Glide, loop, swoosh. Repeat. Taste, indulge, refine, relax. Breathe, savor, smile, dream. Do it all at the Alpine ski resorts of Sestriere in Piedmont, Italy. Perched among the Italian Alps, Sestriere is one of Europe's highest resorts and is about 8 miles from the French-Italian border. It features over 275 miles of ski runs, 66 lifts and even offers night skiing. The ski season goes from early December to late April and the nearest airport is Turin (Torino). As the center of the Via Lattea or Milky Way, Sestriere links to the nearby villages of Sauze d'Oulx, Sansicario, Cesana and the border-village of Claviere and Montgenevre in France.
Sestriere was built by the Agnelli family, owners of the Fiat car company. They believed in creating a snow-sure resort and pioneered snowmaking in the 1970's, decades before most other European resorts understood its value. Sestriere hosted alpine events in the 2006 Winter Olympics and the World Alpine Ski Championships in 1997.
Elsewhere in the town of Sestriere is Bardonecchia, a ski resort with amazing views, downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and 4 ski schools. The unexpectedly named Camp Smith at Bardonecchia is actually named for Harald and Trigwe Smith, two Norwegian brothers who set ski jump world records there in 1909. Bardonecchia has hosted the 2006 Winter Olympics, the Universiadi 2007, World Cup snowboard competitions and FIS Carving cup competitions. Italian, Spanish and American teams train there as well as athletes of Rossignol. It is one of Italy's top ten ski resorts.
Bardonecchia has over 60 miles of ski runs (many with snow cannons) and 21 lifts. The lift ride to the mid-mountain La Grangia restaurant is breathtaking. Tranquil and stunning, the ride over the treetops glistening with snow was a highlight. Once off the lift, you can go inside the restaurant or enjoy the sun and fresh air by eating at one of the many picnic tables provided. I spent some time at a picnic table, basking in the sun and watching the skiers come down the mountain. Since it was Fat Tuesday, some of them glided down in costume with capes flying!
The area cuisine is hearty, befitting a mountain village in winter: local meat, risotto and agnolotti pasta (similar to ravioli). But don't forget the truffles or gorgonzola and toma cheeses. And then there's the wine. The Nebbiolo grape creates complex Barolo and Barbaresco. On the lighter side, Piedmont is the land of Asti Spumante. And for heaven's sake, don't forget the chocolate. Piedmont is home to some of the world's finest chocolate makers: Venchi, Caffarel and Ferraro (makers of Nutella), to name a few.
I was fortunate enough to experience this Winter Wonderland on a trip sponsored by the Italian Government Tourist Board North America, Director Riccardo Strano (italiantourism.com), The Region of Piedmont (regione.piemonte.it) and CEIP, the Piedmont agency for Investments, Export and Tourism (centroestero.org).
A note on Alitalia: when the airline was government-owned, I was not a fan of this operation. I objected to indifferent customer service and its habit of going on strike and stranding its customers in the middle of high tourist season. But now that it is 100% privately owned, those days are gone. The airline is working hard to rehabilitate its image and I was impressed with my flight experience.
Economy class is now Classica, but it's not just the name that's changed. The blankets are warm, soft and designed by Frette. The in-flight entertainment is the best I've seen yet, offering a surprising variety of general release and independent films in English and Italian, along with TV shows and games. In addition, Alitalia has introduced Classica Plus, which is Premium Economy. With 20% more leg room than Economy, you can also enjoy wine and noise-reducing headphones. Business Class (Magnifica) offers an amenity kit designed by Bulgari as well as cutlery and glasses designed by Richard Ginori. It should be noted that Alitalia won Global Traveler's award for Best Airline Cuisine. Overall, I enjoyed my flights on Alitalia and will book them again.
If you'd like to book a ski vacation in Piedmont, I recommend worldonskis.com. They are ski specialists with years of experience in the Italian ski market.
It would be hard to find a better guide than Carol Bazzani (carolbazzani.it). Raised in Canada and Piedmont, Italy, Carol guided our diverse and crazy group through the best of Sestriere. She can do the same for you, throughout Piedmont. Carol is fluent in English and Italian.
Du Grand Pere
Via Forte Seguin, 14, 10058 Sestriere
Telephone: (+39) 0122755970
A cozy stone chalet in Sestriere, family run and lovingly serving hearty local specialties with a good wine list. It currently does not have a website.
Belvedere Hotel & Restaurant.
Via Cesana 18 - 10058 Sestriere
Telephone: (+39) 0122750698
Ask for La Pierrade: you can grill a variety of meats and vegetables on a hot Ardesia Stone, all at your table. It's a genuine local experience!
Via Assietta 4, Sauze d'Oulx
Telephone: (+39) 0122850329
Located in the old town section of charming Sauze d'Oulx, it's a casual eatery with a varied, high quality local menu. Great desserts.
Hotel Shackelton Mountain Resort
Via Assietta, 1/B - 10058 Sestriere (To)
Tel. +39 0122/750773 - Fax +39 0122/76683
Colorful, quirky and beautifully appointed, they've thought of everything, including a telescope in the top floor lounge for stargazing.
Grand Hotel Sestriere
Via Assietta, 1 – Sestriere
Tel. +39 0122/76476 - Fax +39 0122/76700
When the crew of NBC-TV needed a place to stay for coverage of the 2006 Olympics, this was their choice. A spacious and luxurious alpine experience.