By Qin Xie, Assistant communities editor
Tuesday 20 Nov 2018 8:00 am
Earlier this year, I decided to try skiing for the first time – and I went in hard, signing up for three separate ski trips in just a matter of weeks.
The first was to Courmayeur where, tempted by the promise of very good food in the Italian Alps, I donned a pair of skis and proceeded to slide (read fall) down the gentlest of nursery slopes in the Aosta Valley.
Next came a luxury ski trip to Andermatt in the Swiss Alps. Thanks to some excellent snow conditions and a private instructor for the day, I started to get the hang of stopping and turning, and I managed a successful glide down an actual slope for the first time.
I fell in love with skiing a bit, and was genuinely excited for my final trip of the season – to South Tyrol in the Dolomites, another region in the Italian Alps.
But as I was soon to discover, with some of the most challenging black runs in Italy, South Tyrol is the ultimate ski destination for adrenaline junkies.
And for those with adventurous tastes, the challenges arent just on the slopes – and thats what makes it a destination I cant wait to get back to.
Bordering Austria, South Tyrol isnt quite like anywhere else in Italy.
Having once been part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the Austrian influence is deep rooted.
This can be seen in the local architecture, food and drink and the traditional dress donned by staff at some of the restaurants and hotels in the region.
But it also extends to the language – while Ladin is the indigenous language, German and Italian are both taught in schools, with German often being the dominant language.
So prepare for a one of a kind experience.
With around 30 different ski areas in the region, skiing and snowboarding are obviously the most important winter sporting activities in South Tyrol.
For the serious adrenaline junkies, some of the most challenging slopes can be found in Kronplatz. There are five black runs to test your mettle – Sylvester, Herrnegg, Pre da Peres, Erta, and Piculin.
Though if youre not quite ready, its worth heading to the top of Mount Kronplatz anyway for the stunning views, and to visit the Messner Mountain Museum.
The landscape is straight out of Instagram, I promise.
If youre more of a beginner, head to Alta Badia instead.
There are lots of blue runs where you can practice your turns and handling of the slopes.
And if youve already got the hang of things, there are also areas where you can try jumps safely.
Both Kronplatz and Alta Badia are both part of the Dolomiti Superski area, which means you only need one ski pass to access around 1,200km of slopes.
If youre not a confident skier, you can also get a cheaper local pass, which allows you to access the slopes in just one region.
What the different piste colours mean:
Ski slopes around the world are assigned a colour according to their difficulty.
In Europe, greens are the easiest, though only found in a small number of resorts.
Blues are moderate and can be found in most resorts.
Reds are intermediate and are similarly widely available.
The hardest pistes are black, and there are usually only one or two at most in a resort.
If you want to go slow and see the most spectacular views in the area, go snowshoeing.
Youll probably want to get the skiing out of the way first though, because snowshoeing is a serious workout for your legs.
You need water-resistant hiking boots that cover your ankles for this, then you just strap on your snowshoes – which you can hire – and off you go.
Theres an easy hike from Utia de Borz to Maurerberghutte Rifugio Monte Muro, which takes around two hours at a good pace. The route is self-guided, with lots of sign posts along the way, and you can hire the snowshoes from Utia de Borz.
From Maurerberghutte Rifugio Monte Muro, you get a panoramic views of the Dolomites and can even spot the flat peak of Kronplatz.
Make sure you return in time for lunch at Utia de Borz and order the local dumplings – they are positively moreish.
Save room for the apple strudel though; they have two different versions to choose from and both are delicious with vanilla cream. Think apple pie and custard.
As promised, the thrills arent just found on the slopes – its a place for an adventurous palate too.
Brain, tongue and bulls penis were just some of the things I tried at a barbecue under the stars hosted at the family-run Hotel Ciasa Salares.
Its just as well the evening started with a tasting of some of the interesting wines and cheeses from the region in the cellar.
There were also tasters of speck (a local bacon), roast beef, burgers and seafood available – all equally good but not nearly as shocking.
The hotel is home to La Siriola, a two Michelin-starred restaurant with Matteo Metullio – the youngest Michelin-starred Italian chef – at the helm.
It was Metullio who gathered a few of his fellow chefs from around the country to put on the gourmet evening, which will hopefully be the first of many.
Food and wine are so central to the Alta Badia region.
The most rewarding thing, for those of us who are better at falling over than gracefully gliding from top to bottom, is the fact that you can try some seriously good wines on the slopes.
While the region is known for its fresh, crisp and aromatic white wines, there are some great examples of sparkling and robust reds to be found too.
Several of the huts also offer dishes designed by Michelin-starred chefs from the region so its definitely worth seeking them out.
Lunch on the slopes:
There are lots of mountain huts to choose from for lunch. You cant really go wrong – just make sure you remember where you left your skis.
The ones below are fairly accessible to beginner skiers in Alta Badia:
And in Kronplatz, Corones is right on the plateau and offers great views and very hearty portions – and you can walk there from the ski lifts.
For wine lovers, a highlight has to be the Mahatma (yes, as in Gandhi, but meaning soul in this case) wine cellar in the Hotel La Perla.
Its a rock n roll experience where the Euro-centric collection of some 20,000 bottles, worth millions, are presented like performers at a wine theme park.
All the great names are there behind the vaulted door – from Bordeaux first growths to Italys cult favourite, Sassicaia, of which Mahatma has the largest collection in the world.
Ask for a tour before you dine at the equally eccentric and Michelin-starred La Stua de Michil upstairs; you wont want to miss it.
Like South Tyrol, its so magical, youll feel like Alice in Wonderland.
Where to stay and how to get there:
I stayed at Naturhotel Miraval, a cosy, family-run hotel with fabulous views of the Santa Croce peaks in the heart of Alta Badia.
Its within walking distance to a cable car that connects into the Dolomiti Superski area and theres a small wellness area with a sauna, steam bath and Jacuzzi to relax in at the end of the day.
If you dont fancy driving out for dinner, the gourmet restaurant on site is a great place to try some of the local specialties.
Rooms there start from €108 per night.
The easiest way to get to Alta Badia from the UK is to fly into Innsbruck. Easyjet has regular flights departing from London Gatwick, with fares starting from £29.22.
From Innsbruck, its a two-hour transfer.
The next Wine Skisafari is on March 24, 2019, while there are seven Sommeliers on the Slopes planned for the 2018/2019 season.
For more ideas on what to do in the region, visit Sud Tirols official tourism website.