Cervinia, Italy: skiing the sunny side of the Matterhorn

by csenor

It won't win prizes for architectural beauty – but intermediates will love the sunny, well-groomed pistes of Cervinia while experts can cross the border for the bigger challenge of Swiss Zermatt

Cervinia is ideally situated in the Valle d'Aosta, on the Italian side of the majestic Matterhorn – or Mount Cervino (the resort's namesake), as the Italians call it. On the border of Italy and Switzerland, it sees regular visitors returning year after year, smitten by the combination of spectacular Alpine scenery and miles of easy cruising on the sunny side of the Matterhorn. 

With altitudes ranging from an impressive 2000m at resort level up to a dizzying 3,480m, Cervinia boasts an exceptional Alpine snow record. This is one resort that doesn’t try to please everyone – especially experts. It has sunny, well-groomed runs that flatter and delight new intermediate skiers who are not that interested in difficult terrain or fearsome challenges. For those who like to feel like king of the mountain and emulate Bode Miller… but in slow motion… this is the place to do it!

THE RESORT

Repeat visitors come not for the charms or architecture of the village, which unfortunately harks back to the stark days of its conception in 1936. Originally developed as a climbing centre, it remains a vision inspired by Mussolini. However, there is more to Cervinia than the buildings. Few resorts can beat it for miles of easy, snow-sure and sunny cruising – plus the chance to enjoy more serious stuff over in Zermatt, Switzerland. That's why it is so popular with returning visitors, mostly from Britain. As well as offering cheaper access to the awesome terrain and challenging runs of its super-Swiss(h) neighbour, this Italian resort allows you to sample Zermatt’s incredible mountain restaurants. From Cervinia, you can experience the never-to-be-forgotten views of that ultimate iconic peak, the Matterhorn – but from the side we all know and love! This is the skiing equivalent of gate-crashing a party.

THE CONTEXT

Cervinia has 200km of pistes connecting to the lower valley, Valtournenche, and over the border into Zermatt. Lift passes cover all lifts on Italian side. If you plan to visit Zermatt, though, make sure you get an international lift pass (daily or six- day passes are available). While the Swiss resort certainly offers more for better intermediates and experts, access to much of the surrounding ski area – including Rothorn and Stockhorn – requires travelling into the centre and across town. Allow plenty of time, too, to make the long journey back up to Klein Matterhorn and the Italian border at the end of the day. Getting stuck on the wrong side of the Matterhorn will prove a costly experience.

Cervinia is renowned for good snow, which makes it ideal for people wishing to learn the noble art of snowboarding. The main lifts take you to Plan Maison, where you will find a terrain park for beginners to intermediates with the usual jumps, rails, boxes and a half-pipe. From Plan Maison (2,555m), a gondola goes to Laghi Cime Bianche (2,810m) where a cable car ascends further to Plateau Rosa (3,480m) – and a link to Zermatt, if you want it. Alternatively, three successive fast quads go from Plan Maison up to a slightly lower point on the border (at approximately 3,290m).

Plateau Rosa is the start of the stupendous red Ventina run. This is 10km of flattering, fast downhill magic – and it will give new intermediate skiers a great sense of accomplishment. You can branch off part-way down into Valtournenche; and at the lower part of the run, above Laghi Cime Bianche, you will find excellent nursery slopes.

THE SKIING

Beginners

Cervinia's high, well-groomed and gentle pistes are great for beginners. Of the ski schools, the best choices are Cervino (+39 0166 94 90 34, www.scuolacervino.com), Breuil (+39 0166 94 09 60) and Matterhorn-Cervinia (+39 0166 94 95 23). You will  find these Italian schools cheaper than those on the Swiss side of the mountain. Expect to pay about €30-50 per hour for private lessons.

Intermediates

The resort is best for new intermediates, with practically the whole area geared towards comfortable, blue and red runs that would be considered blue in most other resorts.

Experts

Experts are advised against Cervinia. There are some black runs, but many would be classified red in most other resorts. Off-piste is minimal, and bad weather at this altitude makes it impossible to ski at times.

