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My new love affair – with the divine Dolomites (and their amazing snow cannons): MARK PALMER explains why this ‘special part of Italy’ beats the Alps for ski holidays

The Alps or the Dolomites? As someone who has ridden the former almost every year of his adult life, it feels almost disloyal to side with the latter.

No, there aren’t many ski-in/ski-out hotel options or chalets that cater, and natural snow cover can be a problem – but what the Dolomites lack, they make up for in charm, friendliness and spectacular mountain scenery.

And let’s be honest: you are in Italy, not France – a special part of Italy where most people speak Italian, German and Ladin. And you can now fly twice a week from Stansted to Bolzano direct to the Val Gardena region, instead of Innsbruck, which is almost two hours away.

Moreover, the snowmaking here is more extensive than anywhere else in the world. On a previous visit, when there was hardly any snow, the slopes were still open.

We spend the night in the village of Ortisei. It is close to the famous Sella Ronda, perhaps the biggest ski slope in Europe.

The Alps or the Dolomites? Mark Palmer says: “It almost feels disloyal to be on their side.” He lives in the town of Ortisei, near the famous Sella Ronda (above), “perhaps the biggest ski slope in Europe”.

Mark is enthusiastic about the Dolomites
Saint Anthony's Church in Ortisei from 1673

Left: Mark is enthusiastic about the Dolomites. Right: Saint Anthony’s Church in Ortisei from 1673

There are 12 interconnected valleys which, if you can resist the fantastic roadside restaurants, can be traversed in a day by following the signs for Sella Ronda.

Before tourism arose, Ortisei owed its prosperity mainly to the wood processing industry. Near the village we pass shops selling life-size statues of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and a whole heavenly legion of saints. Locals will tell you that there is not a Catholic church in the world that does not contain something made in this beautiful city.

A walk through the pedestrian zone feels like a reminder of softer times. This is not terrain for boys on tour.

Stay at the Gardena Grodnerhof and let yourself be pampered in a warm, hospitable atmosphere. The hotel opened in 1923 and has been run by the same family ever since. It shows.

I even have someone help me put my ski boots on in the morning and take them off again at night. Perfect.

Mark lives at the Hotel Grödnerhof in Grödnerhof (photo) and says:

Mark lives at the Hotel Grödnerhof in Grödnerhof (photo) and says: “You will be spoiled in a warm, hospitable atmosphere.”

A room in the Hotel Grödnerhof in Val Gardena, which opened in 1923 and has been run by the same family ever since.

A room in the Hotel Grödnerhof in Val Gardena, which opened in 1923 and has been run by the same family ever since.

The hotel offers a shuttle service to the various lifts connected to the Sella Ronda. If you’re a fan of black runs, you might be disappointed, but those who love impeccably groomed, sprawling runs couldn’t ask for more.

Here you ride closer to massive rock faces than anywhere else in the Alps, and as the sun sets over these jagged peaks, they glow a glorious pink.

One night we eat on the mountain in a restaurant called Friedrich-August-Hütte. Inside it is wood paneled and the lights of Canazei twinkle in the distance. The tomahawk steaks are large but exceptionally tender – and the local wines are excellent.

Now it will take a lot of convincing to go on a ski trip to a specially built ski area. It hits me a lot when I stand in front of the little St. Anthony Chapel (built 1673) stands, the door of which is open just enough to see the altar with flickering candles and a beautiful painting above.

Then I see the snow-capped Dolomites appear on the horizon in the evening light – and they look absolutely divine.

TRAVEL FACTS

IB&B rooms at Gardena Grodnerhof from £310 (gardena.it). Stansted to Bolzano from £342 per person (skyalps.com).

Ski passes and guides on dolomitemountains.com. More information at valgardena.it.

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