Five-star Skiing and an Atmospheric Snowshoe Hike in Northern Italy

Five-star Skiing and an Atmospheric Snowshoe Hike in Northern Italy

Fine wisps of snow drifted into our faces as we trudged along the tree-lined track, gently blown from branches that sagged wearily in the dimming light.

Spruce, laden with the fresh-fallen snow, bordered our route while overhead lonely gondolas hung from their metal ropeway, silhouetted and still in time, frozen for the night.

Apart from occasional chatter, the only sound was the scrape-crunch-scrape-crunch of our snowshoes.

A few moments earlier, as a small group wrapped against the cold, we had set off from Patascoss near Madonna di Campiglio in the Dolomites on a Snowmoon snowshoe hike.

Except, there was no moon.

The clouds were low, heavy with the precious snow that continued to fall as darkness embraced our route.

But it didn’t seem to matter.

“You may not see the Full Moon,” remarked our guide as we set off, “but you can feel it.”

Small hillock

The low visibility blocking out the Full Moon, which in February is formally known as the Snow Moon, seemed an acceptable trade-off in a ski area, desperate – as were so many in Europe – for a much-needed snowfall.

Indeed, the sense of relief, the joy, the exuberance of fresh snow, was palpable throughout the resort.

After half an hour, we turned off the track into deeper soft snow and climbed through woodland, pausing at a small hillock.

We gathered in a semi-circle before Liuba, a local actress, recited poetry; the lines of verse reflecting the mood and the ambience of the deep soft, snow; of the unseen full moon lurking behind the cloud.

She read in Italian: firstly Umberto Saba’s ‘Neve’ and then ‘Sulla Luna’ (On the Moon) by Gianni Rodari…where he urges the world not to send a general, a banker or a minister to the moon. Instead. He wrote:

“It must be a poet landing on the Moon:
With his head in the clouds, he’s been there for while..
Accustomed to dreaming the most beautiful dreams”

poetry reading in the snow

Warming glow

No translation was needed to appreciate the beauty and sentiment of the words. It was a truly moving interlude.

We stayed in the snow for a few moments longer, a small group contentedly alone and absorbing the ambience on a Dolomiti hillside.

Soon after, we arrived amid the warming glow of Malgo Ritort where steaming mugs of gluhwein, bowls of goulash soup and a hearty chunk of cake awaited.

When not covered in snow, the restaurant is surrounded by grassy hillsides where traditional agriculture is undergoing a revival, based around the Rendana cattle that is native to the Trentino region and providing local meat and dairy products.

As we drank and ate, we forgave the clouds for hiding the Full Moon; an acceptance that snow was needed to replenish the slopes and resuscitate a ski season.

warming glass of gluhwein

Alpine adventurers

The Madonna di Campiglio ski area is in the Trentino region in the Brenta Dolomites and sits at 1500m above sea level with the highest runs nearing 2500m above sea level in this beautiful, jagged, ancient landscape that feels so different to the mountains of France and Austria.

The Dolomites are some of the oldest rock formations on the planet and as a designated UNESCO world heritage site they form a formidable and thrilling backdrop.

The village itself is picturesque and perhaps looks older than it really is.

For centuries, all that was here were a few houses and a monastery before English and German alpine adventurers arrived in the 19th century. It then became popular as a winter getaway for the Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph I and his wife Elisabeth of Bavaria, a connection still celebrated in carnivals and festivals in Madonna di Campiglio.

Its potential as a winter destination gained momentum during the early years of the 20th century when ski races were held.

World Cup ski run

World Cup

Eventually, it became a host resort for the FIS Ski World Cup events, now claiming the epithet as the oldest World Cup venue in Italy.

The latest race – the 70th edition – took place on December 22, thanks to abundant pre-Christmas snowfalls, with the Night Slalom won by Switzerland’s Marco Schwarz duly following in the tracks of ski legends such as Stenmark, Tomba and Rocca.

Alberta Voltolini from the local tourist office explained how the area gained fame across Italy from the early ski races of the 1950s and 60s as the resort developed.

