The ski resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo is located at the heart of the Valle d’Ampezzo in north-eastern Italy. In the early 1920s Ernest Hemingway became a trend setter in putting Cortina on the map when he first dropped in here to write one of his first published works. Little did he know that in the years to come his pretty mountain retreat would become a playground for the rich and famous.
During the 1950s and 60s, Hollywood superstars including Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, Brigitte Bardot and Audrey Hepburn frequented the resort earning it the reputation of Salotto dei Famosi. The ‘Frank Sinatra Suite’ and ‘Peter Sellers Suite’ at the luxurious Cristallo Palace Hotel and Spa remain as constant reminders of Cortina d’Ampezzo’s popularity during that era.
As well as serving as a desirable holiday destination for such celebrities the region also made it on to our television screens when film directors selected Cortina d’Ampezzo for scenes in a number of blockbuster movies. These included the James Bond film, For Your Eyes Only, with Roger Moore and ‘Cliffhanger’ with Sylvester Stallone.
Today the resort remains popular amongst wealthy Italians and has been discovered by the ‘nouveau riche’ of the Eastern Bloc. In addition, Hollywood’s love affair with this beautiful part of the Dolomites continues thanks to George Clooney who has been spotted around town by the local paparazzi.
Surprisingly, in spite of its rich history, the resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo has never quite made it into the top division of European ski destinations. No doubt this is largely due to its being a little less accessible than the best known Alpine resorts. As such it doesn’t feature dominantly in the ski brochures of the main ski operators leaving it largely on the horizon of independent skiers.
Skiing in Cortina d’Ampezzo
With the distraction of film stars, footballers, models and politicians it’s easy to overlook the fact that Cortina d’Ampezzo has been a major destination for winter sports since the 1930s. Often referred to as the ‘Queen of the Dolomites’, the resort hosted the 1956 Winter Olympics and has frequently been chosen for World Cup events over the years. It is particularly favoured for the Ladies Downhill Race.
For holidaymakers there are a good range of slopes to satisfy both beginners and intermediate skiers. Advanced skiers might not find the pistes sufficiently demanding but will relish the off-piste and cross country skiing opportunities. In total there are 140km of ski runs with the majority served by snow cannons which pretty much ensure an extended ski season which generally runs from November to April. Get the ‘Ski Pass Cortina’ to ensure access to all 43 ski lifts serving these slopes.
Getting to Cortina d’Ampezzo
The time taken for ski transfers to Cortina d’Ampezzo is the main explanation given for why the resort has remained in the shadow of the better known resorts of the French, Austrian and Swiss Alps. This is surprising as the journey really isn’t that big of a deal provided you fly into one of Venice’s airports and arrange for a specialist ski-transfer company to transport you to your hotel in Cortina.
Venice Marco Polo Airport (VCE) lies 150km from the resort with transfers taking about two hours. Venice Treviso Airport (TSF) is just a little closer although the journey time is almost identical. Shuttledirect provide these specialist transfers from both Marco Polo and Treviso Airports.
If you happen to be able to get flights to either Verona or Innsbruck then you’re also within transfer distance of the slopes of Cortina but as a rule the Venice airports generally prove more convenient.
Dining in Cortina d’Ampezzo
One of the unique joys of any visit to Cortina d’Ampezzo is the chance to dine at one of its ‘refuges’. Historically, these establishments were originally wooden huts used as a shelter by shepherds and hikers. The influx of wealthy visitors encouraged innovative locals to convert some of these shelters into restaurants whilst maintaining all their rustic characteristics.
Today there are more than 50 of these ‘refuges’ which overlook the ski slopes. Diners can ski directly into them and enjoy traditional local fare of the highest quality on their sun spanked wooden terraces with stunning panoramic views of the mountains. Some of these huts have even been turned into small hotels which are often the most atmospheric places to stay in the region.
One particular restaurant which deserves a special mention is Il Meloncino al Caminetto (Localitá Rumerlo, 1) which lies 6km west of town in the shadow of Mount Tofana. This is a delightful choice for lunch which specialises in traditional dishes of the region. The views all around are truly spectacular.
Where to Stay in Cortina d’Ampezzo
Luxury Choice: Many travel professionals from across the globe have selected the Cristallo Hotel Spa & Golf (Via Rinaldo Menardi 42) as the top hotel in the Dolomites since it opened its doors in 1901. A beautiful hotel which fully lives up to its 5-star rating throughout.
Mid-Range: The 4-star Franceschi Park Hotel (Via Cesare Battisti, 86) lies on the edge of town within a short walk of the centre. The Austro-Hungarian structure is a friendly, family-run establishment where you’ll be made very welcome during your stay.
Budget Option: The 2-star Hotel Montana (Corso Italia 94) is a gem of a place located right in the town centre. Great value, excellent location and really friendly staff