Ski fans will recognise this magical valley in Italy's South Tyrol from the Alpine Ski World Cup downhill race, but it's great for beginners too, says Rachel Roberts
Encircled by the magnificent massifs of the Dolomites – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – Val Gardena is part of the Dolomiti Superski area, which offers 12 skiing zones and 1,200km of slopes. It's even home to the Gardenissima, the world’s longest giant Slalom race.
Val Gardena itself comprises three mountain villages, Ortisei, Santa Cristina and Selva, which is perhaps the best-known destination for snow-sports seekers headed to this corner of northern Italy.
Val Gardena offers a decent selection of runs for skiers of all abilities, with a choice of 57 blue slopes, 79 red slopes and 11 black slopes. Alternatively, head off to Alpe Di Siusi and Dolomiti Ski for even more variety.
The village of Selva is the gateway to the Sellaronda, a circuit on every intermediate/ advanced skier’s bucket list. Known as one of the Dolomites’ most spectacular ‘circum-skis’, it’s a series of mostly red runs that traverse the mighty Sella massif. The Sellaronda offers 42km of downhill trails in a single day, all accessible by modern lifts.
The renowned ski circuit started to take shape in the 1950s, when the Marzola family turned from farming to skiing. Today, the latest generation are committed to improving the resort and most recently opened a Piz Seteur gondola this season. With 77 cabins and heated seats, it whisks 3,450 people up to an altitude of 2,102m every hour. Ski slots in the floor of the cabins also removes the mad scramble in peak times: a clever touch by designers Pininfarina, who also work with Ferrari and Maserati.
La Piz Sella is a cute snow/funpark for children and adults finding their wobbly ski legs for the first time and the beauty of Selva is that you can quickly be up on the blue runs, instead of languishing on the nursery slopes forever. Feeling like you’re in the thick of the action is a great psychological boost and definitely helped my progress.
Being Italy, mountain meals are top notch. Emilio Comici is a fabulous mountain ‘hut’ serving fresh seafood caught daily down south along the Italian coastline. And with individual hooks for helmets, hats and gloves within easy reach inside every cubicle, it’s obvious a skier masterminded the build. Outside it has ‘turntable’ seating which rotates to follow the sun, as well as a fire pit for when night falls and the bombardinos come out (a cockle-warming egg nog-based drink).
Val Gardena attracts a fairly sophisticated crowd (predominantly Italian), so jagerbomb monsters need not apply. Sip on a Hugo, the local aperitif, instead. Made from prosecco, elderflower cordial and fresh mint, it’s very moreish. Ortisei has the liveliest off-piste scene and some fabulous restaurants and bars, where locals speak Ladin, a Rhato-Romance language that has been spoken here for centuries.
For those fancying a day off from skiing, the Puez-Odle Nature Park has plenty of trails to explore, or go see the fine handiwork of the valley’s woodcarvers at the Art Studio Demetz in Ortisel – it's a centuries-old local tradition.
ANCIENT CHURCH IN PASSO GARDENA
LAST YEAR'S ALPINE SKI WORLD CUP IN ACTION
TAKING IN THE DOLOMITES
THE RESORT OF ORTISEI AND ITS FROZEN FOUNTAIN