CERVINIA AT A GLANCE

The facilities

Number of lifts 60
Cableways 23
Chairs 22
Drags 14 
Lift capacity per hour 37,300
Snowparks One
Mountain restaurants 20

The terrain

Resort altitude 2,050m
Slopes 1,525m - 3,480m.
Total length of pistes 200km
18 Blues. 35 Reds. 5 Blacks
Beginners pistes 28 per cent
Intermediate pistes 61 per cent
Expert pistes 11 per cent
Linked areas Zermatt

Pros and cons

For +
Great place for beginners and early intermediates
Snow-sure and sunny
Impressive scenery
Cheaper than nearby Zermatt

Against -
Too many old lifts
Long lift queues
Very little to interest advanced skiers
Bad weather can close lift access

THE DINING 

If dialling from the UK, or roaming -  prefix all numbers below with 00 39 and leave off the initial zero from the bracketed numbers provided.

Mountain restaurants

Cervinia is not renowned for the choice or quality of its mountain "piste-stops"; the cuisine simply doesn’t compare with that served up on the Swiss side of the Matterhorn. I have picked out the best places below, and also included some noteworthy options for those who decide on a foray over to the Swiss gourmet side of the Matterhorn.

Best in Cervinia

Chalet Etoile (0166 94 02 20). Known locally as Ulla's after the Swedish chef who runs it with her husband. Located on blue 4 or down Bontadini (red 6) near the Rocce Nere chair lift above Plan Maison, this is my favourite Cervinia lunch stop. A cosy alpine atmosphere and authentic Italian food, great pizzas and pasta, renowned for its spaghetti with lobster, €22, most delicious mains are a similar price, bottles of wine start from €16. try the superb hot chocolate, the grappa is on the house, make sure you stop by in a morning to book ahead (or call) you will be pleased that you did.

Ventina (338 6642 596). On the way down from Plateau Rosa, one of the better self-services, you will get good-value home-style cooking here, main course pizza and pasta dishes are €8-14, it is a good place to stop for a drink or break, if you can't make the full exhilarating Ventina descent in one go. Also, check out the British run Igloo bar at the bottom of the Ventina run which serves really good burgers and large portions.

Baita Cretaz (0166 94 99 14). Near the bottom of the Cretaz pistes, this restaurant is well-located for nursery slope skiers, it also makes for a good last stop for a drink before you hit the town, it serves good-value, homely food, the starters average around €7 and most mains are €10-20.

Best in Zermatt

If dialling from the UK, prefix the numbers in this Zermatt section only with 00 41 (for Switzerland) and omit the first zero from the bracketed numbers.

Zermatt is known for having some of the best mountain restaurants in the world, so I would definitely recommend eating on this side of the border. To avoid the long run into the town, you could eat closer to the Italian side around Scwarzsee and Trockener Steg, however, this area does not represent the best restaurants that Zermatt has to offer, but will give you the opportunity to relax and gaze at the stunning views of the photogenic side of the Matterhorn

If you really are a galloping gourmet and feel the need to sample the best of the best, three truly outstanding places are located in the small hamlet of Findeln (red 1) on the Sunegga Rothorn section of the mountain (see my Zermatt guide, here on Simonseeks.com, for more details).

Village restaurants (Cervinia)

Best restaurant in town*

La Chandelle* (0166 94 89 98). Located in the luxurious Hermitage Hotel (Via Piolet 1), this Michelin-starred restaurant has wonderful mountain views from the large windows, the starters such as Goose liver foie gras with passito wine sauce and red potatoes mousse and first courses are all around €20. A main flambé course such as fillet of Fassone beef “Cervino style” with goose liver foie gras paté is €30, the food comes beautifully presented as you would expect. Highly recommended. Book ahead.

Copa Pan (0166 94 00 84). Via Carrel.  This is a very popular bar and restaurant that has an eclectic menu, serving everything from great pizzas, to rustic fondues and curry dishes, typically a fondue for two and wine will be around €28. (reservations essential)

Maison de Saussure (0166 94 82 59), Via Gorret. This is cosy little restaurant was once the former home of the person responsible for actually measuring Mount Cervino, serving hearty traditional 'Valdostana' specialities, meaning charcuterie, polenta, cheeses and "zuppa valpellinentze" (a thick soup made of cabbage, fontina cheese bread and meat broth). 3 courses typically €28-35.

Falcone (0166 94 82 89) at Via Meynet 8. Falcone has good friendly service and a smile and a superb pizza and a pint for less than €20.

THE APRES-SKI

Cervinia is a little more subdued and relaxed than many other Italian resorts. It doesn’t have a huge number of bars and discos – and because of the numbers of British visitors, the bars here tend to be pub-themed and serve brews familiar to home.

Liveliest bar

Dragon Pub (0166 94 80 85),
Via Jean-Baptiste Bich 3. Always popular, frequented by Brits and Scandinavians, this British-style pub starts buzzing after 9.30pm. 

