Fashionable and beautiful Cortina d’Ampezzo is located just two hours north of Venice, and offers a very Italian winter sports holiday, where eating, drinking, socialising, sunbathing, shopping, view-gazing, and stylishly strolling around are as important as skiing and snowboarding.
At 1225m, Cortina d’Ampezzo sits on a broad meadow between vast craggy mountains. It’s an upmarket, chic resort that is as popular in summer as in winter when the ski slopes become hiking grounds and the peaks of the Dolomite mountains above are traversed by steep climbing paths first used by troops in the First World War. There is no shortage of luxury hotels but there is more modest accommodation too.
And even in winter, the views and the mountain restaurants in Cortina are as important as the runs which are normally blissfully uncrowded at lunchtime. The highest lift reaches a very impressive 3244m, but it’s purely for sight-seeing with no pistes coming down. In Cortina’s pedestrianised town centre, affluent fur-clad holidaymakers parade around smart shops and stylish cafes with scenic views of the pink-tinged Dolomites gently glowing in the setting sun. And because Cortina is close to Venice and it’s airports, it’s also a natural choice for those who want to combine snow sports with culture in the ultimate two-centre holiday, or who just want to come for a romantic weekend.
The ski area is medium-sized (about 115km of pistes), with slopes on both sides of town, and mostly composed of easy blue and gentle red runs. To the east, are the Faloria and Cristallo sectors which are linked at valley-level at Rio Gere. To the west, are Tofana, Pomedes, Cinque Torri and Passo Falzarego/Lagazuoi, which can now all be reached via piste and lift thanks to the 4.6km long Skyline gondola. That’s a lot of sectors, but there is not much skiing in between because the surrounding Dolomites are often sheer cliffs, making them spectacular to gaze up at, but impossible to ski down. And this is not a naturally snowy area, so whilst artificial snow-making usually keeps the pistes skiable, there is very little terrain to the sides for freeriders. Strong keen skiers will therefore run out of fresh slopes to explore in about three days, and should make an expedition to the neighbouring Sella Ronda ski circuit. It’s close enough to ski into from Lagazuoi (with a little help from a horse-drawn sleigh to pull you over a small uphill section), but you will need a Dolomiti Superski pass rather than just a local Cortina one, and have to return by taxi.
Or you can just hang up your skis for a while, and devote more time to eating, drinking, shopping, strolling around, and appreciating the glorious views. Because plenty of other ski resorts have more runs than Cortina, but very few have as much charm.
Cortina d’Ampezzo Pros & Cons
+ UNESCO World Heritage Site
+ Spectacular Dolomite landscapes
+ Attractive town, upmarket shops and galleries
+ Excellent nursery slopes
+ Good eating on and off the mountain
+ Easy to get to via magnificent Venice!
– Fragmented ski area
– Erratic natural snowfall (but good snow canons)
– Expensive by Italian standards
– Limited challenges for advanced skiers
– Many bars and restaurants close early (10pm)