Fashionable Cortina d’Ampezzo is located in the Veneto region of Italy, just two hours north of Venice, and offers Italian-style winter sports, with good food, plenty of socialising, sunbathing and great skiing too.
At 1,225m Cortina d’Ampezzo sits on a broad meadow in the Ampezzo valley, between vast craggy mountains. It’s as popular in summer as in winter when the ski hills become hiking grounds and the cliff faces and peaks above are traversed by breathtaking mountain-climbing paths first used by troops when the area was on the front line in the First World War.
Still a frontier region, at least culturally, Cortina d’Ampezzo is an Italian enclave with points north entirely German-speaking up to and beyond the border with Austria; to the west, the Sud-Tirol region has three main languages – German, Italian and Ladin (an ancient tongue) – often spoken within the same village; not many miles to the east lies the border with Slovenia and a couple of hours by car to the south is Venice, which can turn a ski trip here into the ultimate city-break as well.
Still basking in its 1956 Winter Olympic status, Cortina is a resort for skiers and non-skiers alike and appeals to committed holiday-makers as much as skiers. On-slope, the views and the mountain restaurants are as important as the skiing on offer, though there’s more to it than some would have you believe. A lack of out and out vertical (they’re big mountains, but the top two-thirds of them are cliff faces) and a fragmented layout makes the region impossible to compare with most other resorts.
Cortina’s reputation for everything else first, and skiing second may have as much to do with relaxed Italian attitudes to skiing than the quality of what’s on offer: when they come on holiday Italians want good food, plenty of socialising, sunbathing and some great skiing too. For ski-obsessed north Europeans it leaves early morning, lunchtime and late afternoon slopes practically deserted for much of the season.
Down in Cortina’s pedestrian town centre there’s no question you’re in Italy. There’s more fur on the strolling holidaymakers than there is on the local wildlife, while cafes and wine bars rather than rowdy après-ski bars do brisk business. Wherever you go you find quality, and though there are ample opportunities to spend your money, there’s good value here too, across the board.
Cortina d’Ampezzo Pros & Cons
+ UNESCO World Heritage Site
+ Spectacular Dolomite landscapes
+ Attractive town, upmarket shops and galleries
+ Excellent nursery slopes
+ Long scenic runs for intermediates
+ Good eating on and off the mountain
+ Easy to get to via magnificent Venice!
- Fragmented ski area (linked by free ski bus)
- Erratic snow record (90% by snow canons)
- Some slow lifts yet to be upgraded
- Crowded during Italian holidays
- Limited challenges for advanced skiers on piste
- Many bars and restaurants close early (10pm)
- Still reflecting on 1956 Winter Olympics