Family skiing in Italy’s Abruzzo: a well-kept secret
- Credit: Archant
The whole time I was in Abruzzo I found myself marvelling. Marvelling at the sheer wild beauty, marvelling at what a friendly bunch the locals are. But the thing I marvelled at the most was just how come I’d never heard you could ski in this place before.
A remote wilderness far less built-up than the Alps, Abruzzo is perfect for affordable family ski holidays and sits halfway down Italy’s boot in the Appenines.
Before we went I was in disbelief there could ever be enough snow to ski that far south. But this is the fifth biggest ski resort in Italy and the season usually lasts until well into April.
Home to three national parks where bears, wolves and lynxes roam free, beech trees replace the pines of the Alps. With spring on its way their burgeoning buds gave the impression of a magical carpet of purplish hues in the setting sunlight.
From the moment our plane descended on Pescara, as the sun sparkled on the sea and the soft-domed snow-topped mountains offset the bluest of skies, a feeling of enchantment set in.
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My three children were just as excited as I was as we made our way up the quiet roads past traditional Italian hilltop villages, soaking up the rural idyll.
Tour operator Ski Abruzzo can arrange transfers from the airport, and it takes just over an hour to reach the three star Hotel Trieste in Roccaraso – a gateway to 110km of cruiser’s paradise on the pistes. It’s not possible to ski into the village, but the hotel runs minibuses all day and it’s only a five minute drive to reach the Agremogna lift system.
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A five night stay at the Trieste includes ski hire or ski school at off-peak times, which really makes a ski holiday more affordable for a family on a budget.
It’s a totally different skiing experience from the Alps here, and the resort is great for families, with beginners and more experienced skiers catered for, with a fantastic network of cruisy blue runs, a good sprinkling of challenging reds and best of all virtually empty slopes all round.
This was my five-year old daughter’s first time skiing, and she developed a big soft spot for her instructor Achille from the Abruzzo Ski School, who was giving her high fives and plenty of encouragement as her tiny legs tried to master the snow plough. Miraculously he had the whole class of seven tots on the chairlift by day three, and by the time I took her out alone she was having a ball.
Hotel Trieste was tastefully decorated in Alpine style and it was a pleasure to return here after a day on the slopes. As you would expect in Italy, the food is out of this world, and the hotel dishes up all manner of pasta with names you’ve never heard of. The friendly, helpful staff really put the icing on a stay at this centrally-located cosy hotel which has been run by Pierpaolo’s family since the 70s.
My daughter was keen to join in with the kids’ club, run by a couple of charming young Italians, boyfriend and girlfriend, who come around to say hi at dinner each day, run trips to the ice skating rink, and put on a musical comedy show which, despite it being in Italian and none of us speaking a word, was really fun.
Nearby in Rivisondoli the thermal springs are well worth a visit. Although I couldn’t bear to drink the sulphuric waters which smell of rotten egg, they are apparently really good for your health. I forced myself to shower in the eggy-stench and was impressed that a patch of eczema cleared up within a day. I’m not sure if it was because my muscles were crying out for redemption after a day on the slopes but I had the best massage of my life in the state-of-the-art treatment rooms here.
It’s also really worth packing in some culture and checking out the perfectly-preserved Renaissance medieval village of Pescocostanzo, a 10-minute drive from Roccaraso. The church is totally out of proportion compared to the size of the tiny village, and its ceiling would rival Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Renaissance artists used to train here before they headed off to bigger cities, and there’s still a flourishing artisan scene with jewellery and lace- making.
Ski Abruzzo also has hotels in Pescocostanzo, which is a great spot for absolute beginners with a small 8km lift system, as well as Castel Di Sangro a picture perfect medieval town built into the hill, just a 15 minute drive further down the valley.
Here we stayed at the Sport Village hotel, a lot bigger than the Trieste. Hitting the slopes is easy with regular buses throughout the day, and returning here at night it is a real treat to head off down to the ultra modern spa while the kids are cared for at the crèche.
Coming to Abruzzo you truly get the Italian experience, only occasionally hearing a British voice. It’s not often nowadays you get to travel and feel as though you’ve discovered something unique, but going to Abruzzo was a kind of revelation into unchartered territory, leaving me with a feeling of excitement at being let into a well-kept secret.