The second report by Briony Key in our new series of WHERE TO TAKE THE FAMILY SKIING for the forthcoming 2014/15 ski season…
Not everyone wants to ski every day, and for families with youngsters of different abilities, and widely different ages and interests, it can be hard to agree where’s best to go.
To tackle this problem, Briony’s been checking out the region around Bergamo in Italy for FamilySkiNews and was surprised how much fun she had on a winter mountain holiday without skiing!
“Come on!” encouraged my endlessly-patient guide. “You can do it!”
Sneaking an anxious peek from my treetop perch, I wasn’t sure zip-wiring was for me. Did I believe her?
I finally let go, and within a split second discovered a whole new world of wire-whizzing wonders, where you constantly test your strengths against nature … and now I definitely want more!
We were in the Parco Sospese nel Bosco Adventure Park in Italy. Parco Sospese lies in the Seriana Valley, in the heart of Lombardy, halfway between Lake Como and Lake Garda, in the vicinity of the historic city of Bergamo.
The park has 10 different courses for children and adults, so it’s a good place for all ages to experience your own mini tree-top-adventure, whether you’re a beginner or a pro.
My guide and I had come to the small village and little-known ski resort of Spiazzi di Gromo in the morning to try out snowshoeing. But what I hadn’t reckoned on was that our route was to follow a long, black run. Going uphill!
After the hefty hike, lunch at the Vodala mountain refuge was really welcome, with its magnificent views not to mention the sense of achievement.
Luckily, at that point in my trip, I didn’t know that my first zip-wire experience was imminent, which was probably just as well!
Why Bergamo?… Not only is it easy to get to, but it offers a multitude of sports and activities other than skiing or snowboarding, as I was rapidly discovering.
For families with youngsters of different skiing abilities, ages and interests, or for family members not wanting to ski every day, in some ski resorts, it can be hard to agree where to go or you might be limited to options. Not here! There are plenty of choices of sports and activities, so easy to keep coming up with treats and surprises to keep all the kids amused.
It’s also incredibly good value for money, with half day ski passes starting at €10, and mountain refugee snacks starting from €3. At the other end of the scale, you can also enjoy some incredible fine dining here if you wish to push the boat out!
A good road network allows you to arrive by air into Bergamo airport and be at lunch in the city just 20 minutes later. I know. I tried it. It was just the first of a range of easy available, cost-friendly options during my stay.
Down-town Bergamo has the busy, thriving feel of any successful city, but Upper Bergamo brings out its best.
The medieval city centre sits on a hill, and winks with photo options and ‘must sees’, from the Cittadella and Piazza Vecchia square, to the fortress, the white marble Contarini Fountain and the Piazza Duomo.
But for me its main appeal was simply wandering its cobbled streets, marvelling at the Venetian colonnades and the views over the plains to the mountains.
Beyond Bergamo, the region of Lombardy also offers a plethora of ancient cities and towns, all within a stone’s throw of Bergamo; plenty of arts and culture; stylish shopping; health resorts; mountains; lakes; rivers….. and the chance for ski-lovers to spend plenty of time on the slopes too.
Choose the Lombardy region for your annual family ski holiday, and you’ll be based in traditional towns and villages, where there are plenty of options for accommodation and ski rentals, and you’ll feel part of thriving local community. You need to hire a car (from Bergamo airport) to get the most out of a week in the area, as local buses between the various ski villages are few and far between.
I stayed at the Hotel Milano http://www.hotelmilano.com/, in Castione della Presolana, which is famed for its health resorts. The hotel’s spa was a total escape from the world’s stresses, and a chance to drift away in its bubbles.
However, before I became too relaxed, I was whisked off to the Monte Pora ski resort www.presolanamontepora.it, with the promise of ‘adventure’.
Before I knew it, I was at the Pain de la Palù mountain refuge for a typical Bergamask dinner of casonsèi (pasta stuffed with salami, roast meat, garlic, parsley, Grana cheese, melted butter, pancetta and sage). You might not think that sounds too adventurous – but sipping a stunning red Valcalepio Doc by a roaring log fire I began to realise that this place could be as calm or as crazy as you want to make it.
Oh… I almost forgot to mention… my trip to and from the refuge was by snowmobile and I was in total support of my driver flying across the tundra on full-throttle!
Having had my appetite whet by the local cuisine, the local wines and the views of the Monte Pora mountains by night, I awoke the next morning keen to ski in the Scalve Valley.
The journey to the resort of Colere www.colereski.it in the Scalve Valley is not a journey for faint-hearted drivers. However, it’s a must-see for nature fans as the road climbs towards a pass dominated by Mount Presolana, then drops down a steep zig-zag into the valley, with striking and extensive views of the mountain slopes.
I can’t say this Colere has the latest lift system, but I can say you are guaranteed a warm welcome from the locals on their 26kms of slopes. My guide and I enjoyed our 2,200m hike up the Orobic Pre-alps and arrived ready for the powder and the party. We found both – in abundance.
There’s plenty of space here to perfect your turns, speed down the pistes (including an internationally-approved run), sort some ski lessons, hire extra gear, or just take time capturing it all on your camera.
There are also plenty of places to pass a quiet lunch break, but we headed to the Cima Bianca refugee, where the music was pumping and the food and drink prices appealing for a lively, young crowd.
During my stay, I also swapped my downhill skis for cross-country and headed out alone along the tracks through the pine forests surrounding the village of Schilpario, where the only noise was the crackle of twigs, the swish of the skis and gentle bird song.
The four tracks here vary in difficulty, and length (3, 5, 8 and 10kms) so it’s possible for all abilities to get out and try this sport, whilst enjoying some quality time in this tranquil setting.
There are also snowparks in the Orobie mountains, for boarders of all levels, and the facilities open in the evening for après ski and nightlife on and off the slopes.
For thrill-seekers, the entire region’s an outdoor gym of ice climbing, caving, canyoning and hiking. And anyone after a bird’s-eye view can try their hand at paragliding and hang-gliding!
Older teenagers and petrol heads can enjoy ice rally driving, while those who prefer less throttle might find SnowX fun – it’s a new sport combining motocross and snowboarding, and I’d love to try it.
Quite frankly, there’s so much to do here in winter, I’d zip back here anytime!
Expect to pay €22/€30 (Mon-Fri/weekends) per adult for a daily ski pass in Presolana Monte Pora and the Seriana valley, or €16 for kids; or €96 for a 6-day adult ski pass. Ski rental costs from €19pp per day, or from €84 for 6 days. In Colere and the Scalve Valley, daily ski passes are €22 (from €11 daily for children), or €110 for 6-days. Daily ski rental costs €22 (€19 for children up to 12 years).
One-hour snowmobile tours with Emozione Estrema in Monte Pora cost €70pp (€100pp by night for a dinner tour to “Pian de la Palù” Refuge, excluding cost of dinner). Emozione Estreme also rent snowshoes (€10), bobsleighs (€10) and snow-bikes (€10).
For the first in our autumn series of WHERE TO TAKE THE FAMILY SKIING features for the forthcoming 2014/15 ski season, click here: Affordable family skiing in France’s Maurienne valley