Italy’s peak: skiing in Trentino

Skiing with a difference - it's time for UK skiers to stop overlooking the Italian Dolomites


There’s a meteorological phenomenon called a capping inversion, creating a thin layer of cloud beneath the mountain tops. The name might not be particularly memorable, but the sight certainly is — and this is my memory of skiing in Paganella, jagged snow-capped peaks of the Italian Dolomites peeking through a sea of cloud.

Made up of five little Italian villages, the Paganella ski region is popular with domestic tourists and visitors from eastern Europe but largely unknown to Brits.

In the northern province of Trentino, just a short drive from the city of Trento, it’s something of a hidden gem for UK skiers.

The colourful houses and restaurants tucked into the hillside are more akin to the chocolate-box ski villages of Austria — there is a lot of shared history here, after all — than the purpose-built resorts of France.

A magical white mist was draping the houses and fields of Fai della Paganella as we awoke on the first morning, staying at the Hotel Al Sole. A short walk from the hotel to the ski bus, it was a quick ride to the bottom of the chairlift.

This is the main entry point to the region’s slopes, with the lift transporting you through the trees to a central meeting point.

The slope here catches the sun in the morning, softening the snow just enough to dull the scratching sound of a freshly-bashed piste — perfect for warming up your ski legs. It’s also great for people to learn on, long and easy enough to get going but not steep enough to be daunting.

Two chairlifts later and we’re at the top, Cima Paganella. At 2,125 metres, it’s also an unbeatable point to stop and drink a Bombardino — the bright-yellow boozy, creamy and sweet concoction synonymous with the Italian pistes — while staring out across the Dolomites.

On a good day you can see Lake Garda and the snow-capped Marmolada glacier catching the sun in the distance. The run down is glorious, even without the after-effects of a warming Bombardino.

Like so many of the slopes here, it’s wide and well-pisted, and above the clouds and the tree line, you really do feel like you’re flying.

Heading down the other side of the mountain towards Andalo, the slightly larger and more lively of the two main villages, more advanced skiers can divert onto the resort’s black piste — a training slope for the Norwegian ski team. Or Andalo’s two-mile night piste is good fun for all abilities.

Paganella isn’t the most expansive in the Alps, nor the most technically challenging, but with 30 miles of pistes and 17 ski lifts, it’s a great family resort or ski-city break, with the Renaissance city of Trento not far away.

It’s also exceedingly good value, with ski passes starting at £37.50 a day and regular flights from the UK to Verona with both British Airways and easyJet.

But what really sets apart the Paganella Ski region from its European rivals is the food. Potato-filled pasta hearts for lunch at Refugio Meriz were divinely buttery, while local cheese with more pasta and red wine at Refugio Dossan was the perfect warming dinner after night skiing.

And for those who like to soothe their muscles after skiing, Hotel Al Sole has its own apres-ski wellness centre with various saunas, a Turkish bath and frigidarium, and two pools — indoor and outdoor. There is truly nothing better to end a day’s skiing than a snowy swim under the stars.

For a taste of the city along with the slopes, Trento, the capital of the Trentino region, is around an hour away, sitting on the Brenner Pass road which has connected Mediterranean Italy with northern Europe for centuries.

Dating back to Roman times, it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before being unified with Italy in 1919. But its golden age was the 15th and 16th centuries, when the city was the venue for the Council of Trent, set up by the Catholic Church to consider reforms in response to the Protestant Reformation.

Wandering around the city today, from our cozy base, Hotel America, on the edge of the old town, you can still see the frescoes dating from the same time, showing its grandeur and influence.

More historical figures and events appear on the façade of the colourful Palazzo Geremia, one of Trento’s finest examples of Renaissance architecture, with classic mythology on the 16th century Casa Cazuffi-Rella.

Set on the edge of the main Piazza Duomo, this square dates back even further, first laid out by the Romans as their central market place. The 18th-century fountain of Neptune brandishing his trident is thought to commemorate the city’s Roman name, Tridentum.

Inside the Romanesque cathedral, the Council of Trent made its decrees. Outside, the piazza is home to one of the city’s finest restaurants, Scrigno del Duomo, which serves the most sumptuous white chocolate dessert, and features a Roman-era wine cellar under its 13th century building.

It’s not all historic sights — although the 13th-century Castello del Buonconsiglio’s fortifications still loom over the city. One of Trento’s greatest attractions is much more recent.

The Museo della Scienze, or MUSE, is a stunning modern building, designed by Renzo Piano, the man behind The Shard and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

And with its triangular roofs cleverly mimicking the surrounding Dolomites, I was transported straight back to the snowy peaks where this memorable ski break began.


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