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Venice and the Italian Dolomites Ski Safari

Last season, Clare, one of our Ski Consultants, was lucky enough to experience one of our favorite city and ski itineraries – Venice and the Dolomites. A perfect adventure for those who love mountains, good food, culture and something a little different. 

In early December I was lucky enough to join the ‘Dolomite Mountains Ski Safari’ for a pre-season taster encompassing Venice with skiing and mountain huts (‘rifugios’). The pre-arrangements went something like this…

Kirsty (Scott Dunn Ski Product Development Manager): “Clare, are your great loves skiing, exploring and great food and wine?”
Me: “Yes!”
Kirsty: “Then a luxury ski safari in the heart of the Dolomites is right up your street and I have just arranged for you to go and research it! Pack your skis, your flight to Venice leaves tomorrow!”

Starting off my ski trip to the Italian Dolomites with a night in Venice was magical. The fresh breeze whipped at our faces and the sun (very rare in Venice for this time of year) shone, creating a photographer’s dream and a chance to sit with an espresso and take it all in! In the words of the artist and sculptor, Arbit Blatas, “In the winter, Venice is like an abandoned theatre. The play is finished but the echoes remain…” and how true this was! A walking tour around this enchanting city is a must. Our local guide, Cristina, was mesmerizing with all her facts, figures and tales of masked debauchery!
Venice has recently been put on the map a little more in the celebrity world with the Amal Alamuddin/George Clooney wedding back in September 2014 where their glamorous reception and nuptials were held at the Aman Canal Grande hotel.

After a private water taxi ride up the Grand Canal in true James Bond style, we met our driver, Sandro, and were soon making our way away from the plains of Venice to the mountains of the Dolomites. The Italians don’t believe in going too long without eating and so we soon found ourselves at the Relais & Chateaux Hotel Villa Abbazia at Treviso, in the Prosecco region. Lunch was served in the Michelin star restaurant ‘La Corte’.

The rest of the journey was a little more subdued as we rested our heads on the cold glass windows of the minivan and continued with our ascent to the mountains. As the temperature dropped, the landscape changed and the dramatic Dolomites surrounded us – a strikingly beautiful area, the sheer pale rock faces of the limestone mountains, rising from the snow-covered slopes beneath. The peaks seem to have been sliced off, leaving jagged horizontal lines that are wreathed in pink cloud as the sun rises and sets. Arriving in Cortina d’Ampezzo we collected our skis, had a quick change and made our way to the hotel’s dining room for dinner…it had, after all, been a while since we had eaten!!

Unfortunately the next day, the snow, or lack of it, had forced our carefully planned itinerary to be tweaked slightly and instead of skiing over to one of the mountain rifugios to spend the night, we skied in Cortina in the ‘Tofano’ and ‘Falloria’ area and had a late lunch in one of the more accessible rifugios. The ‘Dolomiti Superski’ area is made up of 1,200km of runs and 460 lifts in 12 different ski areas, located in South Tyrol – an intriguing mix of Italian and German cultures. Road signs offer you at least two, sometimes three variations, and when you walk into a shop there’s always a moment of sizing up before you decide to go for a “Buongiorno”, a “Guten Tag” or even a “Gruss Gott!”

Our mountain guide, Marco, was great and also quite easy to look at…if you see what I mean!! What Marco doesn’t know about the Dolomites isn’t worth knowing; his knowledge was endless. Expertly guided we covered many more miles than we initially thought, given that the snow had a hidden agenda this season! Giuseppe, the Dolomite Mountains’ professional photographer had been tasked with accompanying us to take ‘snowy action packed’ photos for their web site – this was a true test of his skill! Snow conditions were great actually, however, there was no off-piste or back country exploring and we couldn’t access the rifugios that offer overnight accommodation, which was a real shame as waking up at 2,413m above sea level in a hut in the middle of the mountain range would have been amazing.

Next stop on our ski tour was Brunico, about an hour’s drive north of Cortina. We skied on the Kronplatz mountain, but as the world and his dog had also had that idea, we decided that it was of course time to refuel and we made our way down to the ‘Agnello Bianco’ restaurant. The Christmas markets were in full swing in Brunico and after a vino caldo (mulled wine) we all piled back into our minivan and headed to San Cassiano, in the Alta Badia area of the Dolomites. The Rosa Alpina is a charming hotel with a two star Michelin restaurant ‘Saint Hubertus’ which to my joy we were booked into the following evening!

We had a great day’s skiing at Val Gardena which was just a short drive over the Gardena pass. San Cassiano is really centrally placed in the Dolomiti Superski area with quick and easy access to the infamous ‘Sella Ronda’ (an amazing circuit around Gruppo Sella, with Selva Gardena, Corvara, Arabba and Canazei at each corner of a four-valley square).

After a great morning’s skiing putting quite a few miles under our (expanding) belts, we headed over to the Emilio Comici rifugio for another amazing meal! This rifugio gets a fresh fish delivery three times a week and prides itself on the seafood cuisine it offers. It is well worth a stop here, even if it’s just to visit the high tech restroom!

Arriving back at San Cassiano, I had a quick look around one of the other hotels that we work closely with, Hotel Fanes. With its impressive Spa, this hotel offers the ultimate in Italian hospitality. They were just getting ready to open their new ‘loft’ accommodation, which each have a private Finnish sauna. The views from this hotel are spectacular and even your peripheral vison can’t take in the expanse of the vista! Absolutely awe inspiring views of the village below and the mountain range opposite.

Saving the best for last was certainly the name of the game on this trip as we took our seats in Norbert Niederkofler’s restaurant ‘St Hubertus’ at the Rosa Alpina. Norbert apparently chose against a career as a professional skier to become a Michelin-starred chef and that evening, as we dined like kings on all the fresh local produce, we all thanked him for his decision!

For more information, please give one of our Ski Consultants a call on 0203 603 3555 or visit scottdunn.com.

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