Consider a change of scenery this winter. Skiing in the Dolomites offers relatively gentle runs, tasty inexpensive dining and a spectacular skyline of craggy peaks.
The Dolomiti Superski, the world's largest ski network, has 1,200 kilometres of slopes and 450 lift facilities, reaching above 3,000 metres. Protected from cold northerly winds by the Alps, the South Tyrol enjoys a climate that is exceptionally mild and warm.
One of the most exciting ski routes in Europe: the Sellaronda is a 40-kilometre circular skitour around the dramatic Sella massif. The Sellaronda links Val Gardena, Alta Badia, Val di Fassa and Arabba in a panoramic day-long tour.
Here's our pick of the best areas for skiing in the Dolomites:
Alta Badia: A foodie's dream
The food in Alta Badia is a combination of Austrian and Italian, with local Ladin influences - making for a delicious fusion. The South Tyrol boasts 16 Michelin stars, three of which are in Alta Badia.
Each year, sophisticated dishes created by the area's Michelin-starred chefs are served up in Alta Badia's mountain huts in a concept called A taste for skiing. This means you can taste high-class cuisine while wearing ski boots, like the suckling pig with potato foam and truffles at the Mesoles Hut (2,000m).
For the simpler palate, local specialities on the mountain include 'turtres', traditional pancakes filled with spinach and ricotta, 'panicia', a barley soup, and 'kaiserschmarren', a sweet, fluffy pancake with cranberry jam and sugar.
The largest and liveliest of Alta Badi's six resorts is Corvara. Its compact centre is lined with bars and restaurants. Alta Badia's sunny ski area, served by a modern lift system, is largely made up of blue and red runs, making it best suited to beginners and intermediates. The terrain and relaxed atmopshere is also a big hit with families.
Get a taste for skiing in Alta Badia. Courtesy of Pablo Monteagudo
Cortina d'Ampezzo: Glamour on the slopes
Cortina is a genuinely Italian resort with old-world elegance. The heart of the town - Corso Italia - has a long pedestrianised shopping street which is dotted with antique shops, art galleries and jewellery shops. The resort attracts the highrollers from Rome and Milan to its glitzy chalets. You'll also find Michelin-starred cuisine and five-star hotels.
The Cristallo Spa & Golf Hotel, a five-star luxury hotel, opened its doors in 1901 and has been a favourite with kings, princes and dukes of the 20th century. The Ultimate Crystal Spa features an indoor swimming pool overlooking the Tofane Mountains and the Transvital Swiss Beauty Centre and fitness club. The 18-hole golf course winds through the majestic mountain scenery.
Ristorante Tivoli, a Michelin-starred restaurant located at the foot of the Tofane, is considered one of the best in Cortina and famed for its creative take on wild game and mountain dishes.
Seat of the first Winter Olympic games in 1956, Cortina d'Ampezzo's ski area is known for its beautiful mountains, varied terrain and good beginner's area. On the downside its lift system is considered pretty outdated and ski areas a little fragmented.
Cortina d'Ampezzo centre. Courtesy Pablo Monteagudo
Val Gardena: three charming villages
Val Gardena has been crowned 'most beautiful ski resort in Europe' and is well deserving of its title. It is made up of three villages: Selva Gardena, Ortisei and S. Cristina. Inhabitants of Val Gardena speak German, Italy and Ladin (native language). The ski area is characterised by gentle, wide-open pistes, best suited to intermediates and beginners.
Selva Gardena (1,563m) set beside the river, is the largest of the Val Gardena's resorts and best placed with easy access to skiing in all directions. The village oozes charm, with decorative woodcarvings, an old parish church and castle ruins. But don't let all history and culture trick you into thinking it is a low-key resort, quite the opposite: Selva Gardena has some of the liveliest bars and clubs in the Dolomites.
Ortisei (1,236m) has a pedestrianed centre with an old church, shops and cafes - ideal for evening strolls. The narrow, winding streets are not driver-friendly, hence the village doesn't suffer from congestion. High-quality accommodation is found further up the hill.
Santa Cristina (1,428m) is the smallest of Val Gardena's resorts. Its pretty centre offers good restaurants and lively apres-ski. Though further from the Sella Ronda circuit than Selva, its has direct access to the slopes on the north side of town, so skiing isn't a chore.
Old parish church in Selva Gardena. Courtesy Zipckr
Madonna di Campiglio: 150km of crowd-free slopes
Away from the Dolomiti Superski area, Madonna di Campiglio (1,550m) has a secluded position in Val Renena. This relative isolation helps keep Campiglio's slopes free from crowds, in fact by late afternoon they're virtually empty.
Campiglio's ski area is made up of four areas: Passo Groste, Monte Spinale, Pradalago and Pancugolo. The resort is also linked to neighbouring Folgarida and Marilleve. And from 2011-12, a new gondola lift will connect Pinzolo to Campiglio making 150 kilometres of lift-linked terrain under one pass. Five main lifts rise out of Campiglio to access the linked areas. Runs reach an altitude of 2,580 metres and snow reliability is good. The Ursus snowpark with half-pipe, quarter-pipe and boardercross hosts the Freestyle World Cup.
Campiglio's exclusive vibe makes it popular with wealthy Italian families, yet it is more understated than Cortina and its pedestrianised centre has an intimate atmopshere. Evenings are spent eating, shopping and strolling.
Crowd-free slopes of Madonna di Campiglo. Courtesy of Birnardo
More information on skiing in the Dolomites at DolomitiSuperski.com.
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