SKIING and eating in Italy go together like a horse and sleigh. There is something about that crisp mountain air, plus the energy of whizzing down snowy slopes on skis or snowboards that make a perfect partnership with hearty mountain food eaten in rustic huts, chilled Prosecco with posh nosh and steaming ‘friendship cups’ of grappa and coffee to round off a perfect day.
'Sprawled on my stomach, spiked shoes flapping in the air, legs in knots, dangling perilously over a steep piste, I squeaked for help. Luigi sprang into action'
The Italians are passionate about their cuisine and their wines, and those who visit her mountains can share that enthusiasm without worrying about calories. Just ski a little harder the next day.
Two Italian ski resorts that capture that foodie vibe are Madesimo and San Cassiano (pictured above).
You probably won’t have heard of Madesimo…but are familiar with its ubersmart neighbour, St Moritz, just 40km across the Swiss border
Madesimo is as modest as St Moritz is glitzy. And the prices reflect that. Smart Milanese prefer to spend their euros here rather than Swiss francs. Tucked away in the Lepontine Alps in the Lombardy region the village has fewer than 600 residents, most of them involved in ski tourism.
San Cassiano is in the Alta Badia region of the Dolomites, mountains as spiky as they are colourful thanks to the coral that turns a rosy pink at sunset and sunrise. The stylish resort is on the Sella Ronda circuit, so perfect for skiers and boarders happy to try new and challenging runs from the first to the last lift of the day.
I was in heaven in both locations: taking a cooking lesson with a Michelin starred chef in Madesimo, to discover secret of perfect pasta – and skiing with Italy’s youngest Michelin star chef in San Cassiano before he shared his expertise in the kitchens of our hotel.
Madesimo is in the Valtellina valley, famed for its bresaola air-dried beef, cheeses such as Bitto and Casera, and Pizzocheri, pasta made with buckwheat flower.
When I first visited pre-Christmas a knee-deep dump of October snow was fast disappearing thanks to November rain and mild conditions. It’s the question you never want to ask on a ski trip: what to do if there’s not enough snow and more rock than white stuff? We found out. Forewarned, we took our time on the two and half hour journey from Milan Airport, making a detour to enjoy the misty delights and magnificent food around Lake Como, hoping to bump into Como’s most famous resident George Clooney. We didn’t.
We snow-shoed – a fun way to explore the bits you can’t access on skis. Except on this occasion our Maestro di Ski Luigi led us across a black run. This was not a good time to fall. Sprawled on my stomach, spiked shoes flapping in the air, legs in knots, dangling perilously over a steep piste, I squeaked for help. Luigi sprang into action, hauling me to my feet. Even an accomplished skier, a former British downhill boy racer, met the same fate but managed to struggle upright with less fuss.
So what else to do? Ice-driving lessons, skating, 70km of snowmobiling tracks... even a cinema. We rocked up the mountain in an ancient snow-cat and we cooked. Or rather, we were shown how by Michelin star chef Stefano Masanti, resplendent in a black Buckingham Palace apron with gold-embroidered crest. (In case H.M. is concerned, it was a gift from one of her former chefs to his friend).He shared the secrets of tangy minestrone, creamy risotto, silky ice cream like his granddad made using ice he’d hacked from the mountaintop, perfect pasta – don’t simmer it, just leave it for the same ‘cooking’ time in a covered saucepan of just-boiled water as salty as the sea.
Eventually we skied, even if the resort’s signature run, the famous Canalone off-piste descent, was shut. Thank goodness. It looked terrifying and ran right below the route of the cable car where every fall would be in public view.
We stuck instead to reliable steep reds pistes and more gentle sweeping blues – flattering for intermediates and ideal for novices – and prayed for more snow at one of Italy’s oldest ski resorts, where the Valchiavenna slopes range from 1,550m to 2,945m.
For another blast from the past we visited the centuries-old customs house Dogana Vegia. Now it’s a hotel/bar/restaurant with eccentric décor, glorious food and the chance to share a Grolla (a many-spouted pot containing grappa and coffee) with jolly ski instructors.
