Ever since latter-day royals Franz Josef and Sissy graced the place, Madonna di Campiglio in Italy’s Brenta Dolomites has had a reputation as a chic, affluent resort.
Nowadays, chic seems to mean tottering around snowy footpaths in fashionable, high-heeled boots (we are talking about Italian women) and rushing home to don designer gear before a four course meal in one of the resort’s many four star hotels.
The resort itself is modern and pleasant enough but lacks the cobbled side-street charm of Italian villages like Courmayeur or the classy atmosphere of France’s Val d’Isere. Well-heeled Italian families aren’t put off by this however, visiting the resort numerous times each season and kitting themselves out with expensive gear and skis the minute they arrive.
One of the earliest established Italian ski areas, Madonna seems to have held onto its place in the top five resorts in Italy thanks to a continuing friendliness and sense of tradition.
The region also has a reputation for stunning scenery and both the flight to Bergamo and the transfer to the resort promise great things. During the flight, passengers are mesmerised by miles of alps, while the two hour transfer takes you through some pretty areas. However, the area around Madonna di Campiglio itself isn’t as stunning as you might expect, not matching, for example, the impressive scenery of Valle d’Aosta’s Monterosa region.
At times you will be pleasantly surprised to find that Madonna’s reputation is not all it’s cracked up to be. Everyone talks about how expensive it is and while the town’s top nightclub, Club Des Alpes, lives up to that impression, it is possible to walk into any bar on the main street and have a small beer or glass of wine for u2. Bar owners also have the delightful habit of giving you free tapa-style food, even if you’re not staying for long.
On the mountain, there’s an extensive area of tree-line skiing to keep intermediates happy. Areas include Pradalago, Spinale and Groste with links to nearby Marilleva and Folgarida. Experts won’t be too impressed by the lack of tough runs, although I had great fun on black Amazione.
And if you’re looking for moguls, you’ll be sorely disappointed. The black Pista Nera can reportedly boast some big bumps but by all accounts, Italian skiers are so fussy that if the pistes are mogulled, they contact the resort company to complain.
On the plus side, Italians stay off the mountain when it’s snowing, phoning their ski school to cancel class and leaving the rest of us to play around in fresh snow on virtually empty slopes.
More advanced skiers should make the hour-long journey (usually organised by your tour operator) to Passo Tonale, which is included on your lift pass and features glacier skiing. With small off-piste areas next to the pistes, it’s a good playground for a day.
My first impression of Madonna di Campiglio was that along with Italian families, it attracts older, quieter European skiers – I think goofs and geeks are the words I’m searching for. There’s a serious lack of apres-ski fun which needs to be addressed by the powers-that-be if they want to attract larger numbers of Irish skiers. The only lively apres-ski I found was on the mountain, in a bar called Montenilo on the Spinale run down to the village. Featuring live music and middle-aged men intent on bopping, it was a howl. Boch, over in the Groste area, also has a reputation for lively afternoons.
But at 9.30pm on a January night, the place can be a like a ghost-town, both streets and bars empty.
When the younger Italians do go out, they don’t do so until at least 11pm, staying out till 3 or 4am. But in fairness, there is some liquid lunacy to be found in the Swiss Cantina and the Underground, both of which feature live music and the Club des Alpes, which had a great spark of Ibiza madness about it on the night I was there.
Be warned; on the night I visited, they had a minimum drinks charge of u15, even if you only had one drink. And on certain evenings, admission can be as high as u30. Naturally, they don’t go out of their way to explain the system to you, so ask beforehand.
As in Livigno, bars here have a bizarre practise of giving you drinks cards, which they stamp every time you have a drink. You then pay as you leave but the point of the whole exercise seems stunningly futile.
In what was once part of Austria, skiers can now view both the old and new borders from the top of the mountain. Driving from Madonna di Campiglio to Passo Tonale also throws up a wealth of information about first world war battles fought in the region and old bombs still being discovered in the mountains.
My first attempt at snowshoeing – the most ancient form of transport in the alps – was also a refreshing, relaxing experience in the company of 72-year-old guide Cesare Maestri, a mountain climber so renowned for his skills that he is known as ‘Ragno delle Dolimiti’ or the ‘Spider of the Dolomites’.
n Car-free village centre.
n Uncrowded slopes.
n Extensive intermediate skiing.
n Husky-dog rides available.
n Friendly resort staff.
n Good mountain restaurants.
n Excellent choice of three and four star hotels.
n Lack of apres ski.
n Language. Levels of English spoken are mixed.
n Hotel entertainment programmes are geared towards Italian families but they will make an effort to include you.
n Spread out resort.
n On the mountain, poor link between Groste and Pradalago
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