Val Gardena, in the Südtirol region of Italy, is the umbrella name given to a group of villages – Ortisei, San Cristina and Selva Val Gardena – in the heart of the beautiful Dolomites, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Straddled along the floor of a beautiful valley, with direct access to the classic Sella Ronda circuit and the vast Dolomiti Superski area, these villages offer a quintessential Italian skiing experience, but with an Austrian twist!
Selva, which sits smack in the middle of the two-way Sella circuit, is ideal for intermediate skiers, who can explore its local range of open and wooded red runs. And just 5km away are the sunny, open bowls of Ortisei – perfect terrain for novices and early intermediates. Val Gardena has 175km of runs of its own, mostly easy and intermediate, but as part of the lift-linked Dolomiti Superski area, it also has access to a huge 1,200km of runs in 12 ski areas, with a high quality lift system, which is simply too big an area to ski and explore over a one week ski holiday, so it begs you to return and if not just for the skiing, then for the wonderful food on offer! Really an intermediates and catering paradise with perhaps the best intermediate pistes in Italy, washed down with the best food and wine, some of which you can sample in divine mountain huts.
Val Gardena is a superb destination choice but is not a big powder and off-piste area. That said, the resort does offer access to some decent off-piste around the Sella Massif. The Forcella Mezdì, the Val Lasties and the Forcella del Pordoi have some beautiful deep snowy descents. No matter, people just want to experience the Dolomiti Superski area with Val Gardena being lift linked with Alta Badia and Val di Fassa. Combined with Arabba Marmolada, these resorts make up the excellent Sella Ronda circuit.
First-time visitors may be confused by the on-piste signage, as most places names are shown by both their Italian and German names. Once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, this is a tri-lingual area, with the local Ladin dialect also spoken. Hence Selva is also Wolkenstein and Ortisei is St Ulrich. San Cristina is simple enough as St Christina. You quickly get used to it, however, as you do the food, which mixes the best of Italian and Austrian cuisine. All this adds up to a passion for life, food, music, fun and perhaps…perfection!
Val Gardena also provides several access points to the Sella Ronda circuit and is home to a sizeable part of the route, a 24km ski circuit that circles the Sella Massif, crossing four passes and taking in four valleys.Easily skied in either direction in a day, it’s a must-do for any visitor to the region. Made up of a mix of motorway blues and fast reds, the circuit shouldn’t take more than three hours, unless you stop for a long lunch at one of the many mountain huts that pepper Val Gardena and the other Dolomiti Superski resorts. If that’s the plan (and the food is so tasty, we’d recommend it!) local advice is to set out by 10am to avoid being stranded in the wrong valley when the lift system closes around 4pm – which involves an expensive taxi ride home.
The clockwise route offers more variety of piste and tends to be slightly quicker and sportier, but it is also the busiest option. The anti-clockwise green route is quieter but has a few extra lifts to ride. Skiers wanting a more leisurely day on the slopes can make for the linked resort of Alpe di Siusi which shares the ‘local’ ski-pass with Val Gardena and offers a much gentler set of runs. The area also has an amazing snow park below Piz Sella & the Comici hut.
As for the apres ski then if you’re more used to the dancing on the tables in your ski boots until the wee small hours, stick to Austria, which is the the Champions league of Apres!. Although there are several excellent bars in the resort villages, the après is more muted and geared to eating – in your hotel or local restaurants – than getting wasted. This being Italy, of course the food everywhere is excellent. Some of the mountain huts such as the Emilio Comici, near the Passo Sella, offer gourmet cuisine that’s a far cry from the jambon baguette and spag bol of many French mountain eateries.
La Stua in Selva is a lively, atmospheric après ski bar. Do make a point of sampling one of the local drinks – a bombardino. A kind of warm egg-nog liqueur topped off with whipped cream, it makes a change from the ubiquitous Aperol Spritz. Non-ski activities here include ice-skating, ice-climbing, dog sled rides, horse-drawn sleighs, tobogganing from the top station of the Rasciesa chair lift in Ortisei, and tandem paragliding. As regards where to stay then mainly your choice is restricted to a number of excellent hotels, with the odd apartment and a couple of catered chalets thrown in and we are only too happy to find and recommend your ideal accommodation, with your best choice of airport being Innsbruck.