Swindon Business News Travel: Get on your ‘fat bike’ for a magical March ski trip to the Italian Dolomites

March 7, 2018

In the second of two exclusive reports to coincide with the near record-breaking depth of snow this ski season, Swindon Business News travel editor ANNE GORRINGE discovers the delights of Val Gardena in the stunning Italian Dolomites

Love skiing in winter and mountain biking in summer? This month you can do both in the Italian Dolomites by adding fat biking – cycling on snow on bikes equipped with tyres up to five inches thick – to the traditional attractions of a springtime trip to the slopes. 

Fat biking now takes its place alongside the torchlit evening walks, snowshoe excursions and climbing expeditions organised by the tourist board in Val Gardena. 

Fat biking with the jagged and beautiful Dolomite mountain range in the background. Photo: Anne Gorringe

That’s great for those who love the mountains but don’t necessarily want to ski every minute of every day – or who, quite simply, want to add a new dimension to their trip.

Thanks to its magical scenery and historical significance, the valley of Val Gardena in north-eastern Italy was awarded World Heritage status in 2009. It is also notable for its cable railway connection to Alpe Di Suisi – Europe’s largest mountain plateau – and access to the renowned Sellaronda ‘carousel’.

This panoramic 42km circular trip takes skiers across four passes from South Tyrol to Trenton and the Bellini Dolomites on a single day – with the option to ski round it in both directions (the clockwise trail is the most challenging).

The full tour takes around four hours and runs are broken up by lifts to the next part of the route. For full effect, take advantage of freshly-groomed snow with the ‘breakfast start’, organised by the tourist board – usually each Tuesday when they arrange for the lift to open at 7am (check with the tourist board).

As well as early access to the slopes, you also get a hearty breakfast at a mountain-top café some 2,300 metres up.

We stayed in Selva, the highest of Val Gardena’s three villages, at the ski-in, ski-out Hotel Miravalle, close to the Dantercepies gondala, which links directly to the Sellaronda. 

Arriving at the Sofie Hutte after hitching a lift from the Seceda gondola. Photo: Anne Gorringe

Impressive investment in snow-making equipment here in recent years means that, even when snow isn’t good in other parts of the Alps, there are still plenty of runs to chose from, whatever your skill level.

But skiing isn’t the only attraction here. Great slope-side cafés offer sumptuous pasta dishes and stunning seafood.

My favourite is the Sofie Hutte on the Seceda plateau at an altitude of 2,410m. I’d previously called by this stunning location on a summer walking holiday, when I gazed out across a grassy meadow. So I was looking forward to seeing it in winter. 

This time we’d booked for lunch followed by a special gin-tasting tutoring. 

But first, there was the question of getting there. After a full morning’s exercise on the slopes, I left my skis behind to catch the Seceda gondola from the village of Ortisei – one of the two other villages in Val Gardena. While sporty Selva is the highest, Ortisei is the main village at the entrance of the valley (laid-back Saint Christina is in the middle). 

Arriving at the top of the gondola, my ‘chauffeur’ pulled up to whisk me on a snowmobile down the slippery, 200-metre slope to the Sofie Hutte. As we sped over the glistening snow, I felt like James Bond’s sidekick.

Screeching to a halt in front of the pretty, chalet-style cafe, I was delighted to be greeted by the same host we’d met in summer. The restaurant is run by the Prinoth family and Markus Prinoth is sommelier and gin-tutor here. He paired perfect wines with each course. Simply superb. 

Other great lunchtime spots include the Rifugio Emilio Comici, a great slope-side restaurant at the top of the Comici gondolas. Seafood is one of its great specialities. Once again – it’s worth booking in advance to guarantee a table.

Host at the Sofie Hutte, Markus Prinoth, pours the wine. Photo courtesy of Val Gardena – Groden

Read on for my guide to making the most of a March trip.

THE VAL GARDENA: It’s a 25km-long valley with three main villages – Ortisei, Selva di Gardena and Santa Christina – and is located just 45 miles from the border with Austria. The locals here are proud of their Ladin cultural heritage and around 85% of the population speak Ladin – a unique blend of Italian and German. The rest speak either Italian or German. If you’re in Ortisei, look out for the local art – woodcarving is a speciality.

SELVA: Is the highest of the three villages in Val Gardena at an altitude of 1,563 metres and serves as a direct gateway to the Sellaronda – a plus point for skiiers.

Fat biking – it's a lot of fun. Photo: Anne Gorringe

SKI THE SELLARONDA: This is the world-famous skiing circuit on the Passo Sella. Follow orange to go clockwise or green to travel counter-clockwise on this scenic 42km tour, which takes three to four hours. A big novelty this season is a new €18m state-of-the-art gondola, complete with luxury racing- car style heated leather seats. Look out for it on the anti-clockwise route of the Sellaronda.

COST OF A SKI PASS: The Dolomiti Superski pass gives skiers access to 1,200km of slopes – with 450 ski lifts across 12 ski areas. An adult superpass costs from €235 (around £210) for six days.

FAT BIKING: Extra-wide tyres and low tyre pressure reputedly give the bike grip and the sensation of ‘floating’ on snow – though fat biking is harder work than traditional mountain biking.

ROCK – ON THE SNOW: If you visit between March 10-18 lookout for the annual music festival on the slopes. Enjoy a flavour of the local Ladin music when the Dolomites come alive to the sound of rock… and a little bit of rockabilly at the Rock the Dolomites music festival. 

The Rock the Dolomites music festival. Photo courtesy of Val Gardena Tourist Board

Bands will be performing in slope-side cafés and down in town on Sunday March 11 in the car park of Hotel Stella. See www.rockthedolomites.com 

WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO DO IN VAL GARDENA? Val Gardena Active offers activities throughout the ski season such as torchlit evening walks, snowshoe excursions, fat biking and climbing for those who love the mountains but don’t want to ski/board every day. https://www.valgardena-active.com/  

WHERE TO STAY: Enjoy ski-in, ski-out facilities at the four-star Hotel Miravalle in Selva di Gardena, which has special SuperSun packages from €810 pp half board available from March 17 to the end of the season (April 7), giving  seven nights for the price of six, plus a voucher to buy a six-day ski pass and ski rental for the price of five days. Tel: 0039 0471 795166. http://www.hotelmiravalle.it/en/

GETTING THERE: Nearest airports to Val Gardena are Innsbruck (easyJet fly from Bristol in the winter; British Airways fly from Heathrow) then a road transfer of 1.5 hours, or Verona (BA and easyJet from Gatwick) then two hours road transfer. For more information on Val Gardena, email info@valgardena.it or call 00 39 0471 777 777. For package tours, Inghams and Crystal are the main UK tour operators to the area. More information visit www.valgardena.it/en

SEE THE WORLD’S LONGEST SLALOM HERE IN APRIL: Around 650 skiers take part in the annual Südtirol Gardenissima, starting at 8am on April 7 from high up on Seceda to the Col Raiser valley station.

The Dolomites dominating the skyline with their pinky-red glow at sunset. Photo courtesy of Val Gardena – Groden

Tradition demands this much-loved race is open to skiers of every level (provided they have a medical certificate proving a clean bill of health!). Further info at www.gardenissima.eu

WANT TO KNOW MORE? Go to www.valgardena.it/en email info@valgardena.it or call 0039 0471 777 777


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