

All the major operators offer holidays in Courmayeur; among the independents are Abercrombie & Kent (0171-559 8585); Momentum Travel (0171-371 9111); Mark Warner (0171-761 7002) and White Roc (0171-792 1188)

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