Iconic runs, a sophisticated but affordable village and proof that Italians can make excellent craft beer. Just a few reasons why we can’t get enough of Italy’s Madesimo resort
It seems unlikely that the sterling will rally against the euro before the season kicks off, so how might the dedicated but cash-strapped skier wring the most value from the Alps this winter?
How about a resort where Chelsea FC’s owner dines in a bijou Michelin-starred restaurant? Or the place where hundreds of wealthy ‘Milanese’ own weekend flats they never let out? Or where MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi keeps his tricked-out Ski-Doo for winter fun?
So far, so unconvincing on the low-cost front, I admit. Let’s try the historical perspective: Italy’s Nobel prize-winning poet Carducci spent over 15 summers here and Benito Mussolini once visited, albeit as a stolen corpse in a car boot (yes, really). Some might think this irrelevant, but given the unpredictable winters the Alps have been having in recent years, it may be time to consider a holiday where hidden depths of culture and cuisine offset the fickle snow depth.
Madesimo, in Italy’s Valchiavenna region on the Swiss border, is such a place. Only two hours from Milan Linate airport, it sits in a river valley at 1,550m and has much to offer the Fall-Line reader, not least – since we’re here to talk skiing – an epic reputation for off-piste itinerary routes with steep couloirs and long, sweeping snowfields, most of which are accessible from the top cable car station at Pizzo Groppera (2,948m).
The most famous run is the Canelone (it means big couloir, not a stuffed pasta dish), which drops 1,000 vertical metres above the main ski area, letting you join the Cima Sole chairlift. Being so accessible means it can get bumpy on the 30° pitches, but it’s one of those must-do iconic runs, with stunning views.
From the same Pizzo Groppera summit you have access to a number of more challenging couloirs, such as the Diavolo, the Camosci, the Streghe and the Fiammifero; this last translates as ‘matchstick’, so called because its 45° narrow slope is shaped just like one. When conditions are right these routes are popular, as you don’t need to hike in or out. Over the back of the Pizzo Groppera is the long itinerary route 50 that heads over the Passo Angeloga (2,366m) and continues all the way down the Val di Lei valley to Soste (1,341m).
So, while Madesimo is a village of charm, history and sophistication, it skis well too. Last season it suffered, as most did, from lack of snow, but there’s a good network of snow cannons that keep the 60km of runs (which comprise 14 blue and 15 red runs) covered, and a couple of small scale snow parks too. The lift network is well linked, with no need for bus transfers, but the best aspect is the lack of queues.
Major holidays and weekends aside, Madesimo is relatively quiet during the week. It has an active Alpine racing scene, but hurtling, skin-suited teenagers tend to stick to their training pistes, leaving much of the mountain gloriously open. Add the fact that a lunchtime pizza is marginally less debilitating than a tartiflette, and a day’s skiing in Madesimo is a civilized business.
Talking of lunchtime. The clincher for some may just be that Madesimo proves that Italians can make excellent craft beer. A pint of Bergamasca bitter at the Refugio Osteria Amalia (above the west side of the village) is a must, not least because it helps wash down donkey stew and polenta, a dish I don’t recommend.
Should you decide on alternative snow sports action, head to one of Italy’s only snowmobiling centres at Team Adventure Madesimo, a kilometre up the valley from the village (teamadventuremadesimo.it). A trip up to Montespluga (1,908m) across a frozen lake and miles of empty snowscapes is serious fun (around €40), but beware the laidback guide’s unwise assumption that you’ll soon learn for yourself that snowmobiles may go faster than you can handle.
A ski pass for six days is €180 – considerably cheaper than most Alpine countries – and in the village, the hotel, bar and restaurant options are as sophisticated as your wallet will allow.
Start with cocktails at Bollicine, located on Via Carducci in the village centre, then on to Il Cantinone, a Michelin-starred restaurant whose chef Stefano Masanti’s bresaola is judged the best in the world (Stefano allows you to buy his bresaola to take home). His family also runs the adjoining and traditional four-star Hotel Andossi. Ristorante Osteria Vegia on the Via Cascata is an excellent and very traditional restaurant, a favourite haunt of the aforementioned poet Carducci (in the late 1800s). The Hotel K2 offers good budget accommodation and a restaurant, or you could pay even less at the B&B Ginepro.
Madesimo is only 40km away from St Moritz, but it’s a world away for many cool Italians who prefer the better value, less showy sophistication of the place. And as many are weekenders and don’t freeride, an opportunity presents itself to the wily Fall-Line reader.
Momentumski.com offer trips to Madesimo