Sunday, February 26, 2006

Do Not Write About Corvara

My brother-in-law, David, does not want me to tell you this. There is a delightful place to ski in Italy with short lift lines, massive ski-able terrain and spectacular scenery. David, who is rightfully worried about being able to get a room at his favourite, small, family-run hotel, also does not want me to tell you that this gem of a resort costs a lot less than what you would pay for the Big Names in France, Austria and Switzerland. If you are looking for a fine place for a family ski holiday that is virtually unknown to English speaking tour operators, look no further than Corvara in the Alta Badia region of the Dolomites. Just don’t tell David I told you.

The first thing you should know about Corvara is that it has gobsmacking metrics. As part of the Dolomiti Superski region, the area boasts 1,220 kilometres of prepared pistes, 460 lifts and 30 pretty good mountain restaurants (more on the best ones later). There is an amazing ski circuit around the Sella massif pictured above (the Sellaronda) which you can do in a day that takes you over four mountain passes covering 36 kilometres of trails and lifts.

If this sounds like an overwhelming juggernaut, here’s the best part of all. It isn’t. In fact, all the towns which make up the Alta Badia which include Corvara, Colfosco, La Villa, San Cassiano, Pedraces and La Val, are small, charming and intimate. The look is Austrian alpine, the feel is carefree Italian.

Getting There

A bit tricky, this one. There are tons of airports you can fly into such as Bolzano, Bergamo, Venice, Verona, Treviso or Innsbruck but not tons of options for cost effective transfers to Alta Badia. Basically, you can rent a car or take a taxi. Both options are expensive unless you fly into Bolzano (which is the closest airport). This year, I spotted a transfer service provided by Dolomiti Stars at Venice’s Marco Polo Airport which will bus you directly from the airport to Arraba (the town next to Corvara), for €18 round trip. We may well try this out next year, having just spent €120 per person on taxis to and from Venice, which well exceeded the cost of our flight.

Of all the options, my favourite is to fly into Venice and spend a night either on the way in or out at the wonderful Pensione La Calcina. Danish acquaintance of ours, who have been going to Corvara for 25 years, cleverly take a taxi to Marco Polo Airport following a week of skiing, drop off their ski luggage and then make their way into Venice for Carnival with an overnight bag to return for their flight home the next day.


If you are looking for places to stay in Corvara, I have three recommendations in various price ranges. At the top end, try the Hotel la Perla. Run by the Costa family, this is a seriously smart, beautifully run luxury hotel set directly on the piste a few feet from the Col Alto lift. There is a one star Michelin restaurant, every kind of upscale amenity and even a motorcycle museum which my open road friend, Patrick, says is seriously good. I should tell you now that I do not stay there. Too many children, too little budget, but when I win the lottery, I will. A standard room with half board during high season will run you €226 per person per night.

Also four stars, and near the slopes but less expensive is the Posta Zirm Hotel. The hotel has been run by the Kostner family since 1908 and while I have not stayed there, I was impressed by the beautifully appointed reception areas and the helpful staff. A standard room with half board during high season is €153 per person per night.

Now, here’s the tip that may cost me my relationship with my brother-in-law. We stay at the very small, very charming and very good value Hotel Ladinia. Run by the welcoming Albertini family, this alpine retreat which is informal, cosy and close to the slopes charges €87 per person per night. The meals are hearty and delicious. The relaxed atmosphere is wonderful for families.

Eating Out

For lunch, we ate most of out meals on the mountain and most of the mountain restaurants are pretty good. Out favourite was the one on top of the Col Alto lift. Get there by 12:30 to insure a table.

My hot tip for anyone with small children or anyone, for that matter, is the Trattoria Ladinia – Oies which you can reach on the ski tour to San Croce.

There are several reasons to make the effort to visit this establishment. First, it is located on one of the loveliest ski tours in the area. Even beginning skiers can do the Santa Croce tour. The slopes are wide and easy and the scenery is just gorgeous. Second, you reach this place via a horse and carriage driven by a grouchy old mountain man who looks like a dead ringer for Heidi’s grandfather and thirdly, the place is filled, and I mean filled, with Teddy Bears. They’re everywhere. It’s amazing. Our eight year old thought she had died and gone to heaven. Finally, the food is good and the price is right. There is a lovely terrace to eat on if the weather is fine although the bear action is all inside.

You reach the Teddy Bear Restaurant by taking the first chairlift out of Pedraques. On getting off, ski down the left hand side of the piste. About half way down, look for a wooden sign which says “Oies” and the old man with the horse and carriage. Take your skis off and leave them at the sign. Hop in with Grandpa who will escort you to the restaurant.

Another hot tip is to check out the Go Go Girls at the L’Apres Ski behind the La Perla Hotel on Thursday night. Everyone is there. The atmosphere convivial and the girls, who dance on the bar in the neatest pair of white boots I have ever seen, are gorgeous. My daughter, who thought it was the highlight of her trip, has new career aspirations.

So there you have it, the perfect NoCrowds ski region: massive intermediate terrain, few lines, good accommodations and good value. Just don’t tell anyone how you found out about it.

Hotel La Perla
Strada Col Alt 105
39033 Corvara
Tel: 00 39 0471 831 000
Fax 0039 0471 836 568

Posta Zirm Hotel
Strada Col Alt, 95
39033 Corvara
Tel: 00 39 0471 836175

Hotel Ladinia
Strada Pedecorvara, 1039033
Corvara Alta Badia-Dolomiti
Tel. 00 39/0471/836010Fax 00 39/0471/836629

Trattoria Ladinia-Oies
(Teddy Bear Restaurant)
Tel: 0471 839671
Fax:0471 839921

L’MURIN (L’Apres Ski)
Srada Col Alto 105
Tel: 0471 831000
Open daily from 3:30 to 8:00
Go Go girls on Thursdays

Photo courtesy of the Dolomiti Superski website

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