23rd March 2014
Madonna di Campiglio
People often ask me and I often tell them that I do not know why I keep returning to the same place when I have a job that allows me to travel the world. I first visited Madonna di Campiglio in 1998 with a group organised by Solos Holidays. Since then I have been back there every winter sometimes for just two weeks and sometimes for as long as two months. I am a traveller and my ultimate ambition is to visit as many destinations as possible yet this small mountain resort, nestling in the spectacular Italian Dolomites draws me back time and again. Why?
Maybe it is the skiing. During my first visit I had lessons with some of the group as I was a relative beginner having not skied for several years. Our instructor, from the Rainalter Ski School, spoke very good English and we quickly progressed from the long easy blue run on Pradalago to some easy reds on the same mountain. Moving between the different ski areas is easy as they are all linked by easy runs and two days later we progressed to Spinale which is a good mixture of nice blues and some challenging reds linked by easy black runs. But the aptly named Spinale Diretissima that ends with Schumacher’s wall and plunges down the front of this mountain would have to wait for a few seasons. Spinale is linked to the Grosté ski area by the Rododendro chair lift which takes skiers above the tree line and a second chair lift rises to the highest point of the ski area. The blue and two red pistes that wind their way down this wide open area are always a pleasure to ski because the quality of the snow up there is always good and lasts until mid-April. Skiers often linger here to enjoy the views across the valley or to watch the antics of snowboarders in the Ursus Snow Park below them.
Another day we made our way to Cinque Laghi that boasts what I consider to be the best blue run in the resort and a network of linking intermediate pistes. This ski area was extended in December 2012 when the new Pancugolo Chair opened up this peak to skiers with a red and black piste descending down either side. But my favourite run in this ski area is the original World Cup piste Tre Tre because camosci can often be seen grazing on the crags above the top of this run. It is thrilling to watch these graceful animals jumping from rock to rock as they search for lichen to feed on.
Every peak in the resort is crowned with a ristorante or rifugio offering rest and refreshment and each one has a different character. Stoppani perches at the top of the Grosté cabin lift and the restaurant above two levels of self-service areas has lovely views and offers a sophisticated cuisine. Chalet Fiat, at the top of Spinale, features a self-service area with a good variety of dishes and tempting desserts as well as elegant dining in its chic restaurant. Ristorante Cinque Laghi tops the peak of the same name and it is also a self-service restaurant with an extension offering an all-round view of the panorama around. Further down the slope Patascoss offers a great coffee stop especially as it has a lift to take patrons down to the toilets on a lower floor or up to the restaurant on the first floor.
My personal favourite is Ristorante Viviani at the top of Pradalago which features typical local cuisine, interesting pasta dishes and a weekly change of menu but the cosy ambience and sincere hospitality are always the same and I never tire of eating there. Further down this mountain, off the piste Pradalago Facile is Cascina Zeledria, a long standing favourite with the locals and famous for its ‘hot rock’. Patrons cook a variety of meats and vegetables on a heated slab of stone.
Madonna di Campiglio is part of the extensive Ski Area which covers 150 km of pistes and four different resorts. It is linked to two resorts in the Val di Sole, Marilleva and Folgarida, by a red piste, Genziana Alta. A chair lift completes the journey to the top of Monte Vigo and at the top turn left for Marilleva or right for Folgarida. Both resorts offer a good variety of pistes but in particular the long blue and long black that wind all the way down the mountain from the Folgarida ski area to the bottom of the Folgarida cabin lift and Mastellina, a super red run winding down the mountain between the two resorts.
Pinzolo, the forth resort, is below Madonna di Campiglio and the slopes here, mostly red, are carved out of a very different terrain. Some of the reds would have been designated black in Madonna di Campiglio. This resort features three black pistes but the best and longest is Dolomitica Star which was opened in December 2010 and sweeps down from the summit, Doss del Sabion, to the bottom of the new cabin lift, Tulot, in Carisolo. In December 2011 a new cabin lift opened and the slopes of Pinzolo are a sixteen minute journey away on the Pinzolo Campiglio Express. This three-stage lift has a station on the roof at the entrance to the Galleria. The building below houses all the emergency services, a medical centre and a multi-story car park – park and ski without entering the town. The cabin lift continues from the Galleria (Colarin station) to the slopes on Cinque Laghi in Madonna di Campiglio and to get across to Marilleva and Folgarida. In Pinzolo it will arrives at the bottom of the Brenta chair lift. This chair lift goes to the top of the Brenta run and also the top of a blue run from which the whole resort is accessible.
I never tire of the variety of slopes and the fabulous views. When I cannot sleep or my dentist is doing particularly unpleasant things to me I imagine I am at the top of my favourite black run, Amazzonia, a black run on Pradalago. The adrenalin is pumping through my veins as I plan my first few turns before launching myself down the mountain.