“Today, the history of the World Cup is connected with the history of Madonna di Campiglio,” she said.

Up to 20,000 spectators line the bowl at Cinque Laghi at the bottom of the 3Tre race piste to watch the drama.

It is a glamorous and modern attraction for a ski resort, where the first skiers came from Milan, Brescia, Lombardy and Trentino. Today, guests arrive from more than 60 countries to enjoy a super ski terrain that sits within a beautiful natural park set against the majestic backdrop of the Dolomite mountains.

ski lift

Groomed piste

The ski areas of Madonna di Campiglio, Pinzolo and Folgarida-Marilleva are connected by 58 lifts linking 155km of groomed piste and an altitude range from 850-2500m.

As well as the World Cup run there are other challenging blacks, such as Amazzonia and Pancugolo, but the high number of reds and blues make this an attractive resort for intermediates and improving beginners.

“There is a lot of area to ski,” says Stefano Ferrari from the Nazionale Des Alpes Ski School as he guided us up to the highest point, Passo Groste at 2442m above sea level, where there is a choice of black, red or blue down.

Over a couple of days, in changing conditions as snow continued to fall, we covered the Monte Spinale (2101m) and Pradalgo (2095m) areas and then into Pinzolo with its new lift system and underground departure and arrival stations, which also soars up to 2100m from a base point of around 800m.

“Madonna di Campiglio has a great atmosphere,” continued Stefano. “It has the World Cup race, big open slopes that have more sun than shade, and good snow quality.

“There are lovely blues because of the valleys, but there are difficult blacks too. There is enough terrain to keep you here for a week or more.”

Attic Restaurant PinZolo

High dining

The resort also has a reputation for fine dining, in the village or at altitude on the slopes.

On the mountain, the restaurants serve the finest cuisine, such as Stoppani at Passo Groste with traditional meats, salamis and cheese, and main courses of deer, veal, duck breast or salmon.

At Panzolo, the new Attic restaurant is proving a popular dining destination on the mountain, where visitors can include former Italian Prime Ministers and ski champions. Order anything from char to rabbit.

Hotels also offer a traditional dining experience while the resort has three Michelin-starred restaurants, including Il Gallo Cedrone, with a superb tasting menu that embraces such delights as a trio of veal, beef risotto or Dolomiti bio egg, slow cooked and creamy with mezzano cheese and smoked potato puff.

There are numerous more gourmet food destinations and others serving local food, plus apres-ski bars and cafes. And being Italy, the wines – many from the region – are paired perfectly with the food.

 Alpen Suite Hotel

Outdoor wellness

Many of the hotels, such as the five-star Alpen Suite where I stayed, have pools, spas and therapies, with an emphasis on outdoor as well as indoor wellness and activities.

There are also opportunities to hike through the snow, enjoy ski touring, cross country skiing and sledding, to eventually work up an appetite to savour the excellent regional cuisine.

The combination of amazing scenery, wellness, and diverse dining adds to the allure of Madonna di Campiglio.

Add in the factor of a diverse ski terrain and a season that starts early - usually in mid-November - and continues well into April, it has an obvious allure.

And given the heavy mid-season snowfalls, there’s still plenty of time to ski this fabulous resort.

ski terrain


Accommodation: Mark Nicholls stayed at the five-star Alpen Suite Hotel with comfortable rooms and suites, a restaurant and spa, visit

Flights: There are regular flights into Milan Malpensa with a three-hour transfer to the resort, plus direct flights from the UK to Bolzano from London Stansted with Sky Alps.

Ski pass: Dynamic prices, depending on the time of season with online tickets offering the best value, plus the new Star Pass card, which replaces the traditional season ticket and operates as a pay-for-what-you-ski card. Traditional ski passes, for example, cost from 72 euro for a low season day pass to 389 euros for a six-day adult pass in high season, visit

Snow shoeing tours: Can be booked through the local tourist office. The Snowmoon tour costs 40 euros, takes 2-3 hours and includes food and drink, visit

For more information visit:

snowy street at night

Image credits: Madonna di Campiglio tourist office