OFF THE BEATEN PATH
When we think of Italy we think of the most famous cities of Rome, Florence and Venice, of the hilly Tuscan landscapes and the Mediterranean waters. But have you ever considered Italy for a winter vacation spent skiing, exploring the glorious surroundings and savoring local food? Did you know that you can actually ski in Sicily?
From the Alps and Dolomites of northern Italy to Mount Etna, Italy holds a long tradition in winter sports and hospitality, supported by a fantastic range of ski resorts for beginners to experts, and most ski resorts also make good summer hiking and climbing holidays, as well.
Imagine skiing where Olympic skiers competed…! In the Piemonte (Piedmont) Region, in the northwest region of Italy, you can do exactly that in the small towns that hosted the 2006 winter Olympics, and which still provide excellent facilities and lodgings.
Piedmont has 53 ski resorts and 2000 miles of runs. It will be delightful to combine your sporting passion with the peace and quiet of these glorious yet charming landscapes, where space is aplenty. Piedmont as well has a big cultural and gastronomic tradition, maybe the best cuisine and wines of Italy, infused as it is of French and other influences. Take a day off skiing and take in one of the numerous wine trails, stopping at farms and wineries to taste wines and typical local produce, like the scented white truffle of Alba…
If you are looking to add wellness and more relaxations to your vacation, you can choose one of the most prominent spas of this region, such as Acqui Terme, surrounded by the remains of a Roman aqueduct.
Going a little more up north, in the Val D’Aosta region, halfway between Turin and Milan you’ll find Courmayeur, on the opposite side of Monte Bianco (Mont Blanc) from Chamonix, France.
This is a traditional alpine village set in a fantastic location and it offers all the details expected in ski vacation: excellent shopping options, good Italian restaurants and cafes, a pretty lively nightlife, and one of the best ski facilities in Italy set in a beautiful scenery. Since Courmayeur and Chamonix share the highest mountain peak in Europe, Courmayeur is also very popular among for climbers and hikers in the summer and early fall.
Geographically staying on the border, the Italian Dolomites dividing Italy from Austria, are spectacular in every way, dotted with delightful villages like Ortisei, Cortina d’Ampezzo, and the Val Gardena, a valley offering just about every activity, from skiing to rock climbing, from hiking to woodcarving. Because of the height of some of the mountains, the Dolomites are good for beginner to advanced skiers and others practicing other winter sports as well. In some places it’s possible to ski nearly all year round.
But I think it’s Sicily that will surprise you the most with its most unusual and thrilling skiing experience on Europe’s tallest active volcano, Mount Etna, which can be reached from the nearby cities of Catania and Taormina. Its slopes, compared to the North Italian ones, offer two less luxurious but equally reliable ski areas: Rifugio Sapienza and Linguaglossa. Mount Etna often gets deep winter snows and offers excellent conditions for skiing and cross-country skiing.
This sport can also be found in the Abruzzo region, in central Italy, just a few hours from Rome, especially on the high plain of Campo Imperatore in the Gran Sasso as well as the Piana Grande in the Majella.
Abruzzo is still an undiscovered rural gem for Italy lovers, less expensive and unspoiled. It has 21 ski areas with about 230 miles of runs in the highest part of the Apennines. This area sometimes gets more snow than the Alps! The best skiing is from January till April with the town Roccaraso. This is the largest and most developed ski resort, which together with the Gran Sasso, the highest peak in the Apennines, offers good skiing conditions, for all kinds of winter sports.