This little town in Northern Italy is great to enjoy winter snow and sports, finds Aruna Rathod
While most tourists visit Italy to experience the beauty of the Renaissance, very few know about the Alps in Northern Italy. One of the better known resort towns to enjoy the snow is Cortina - which is located in the Belluno province in the Veneto region. It is approximatly 160 kms from Venice. Cortina promises plenty of action and is a great destination to relax after doing the rounds of Rome and Florence. Known as the Queen of Dolomites, it nestles in the middle of the spectacular mountains. The Dolomites are a mountain range located in North-eastern Italy and in August 2009, these mountains were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Situated at a height of 4015 feet, Cortina is the rich man’s playground during winter, when skiing and winter sports make this beautiful town come alive. In 1956 it hosted the first Italian Winter Olympic Games. Come winter and the recesses in the
mountains come alive with hot tubs and hotter parties of the rich folk from all over the country. Even when it’s off-season (during European summers), there are things to do like biking, trekking and motorcycling. During the peak of winter most people come up here for skiing.
The village is ringed by spectacular Dolomite peaks which rise over 9,800 feet from the base area. Sunsets are picturesque, and if you want some action, check out the bobsled races and on-snow horse shows. Night action includes night clubs and discos.
The best way to reach Cortina is from Venice. Since most tourists make Venice a stop on their itinerary (the buzz of Venice is magnetic), a small bus station next to Venice railway station has super luxury buses called the Cortina Express that ply to and fro during the day. The ride costs 22 Euros and it takes two-andhalf-hours on a very scenic, winding road to reach the city centre in Cortina.
As the bus goes up smoothly, the majestic Dolomite mountains appear – grey in colour and as the sun sets, they turn a soft pink. In summer, only the peaks are covered in snow. The bus halts at the terminus and one has to walk just a few metres to reach the city square. Hotel Ancora is a good bet to stay. Besides the old world luxurious charm, the location of the hotel is also very convenient. Right in the centre of city square, one can just step down after dinner to stroll around, or shop, or just chill out at the coffee shops. One of the oldest hotels in the town, it was built in 1826, in the characteristic Ampezzano style with wooden balconies and intricately carved and painted interior details. The hotel has a Michelin star restaurant where one can sample the most amazing Risotto with Asparagus, and other Italian specialities like Potato Gnocchi and Spaghetti.
Cortina has some fine shops with traditional crafts and a superb collection for Christmas decoration. It also houses some designer labels on the shopping street as it attracts the rich and famous during winter.
Cortina with the Dolomites in the backdrop is not only scenic but has witnessed the first world war. The mountain range forms the border of Italy and Austria, thus many a battles were fought here. Once you reach the snow clad mountains with the cable car at Funiva Lagazuoi, it’s snow everywhere.
A short trek takes visitors to the place where the guns were placed during the war. If you can spare the time, take the five hour trek into the areas in the hills where the armies fought battles during the war. The walk takes visitors to all the strategic positions where the armies fought in the ranges. The peak of the Piccolo Lagazuoi, has a cross erected in the memory of the soldiers. Leaving a small coin in the cracks of the wood is supposed to bring good luck, and so the surface of the cross shines with the hundreds of coins left by the tourists. Of course, this vantage point allows you a fantastic view of the highest peaks of the Dolomites.
As a memorial to the tragic events of the war, the most extensive museum of the First World War has been set up in Cortina, consisting of the open air museums of the Lagazuoi, the 5 Torri, the Sasso di Stria and the museum of the Tre Sassi Fort. The museum complex extends to a radius of 5 kilometres and lets you discover the various aspects of the Great War in the mountains, in one of the most breathtaking walks of the Dolomites.
After doing the rounds of various points, you can descend to the base station of the cable car – where the temperature is bearable around 15 degrees. The drive back to the hotel takes one through some amazing sites like a stone cliff, a small lake surrounded by pine trees and then it’s back to the hotel for a breather.
Depending on the number of days you are in Cortina, you could just spend an entire morning or afternoon exploring the fashionable village with its cobblestones, designer stores and some fashion labels, (if you are lucky there could be a sale). Stop by at a local café and enjoy the pleasant atmosphere, while sipping on a coffee. There are plenty of craft stores and souvenirs are well priced. If you want to soak in the atmosphere just sit at the central piazza, next to the church and admire the views.
Camping at sites is a popular way to spend days in the midst of nature in Cortina. Since the resort town offers activities and beautiful views at every level, camping is a wonderful option, next to the gushing river, or on the foothills of the mighty Dolomites.
What to eat
You can have the famous Italian pizza and pastas but the region is famous for the local Ampezzo dishes like the Casunziei – stuffed with beetroot or spinach and ricotta cheese. And yes, red or white wine to accompany each dish is a must in Italy. Desserts,
could be local delicacies or the world-famous tiramisu. Don’t forget to wash down every meal with the famous Espresso that packs in a punch. A double Espresso for those who can handle it but be prepared to remain awake for hours then.
Where to eat
The Ristorante Lago Scin is situated in the heart of the Dolomites of Belluno, on the banks of the mountain lake of the same name, housed in a welcoming typical mountain building with elegant wood furnishings that give you a sense of warmth. The ideal place for candle-lit suppers or lunches in the sun, to sample the typical dishes of Ampezzo and regional cuisine. The starters range from pâté of venison with pan brioche to wild boar ham with apple salad and warm salad with ham and balsamic vinegar; the first courses include canederli (a kind of dumpling) with cheese or speck, potato gnocchi in butter, and pappardelle in a hare coulis; for your main course, there is goulasch with polenta or canederli, grilled beef chop, or venison stew with polenta.
Pizzeria II Ponte
Italy and pizzas!
The pizzas baked in the wood burn oven at the Pizzeria Il Ponte are crispy and light. Luisella and Massimiliano, owners of the restaurant have been in the business for twenty years. They even bake a special one with soya based dough. The restaurant is in the Cortina city centre and is open all year round; it has large rooms over three floors. Beside pizzas, the cooking also offers rich salads and main courses for all tastebuds. The wine list offers different labels of full bodied wines from Sardinia which are personally selected by Massimiliano.
For those who would like to ski, winter in Cortina is a great bet. Besides skiing, one can opt for a variety of activities like trekking and hiking which are refreshing and rejuvenating. The two-anda-half hour journey is extremely relaxing with an Italian coffee break before touching Venice for yet another great experience.