The Italian 'X Factor'

Nowhere does 'la Dolce Vita' like the Italians and with a hectic ski season in full swing we thought we could do with a little break and have a taste of the sweet life ourselves!

So we loaded up our ski gear and headed just south of Innsbruck for a weekend in the Dolomites - Northern Italy's mountain range which is part of the Italian/Austrian South Tyrol.

This fusion of cultures plus the most dramatic of alpine settings creates a really unique environment, and with access via Innsbruck, Verona or Venice, it's definitely now high on our radar. In the last few years the South Tyrol has upped its performance in the infrastructure and gourmet stakes and the area now definitely has the X factor.

Firstly, it is hard to argue with 1200 kilometres of pistes. The ski region is just so vast so we concentrated on skiing 2 areas - Kronplatz and Alta Badia.

After a night of pure indulgence at the stunning Design Hotel Feldmilla in Sand in Taufers (with a fascinating carbon neutral philosophy) we hit the slopes full of vigour. At over 2000 metres, Kronplatz (or Plan de Corones as it is also known....most destinations in South Tyrol are known by both their Italian & their Austrian names!) is a really interesting ski area. The mountain is like a giant dome, with the Peace Bell at the peak. There are 5 access points around the base of the mountain which converge at the peak (very handy for meeting up with your group!). One of our favourite villages in this area with access into Kronplatz is St Vigilio - a ski-in, ski-out location with lots of alpine charm.

The following day we set forth to the Alta Badia, and whilst I could extol the virtues of this amazing destination for hours, it comes down to 2 things which give Alta Badia a winning performance. Firstly, this clever destination has taken the Italians love of food and elevated it to a virtuoso level and secondly, the slopes are phenomenal.

'Slope Food' is the winter version of finger food, and this really fascinating concept has been rolled out to 14 mountain huts in the Alta Badia region. A Michelin Star chef from around the world has partnered with each restaurant/hut to create a specific appetiser- in a sort of celebrity chef cook off. Skiers can then experience this gastronomic treat - and I have to say the dish we tried at Rifugio Bioch Hütte was exquisite. For corporate groups, a Gourmet Ski Tour can be organised incorporating huts which all level of skier / boarder can access or even non skiers taking a guided snow shoe walk can meet up.

For Groups of intermediate skiers & above, there are some incredible day tours available in the Alta Badia.... the Sellaronda is world renowned and this amazing tour takes you literally 'around' the mountain, in a clockwise direction with the sun always following you. It's 42 kms in total, and takes in Corvara, Arabba, Val Di Fassa and Val Gardena. For another really superb day tour, starting in Corvara groups can be guided across to the Marmolada Glacier, the highest peak of the Dolomites at 3343 metres. At the end of a day on the slopes, revitalising muscles you never knew existed, enjoying excellent food and then slumping onto a wonderfully comfortable bed is just about as good as it gets. The folks at the Hotel Ciasa Salares definitely have that winning combination.

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