Few locations anywhere in Europe that can claim to be better than Sestriere for skiing, or snowboarding
Skiing the Italian Alps
If you have to wonder why people elect to ski in Italy, then you probably have a misguided view of winter style. There is more people-watching, more clothing consciousness and, paradoxically, less cynicism in Alpine Italy, than in almost any other ski country. Italy was often regarded as the inexpensive option for the ski set, a factor that is not strictly true today. However, while there are wonderful (and exceptionally expensive) ski resorts at Courmayeur and Cortina d’Ampezzo, I am going to beg a little indulgence by offering you a primary spot, which can lead onto potential selections that are all within just a few kilometres of each other. That place is Sestriere.
The first time I went there was in 1981, when I was offered the opportunity to not just to ski but also to sample the ice racing circuit, which had opened recently. As my host was Lancia motorcars, one of the Fiat Group brands, it should come as little surprise to learn that the highest resort (it is sited above the tree-line) in Italy was established by the Agnelli family, which also owned the Fiat company, of which Lancia was a part. To be honest, when I last visited the place, not quite a year ago, it had been redeveloped somewhat, naturally, but it retained its largely clinical and characterless appearance. Thank heavens that the hotels and entertainment are on a higher plane, which is what would whisk me back.
The slopes are spectacularly good and there is even the opportunity to ski nocturnally, as the main runs are very well illuminated. As to location, the resort is around an hour’s drive from Turin, although flights are also made into Linate, Milan. Its main attraction is that Sestriere’s runs form part of what is known as ‘The Milky Way’, or the Via Lattea, with over 400 kilometres of premier grade runs, located on north-west facing slopes. There are actually few locations anywhere in Europe that can claim to be better than Sestriere for skiing, or snowboarding.
While you do not need to like Italian food, a short trip down the mountain to San Sicario will take you to the Da Serafina restaurant, which is one of the top eateries in northern Italy (and there are a few, with three others in this locale alone). Extensive, multi-course meals can cost from as little as £15 per head. Naturally, there are plenty of eating houses in Sestriere, 39 at the last count, such as the exquisite L’Antica Spelonca, but I kind of fell in love with Da Serafina and, no, they do not pay me to say so!
The other resorts connected to this area and for which only one ski pass is required are, Prageleto, Claviere (on the French border), San Sicario, Sauze d’Oulx, which is renowned for its lively apres-ski, but also Serre Chevalier, which is actually in France (just) but can be skied on your Sestriere pass. I simply love this part of the world and the people are actually wonderful, the hotel and accommodation staff being particularly welcoming.
Italy ski facts:
Getting there: flying from any of London’s airports is possible. A typical Gatwick to Milan, Linate Airport flight will cost around £50 return in mid-January, with EasyJet. Both KLM and Air France offer services from London City, which might be convenient starting point for some. Package deals (perhaps with Monarch, which flies out of Manchester) can cost from as little as £550pp return in mid to late-January, including 14 nights at the Hotel Olimpia, at Cortina D‘Ampezzo (NE Italy), which disproves my theory that Cortina is just high-priced. Seven nights (sharing an Olympic Village apartment) in Sestriere can cost from around £281pp with Crystal Ski Holidays. Half-board for seven nights at either the Hotel du Col, or the Grand Hotel, Sestriere,
costs from around £560pp inc. flights.
Getting about: Italian resorts are always open to road traffic, which means that access by transfer from the airport, or rental car, is guaranteed good. Excellent public transport is available to take you from one resort to several other neighbouring locations.