In San Cassiano we took another cookery lesson with Michelin star chef Matteo Metullio. He says he’s a better at skiing that cooking. From his horizontal position in deep snow I begged to disagree with this Yeti figure who conjured up heavenly ‘’slope food’’. This is the lofty version of Street Food, where Matteo and 13 other top international chefs have created culinary treats for skiers lunching in mountain huts from just 12 euros, blending traditional Ladin nosh with modern twists. Chickpea cream with stuffed squid took some beating – as did brook trout marinated in mountain pine with crunchy rye chips.
Off the slopes, you can happily spend down-time in the 4 star Ciasa Salares Hotel with its Michelin-starred La Siriola restaurant and the spa’s Jacuzzi, sauna or Turkish steam room.
Powder Byrne, at the luxury end of the ski market with over 35 years’ expertise, offers a bespoke service to skiers, tailor-making holidays for every whim: riding a piste-basher up the mountain for a sunrise energy-boosting breakfast at the Las Vegas refuge to ski on virgin snow before the lifts open; wine-tasting in atmospheric cellars; a thrilling water-taxi ride from Venice to the airport. What’s not to like for foodie skiers?
Gill Martin was a guest of Momenturm Ski, which offers tailor-made packages with prices starting from £725 per person for 7 nights at the 4* Hotel Andossi, half board with return flights from London Gatwick to Milan and car hire. For more information visit www.momentumski.com or call 020 7371 9111 .
Ski hire prices start at 90 euros for adults over six days, 60 euos for children with snowboards the same price. Six day ski passes start at 137 euros per adult and 110 euros for children (69 euros for younger ones).
The Madesimo Vallespluga Ski School offers group lessons for €100 for 5 days tuition. www.scuolascimadesimo.org
The Hotel Andossi is a 4* hotel in Madesimo. www.hotelandossi.it
Cooking course: 10 euros per person for the dates organized by the Tourist Office. For a private course with a chef prices start from 150 euros for three to four hours.
For more information on Madesimo as a resort and everything going on through the year visit www.visitmadesimo.it
The nearest airports to Madesimo are at Milan (138km) and Bergamo (119km), with direct flights from the UK. Momentum Ski offer a tailor-made packages with prices starting from £725 per person for seven nights at the 4* Hotel Andossi, half board with return flights from London Gatwick to Milan and car hire.
The scheduled bus service, the Madesimo Express, runs from the three airports, Milan Linate, Milan Malpensa and Bergamo.
Gill Martin was a guest of Powder Byrne: 020 8246 5300 or visit www.powderbyrne.com
The Ciasa Salares Hotel in San Cassiano offers traditional, family-run ski-in ski-out accommodation. Prices from £1,760 per person sharing a superior twin room on half board for seven nights, including return flights from the UK, transfers and Powder Byrne resort service. Powder Byrne also offer Luxury Ski Weekends staying at Ciasa Salares, starting at £1,179 per adult for 4 nights from March 20 on a half board basis. Price includes return flights, transfers and concierge service. Solo trips priced accordingly.
A six day adult lift pass for the Alta Badia area ranges from £162-£202
A six day adult lift pass for the Dolomiti Superski area ranges from £175-£220
Concession prices available. More information at www.altabadia.org
The Slope Food initiative is street food on the slopes available through the winter season in 14 huts in Alta Badia, devised by Michelin-starred chefs. The new feature is the Slope Food Card. Purchase this offer to taste three Slope Foods in three different huts at a discounted price during a winter holiday for 30 euros, while each Slope Food with wine will be 12 euros, including a glass of wine, if bought individually.
Breakfast with powder snow
A ‘not to miss’ initiative running throughout the whole winter season from Tuesday to Friday morning. Leave at 6.50am or 7.20am by snowcat to a 2000m altitude for a hearty South Tyrolean breakfast, before a downhill ski on virgin slopes before the lifts open. 25 euros.
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