Home Estate Planning Why a ski holiday in Italy offers unmatched hospitality

Why a ski holiday in Italy offers unmatched hospitality

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A ski holiday in the Dolomites to celebrate the centenary of a rather fabulous hotel

My thoughts on European ski destinations are as follows: Forget France, they don’t want you there. Dismiss Switzerland if you’re worth less than eight figures, and Austria if you don’t like crowds. Come to Italy, where they’re lovely and love having you. Also, they have the best food in the world. 


The Val Gardena ski area is in the heart of the Dolomite mountain range, filled with alpine meadows and pine forests that shelter eagle owls. It’s also been celebrated for its woodcarving industry since the 17th century, crafting everything from cathedral alters to children’s toys. I stay in Ortisei, a pastel-coloured market town at 1,230m with neoclassical and baroque buildings, where traditional wooden toys can be purchased from a charming little shop called Sotriffer (sotriffer.it). Seventy percent of the South Tyroleans speak German as their mother tongue (we’re around 25 miles from the Austrian border), and the place marries Teutonic precision with Latin warmth. One of Ortisei’s claims to fame is that it’s the family home of the father of disco, Giorgio Moroder. The local nightclub has a lot to live up to. The best après-ski is to be found on the slopes, for which you’ll need to head to the gondolas – there are two, serving both sides of the valley. Each is a five-minute shuttle or bus ride from our hotel.


The Gardena Grödnerhof (gardena.it) has been soothing stiff legs and serving stiffer cocktails for exactly 100 years. Its delightful young GM Alex Demetz, who clutches his dachshund puppy behind the reception desk, is the great-grandchild of the founders. Despite the hotel’s rich history, it is largely modern in style due to frequent renovation and expansion. My two-bedroom suite is enormous, with a kitchen and fridge full of champers, contemporary furnishings, and large balconies front and back gazing across both sides of the valley. Below, the Derjon river rushes by. The spa is sensational, with a treatment centre, multiple saunas, an icy plunge, a massive outdoor jacuzzi and, inside, a swimming pool with its own fireplace. There are so many healthy teas available you could have three different mugs a day for a week and still not have tried them all. In addition to the main restaurant, there’s the tiny 12-cover gastronomic nirvana that is ‘Anna Stuben’, holder of one Michelin star and deserving of a second. It is clad in locally-carved pine panels – one of the few old fashioned parts of the property. But there’s nothing old fashioned about the food (and 10/10 for the wine, one which was actually created by the sommelier).


In addition to the pumpkin ‘lasagna’ with a buffalo cheese fondue, balsamic vinegar jelly and popcorn ice cream which I so enjoyed at the innovative Anna Stuben, I found several other piquant places to indulge the taste buds during my 72-hour ski holiday. It’s sometimes easy to forget where you are: the language, the accents, the lederhosen. But it only takes a mouthful of the spaghetti alle vongole (clams) at the mountain-top Rifugio Comici to remember exactly. This superb fish-focused restaurant provides a fizz-fuelled après scene and photographic evidence of VIP guests. The main ones I recognise are F1 drivers, Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso among them. Another lunch stop on the piste was Jimmi Hutte (jimmyhuette.com), which presented me with a very fine ribeye. It has tender (not tough, surely) competition from Rifugio Friedrich August (friedrichaugust.it), a cosy, rustic auberge that serves Highland cattle. A vast prime cut was delivered to us on a sharing platter after generous local cheese and ham antipasti. It’s not the easiest place to reach of an evening, which adds to the sense of adventure. The journey was made by snowcat, in darkness, with only the whirring piste bashers for company. 


The Val Gardena boasts over 100 miles of pistes; mostly reds, quite a few blacks, and enough blues to cater for beginners. Beyond that, the Dolomiti Superski pass gives access to another 11 varied ski areas; 700 miles of swooshing in total. The Dolomites are said to provide an average 300 days of sun a year, and the conditions of my visit two weeks before Christmas could not have been better, with the best powder I’ve found outside the Rockies. The fairly ambitious – in terms of time, as it takes a full day – can tackle the Sellaronda touring circuit, crossing four areas of the Sella-Massif without having to remove your skis, and nearly 20 miles of pure downhill skiing. And the really ambitious – in terms of talent – can apply for the Saslong Classic, a men’s World Cup downhill race that’s been held almost every year since 1969 and is on during my visit. To get into one of those Lycra suits, you’d need to cut down on the delicious gastronomy. That, to my eyes, defeats the purpose of a ski holiday to Italy.  


Rates at the Gardena Grödnerhof start from £310 per night, including breakfast. Ski passes, ski guides and mountain experiences can be arranged through dolomitemountains.com and the tourist board valgardena.it. Fly to Innsbruck in Austria via British Airways or EasyJet, and then make the 90-minute drive to Ortesei by road.

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