Best for music

Etoile (0166 94 80 53), Cielo Alto.
If you want cheesy pop tunes and sing-along anthems to end your night, try the Etoile.

Copa Pan (0166 94 00 840), Via Carrel.
Besides being a favourite place to eat, this has a good après-ski vibe and live music.

Best for cocktails

Ymeletrob Bar (0166 94 91 45), Piazza Guide Maquignaz. Just five minutes' walk from Yeti (below) and Dragon Pub (above), this popular wine and cocktail bar is ideal if you want a change from beer and burgers.

Best of the rest

Yeti (0166 94 91 96), Via Jean-Baptiste Bich.
Facing the slopes, this place does good burgers, hot dogs and a good range of quality beers. Has big-screen TVs and internet access.

Bar des Guides (0166 94 94 73) on Via Carrel, near Copa Pan.
This Canadian bar serves decent pub grub.

iL Bianconiglio Disco (0166 94 93 55), Casa Lombard. Live music, early doors, DJs and dancing until late.

Lino’s (339 1532 023) by the ice rink. Very popular as soon as the slopes close.

THE HOTELS

Luxury hotels

Hotel Hermitage 4* at Via Piolet 1Tucked away in a scenic and secluded location on the road to Cielo Alto, the Hermitage is just outside the village but connected to it via a free minibus service. The cosy, super-luxury hotel has stunning views and is by far the best in Cervinia – and a match for many in the Alps; choose a deluxe room and you get your own crackling open fire. Facilities include a beautiful pool area, fitness centre, spa and sauna. The hotel restaurant, La Chandelle, has one Michelin-star (see The Dining, above).

Excelsior Planet 4* at Piazzale Planet 1. This smart, attractive timber-clad hotel is very popular with families. Situated by the Cretaz chair lift near the nursery slopes, it operates a free shuttle bus service to the Plan Maison gondola. Rooms are nicely furnished, comfortable and spacious; the restaurant s renowned for its excellent food and service. Relaxation amenities include a spa and a pool. 

Budget hotels

Hotel Mignon 3* at Via Carrel 50. Well positioned in the central, pedestrianised area of the town, right on the main shopping street, the Mignon is just a short walk from the chair lifts. Managed with great care and attention by three sisters, it is cosy "traditional alpine" in terms of decor. The service throughout is exemplary, and the food excellent: tasty cooked breakfasts set you up for the day, while delicious home cooking is served at dinner. This is a great choice of accommodation, and excellent value.

GETTING THERE

By air

The nearest airports are Turin (75 miles from the resort), Milan (117 miles) and Geneva (135 miles).

By train

Regular trains run to Chatillon, with regular coach transfers to the resort from station.

By road

From Turin/Milan take the A5 Torino-Aosta, exit at Chatillon St Vincent and follow the signs to Cervinia. From Geneva, come through the Mont Blanc tunnel or via the Great St Bernard tunnel. For car hire, try Alamo (0870 400 4562, www.alamo.co.uk); Avis (0844 581 0147, www.avis.co.uk); Budget (0844 581 2231, www.budget.com); and Easycar (08710 500 444, www.easycar.com).

FURTHER INFORMATION

Tourist offices

In Cervinia (0166 94 91 36), Via Guido Rey 17. In Valtournenche (0166 92 029), Via Roma 49. Website: www.cervinia.it

Taxis and airport transfer 

Try Paolo Giannini (0166 62 220); Pino Pession (0166 92 562); Riccardo Farraris (0166 61 874); or Sergio Meynet (0166 92 723).

csenor

I am a Manchester based song writer who has developed a passion for travel and for new media and technology to the extent that I have now developed my own mobile application and marketing company and service the World's largest travel publisher with content on mobiles. I love the concept of Simon Seeks, to spread the word about places and to give informed, insightful information without any commercial bias. I have very eclectic tastes when it comes to travel. For sunshine breaks - to relax and slow down and get in touch with a stress free state of mind.  I also love active holidays - especially skiing, mountain biking and golfing. During winter I take to the slopes and I like a Christmas ski holiday to enjoy somewhere fresh and exciting. For the future, I plan to broaden my horizons as I have a healthy interest in ancient philosophies such as the Huna from Hawaii and Vedanta in India and I would next love to visit China and Japan. I am truly a travel enthusiast to the extent that I always try to learn the language of wherever I am going to go.. and as this is another passion of mine I have produced a series of mobile phrase books - all available as downloadable 'apps' on mobile phones.