Maybe it is the hotel we use that lures me back time and again. The Hotel Lorenzetti, just outside the town, stands against the splendid back drop of the Brenta Mountains. The welcome is always as warm as the open log fire that crackles and dances in the grate when we meet in the bar every evening before moving through to the splendid restaurant adorned with crystal chandeliers and decorated with delicate orchids of rich pinks and purples. Every table is clad in a beautifully laundered tablecloth on top of which cutlery gleams, glasses glisten and each one is adorned with a floral decoration. Every guest is made to feel special.
Every evening a different menu offers a splendid choice supplemented by an extensive salad buffet and sweet biscuits with dessert wine to finish the meal. The anticipation is enhanced by the endearing translations and an ideal starter is “marinated trout fillet with pink pepper and raspberries vinegar sauce. A house speciality for the pasta course – “risotto with champagne and apples from the Val di Non” followed by a main dish of “stewed venison bites scented with Teroldego wine, served with soft polenta” and a finale of “marinat fresh ananas (pineapple) with gran marnier liquor and ice-cream”. Every choice offers a blend of subtle flavours to tempt the palate in portions that satisfy but do not satiate. All accompanied by an excellent local wine from the wide choice available.
After dinner there is live music in the bar and when Stefano is performing chairs are pushed back and some people dance and some people sing but everyone enjoys his music as he displays his talent on the pianoforte, trumpet and trombone and those are just three of the many instruments he plays. He is a mini-brass band which reflects his passion for British brass bands. He does not speak English but he finds a way to communicate all this and his face glows with pleasure throughout his performance.
Maybe it is the ambience a product of the environment and the people. The resort nestles between folds of the Brenta Dolomites and Adamella Presonella Mountains. Its origins as a centre for timber production are reflected in the beautiful wooden structures that house hotels, apartments, shops and restaurants. Throngs of promenading locals and visitors stroll through the main piazza, Piazza Righi, exchanging greetings. It is not unusual to hear my own name as I know more people here than I do in my home town and it is the only place in the world where the chances are that if I am waiting at a bus stop someone will stop and ask me where I am going and often take me there even though it means going out of their way. Ski instructors pull me out of mounds of snow and explain the error I made that caused me to plunge into them in the first place.
Personnel in the hotel and mountain restaurants return year after year and they greet my groups like old friends. Goran, the shuttle bus driver at our hotel soon gets to know everyone and is happy to exchange jokes and the occasional snowball as he ferries us to and from the slopes. Giacomo, the good-humoured maître d’ in the hotel restaurant patiently offers suggestions for those with particular dietary requirements. On the slopes ski instructors shout greetings to individuals they have taught over the years and in Ristorante Viviani the friendly waiters always seem to be able to find room for us – although the restaurant is so popular I usually book tables in advance.
Working as a tour leader means that the demands of the group may prevent me from partaking fully in in the pleasures of this resort so occasionally I go there on my own a few days before my guests arrive. Each day after an early breakfast, eschewing the sumptuous buffet for sustenance as I have no time to linger, I am in the car park in plenty of time for the first shuttle to the slopes. I wait patiently for the Pradalago cabin lift to open and snap my boots shut the cabin rises above the trees. The pristine stripes left by the piste bashers on the empty pistes below me look inviting and it is thrilling to think that mine will be the first tracks.
I am alone at the top of Pradalago and the slopes of Madonna di Campiglio are spread out below and around me. Across the valley I can see the glistening white snow on the Grosté ski area. A vast pale expanse above the tree line which in two hours will be a mass of brightly clad skiers all enjoying the wide, well groomed runs and the lovely powdery snow. Music will echo around the peaks from Ristorante Boch mid-way down the ski area. Rarely can I resist a little jig on my skis when passing this lively spot but for rest and refreshment I prefer the quieter Ristorante Stoppani at the top. Just to the right of Grosté white stripes that are the runs down from Spinale wend their way through the trees. A tangible silence envelops me and I am reluctant to move. I pull on my gloves, adjust my pole straps and get ready to ski down – one last look, one last inhalation of the pure, sweet air.
Time to go. My skis crackle on the crisp snow as I point them down Pradalago Facile a lovely wide blue piste and I glide across the snow to the first junction where I swing onto Pradalago Diretta a super red run through the trees that requires a bit of thought. As I pick up speed the exhilaration brings a smile to my face. Specks of silver dance around me as the rays of an early sun are reflected from tiny particles of moisture in the air. An empty piste stretches ahead of me starkly white against the blue of the sky. All I can hear is the swish of my own skis. All I can see is the powdery snow ahead bordered by majestic larches. Right now I am certain that there is nowhere else in the world that I would rather be.