Briony Key lives the high life in Lombardy, with plenty of slope time, and shopping!
A fast road network whizzed me from the airport to lunch in Bergamo city – in 20 minutes. And it was a good taste of the wide range of easy to get to, cost-friendly options that were to come.
Bergamo’s old town is loved by the Milanese, who flock here to escape the urban jungle, and to marvel at its medieval centre atop a hill.
It 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, marveling at the Venetian colonnades and the views over the plains to the calcerous summits.
And seeing what was on sale in the busy, elegant shops and boutiques in the lower city was also good fun. It’s a stylish capital and I wished I’d allowed more time to take it in.
This region sits in the heart of Lombardy, halfway between Lake Como and Lake Garda, and it’s an Italian treat. Ancient towns, plenty of arts and culture, good shopping, health resorts, many mountains, lakes and rivers – and the chance to spend plenty of time on the slopes.
You can forget purpose-built ski stations when you come to this region, and relax instead in village hotels and rentals, which are part of thriving local communities.
Cut into the side of a mountain, pretty Castione della Presolana is famed for its health resorts.
I stayed here, at the Hotel Milano, a stunning hotel decked with tasteful contemporary art, and a spa which just demands you sink into its bubbles.
And my first evening in the mountains turned into an adventure as I we flew across the tundra on a snow mobile from the Monte Pora ski resort to dinner at Pain de la Palù mountain refuge.
It was a typical Bergamask treat – casonsèi, which includes pasta stuffed with salami, roast meat, garlic, parsley, Grana cheese, melted butter, pancetta and sage.
Sipping a stunning red Valcalepio Doc by a roaring log fire I realised that this place could be as calm, or crazy, as you wanted to make it.
Excited by the glimpse of the mountains at night I awoke keen to ski in the remote Scalve Valley.
It’s not a journey for faint-hearted drivers, but nature fans will definitely note it as ‘not to be missed’ as the road climbs towards a pass dominated by Mount Presolana, then drops down a steep zig-jag into the valley, with striking and extensive views of the mountain’s slopes.
Colere certainly doesn’t have the latest lift system, but the Orobic Pre-Alps scenery is awesome and there’s plenty of chance to party on its 26kms of slopes.
My guide and I enjoyed our 2,200m hike up the mountain to find plenty of powder, and lively scene, with music pumping.
There’s plenty of space here to perfect your turns, speed down the pistes (including an international approved run), sort some ski lessons, hire extra gear, or just take time capturing it all on your camera.
You can also get a quiet lunch venue, but we headed to the Cima Bianca refugee, where that certainly wasn’t going to happen.
The food and drink prices are really appealing for a lively, young crowd, with basic snacks starting from E5.
People danced on the table, and partied hard, but we didn’t see anyone too wasted to get safely back down the mountain, and that was refreshing!
Swapping my downhill skis for cross-country, I headed out alone in the afternoon, following the tracks into the pine forests of Schilpario, where the only sounds were the crackle of twigs, the swish of the skis and gentle bird song.
The four tracks vary in difficulty, and length (3,5,8 and 10kms) so its possible for all abilities to get out and try this sport, and enjoy some quality time in this tranquil setting.
There are also snowparks in the Orobian area, and the facilities open in the evening for après ski and nightlife on and off the slopes.
It’s also an outdoor gym of ice climbing, caving, canyoning and hiking. And anyone seeking a birds-eye view can try paragliding and hand gliding!
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.
The Seriana Valley
The next day was another change of scene – and sport – when we travelled to Spiazzi di Gromo in the Seriana Valley to try snowshoeing. But what I didn’t know was that our route was to follow a long, black run. Going up!
I’ve haven’t been quite that pleased to get to a mountain-top refugee in a long time, and a long lunch at the Vodala followed. This place also doubles as a party setting, and is popular with Milanese revelers who take snowplough ‘taxis’ up and down.
Zip wiring between the trees in the Parco Sospese nel Bosco Adventure Park
was a little more taxing on a full stomach, but it s a good alternative for anyone who is seeking some time away from the snow,
There are 10 different courses for children and adults, so a good place to try your own mini tree-top-adventure.
Our journey home took in the medieval village of Gromo, where time doesn’t stand still, but directs you back to the ‘glory days’.
Rich in iron, barite, zinc, lead, this small place was famed in Europe for its sword production, and this history is now captured in a small museum, which sits in the heart of Gromo, along with a frescoed guildhall XIII-century castle and baroque church.
Anyone who wants to see what life is life underground can also now visit the Seriana Valley’s deepest cave, the Bus do Tacoi. You won’t be bored here!
Daily Ski Pass -weekends; adult €30
week days, adult €22
6 day adult ski pass: €96
Daily ski rental: Adult from €19 – 34
Six-days ski rental: Adult from €84 – 145
Snowmobile tour – approx 1 hour
Daytime: €70 €100 per person
Snowshoe rental: €10
Bobsleigh rental: €10
Snow-bike rental: €10
Excursion: from € 55 to € 115
Wine tasting: € 5.00 – € 13