Cortina, in the Italian Dolomites, is a glamorous bolt-hole for the rich, liberally sprinkled with designer shops and gourmet restaurants – as well as snow. If you ski, it's even better…
The main observation, when you first arrive in Cortina, is that not everyone is skiing – in fact, nowhere near everyone is skiing. It's true that the bulk of international visitors may come to enjoy the sport in the beautiful Dolomite mountains, but of the Italians, perhaps only 25 per cent are here to ski – and they and their sedate compatriots account for about 75 per cent of all visitors to Cortina. They use the lifts mainly to access the bars and mountain restaurants – and when they do venture out on to the slopes, they are soon heading off to enjoy long, lazy lunches or to warm up for the nightlife ahead... which they still insist on calling the après-ski.
Given all the above, it's no surprise that the fashionable town of Cortina is awash with exclusive designer shops, a particular draw for the rich and famous who frequent it. This is a place for people who want to shop, meaning the slopes are far less crowded for the rest of us.
There is also a wide choice of relaxed Italian cafés and restaurants – and, of course, a vibrant nightlife well serviced by quality venues. Be warned, if you do head for the slopes, that the two main lifts are quite far from the centre – but the local shuttle bus service is good. A car is recommended.
Cortina's ski areas are fragmented – and you need to go quite far to get to them. All the Dolomite Superski linked areas combined have 265 individual pistes. The main ski area – and the largest – is Socrepes, accessed via chair and drag lifts with a shuttle bus service to the lifts. You can also access the area via Tofana (Cortina's highest piste) which you get to via the cable car located near the ice rink. A two-stage cable car leads from the east side of town to Faloria – and from there you have access via chair lift to runs around Cristallo.
Cortina is great for beginners, with lots of blue runs, some of the biggest nursery slopes in Europe and some excellent progression routes. For intermediates and experts, there are a few challenging runs, but they are mainly short, so you'll be doing some of them over and over again. Here are some suggestions:
The nursery slopes in the Socrepes area offer lots of choice and variation. There are many good progression routes and steeper challenges higher up, including Duca d'Aosta – which heads through lovely wooded terrain – and Col Druscie, leading back into town. Of the ski schools, try those in Cortina (0436 29 11), Azzurra Cortina (0436 26 94), Cristallo (0436 870073) or Dolomiti (0436 27 08). (If dialling from the UK, prefix these numbers with 00 39, then leave off the first zero in the bracketed number)
There are not enough exciting runs for confident intermediates, but those wanting to test themselves should head to the top of Tofano, where the best snow is, and try the difficult black run back down. There are good but short runs around Faloria, and there's a nice but simple run in Cristallo that is served by a fast quad. Also try the often quiet Cinque Torri and the hidden valley red run, Lagazuoi.
There is very little to challenge the expert skier, apart from Ra Valles (accessed via the Tofano cable car) which is steep and has great views of Cortina. At the top of the Cristallo area, at Forcello Staunies, is another difficult and steep black run.
Three favourite runs
Graded blue, the Pomedes to Pocol run (22) in the Socrepes area heads down the hill via Duca d'Aosta (21). It is a great opportunity for new skiers to gain some confidence and has some nice places to chill like the Italians and stop for a drink or a bite to eat on the way down.
There is a challenging red run from Lagazuoi to Passo Falzarego (1) which has some stunning views of the surrounding mountains and is rarely crowded.
Vitelli. Another challenge is this delightful north-facing red run in the Faloria area.
CORTINA AT A GLANCE
Number of lifts 45
Chair lifts 30
Surface lifts 10
Lift capacity 59,957 per hour
Mountain restaurants 29
Number of pistes 76
(39 blue, 30 red, seven black)
Beginners pistes 33 per cent
Intermediate pistes 62 per cent
Expert pistes 5 per cent
Pros and cons
Excellent nursery slopes.
Uncrowded pistes, good access to Dolomite Superski area.
Beautiful town, unique character.
Erratic snow record.
Slopes far away from each other, requiring bus travel to reach.
Not enough challenging runs for good intermediates and experts.
If dialling from the UK, prefix all numbers listed below with 00 39, and remove the zero from the beginning of the bracketed number.
Best on Faloria/Cristallo
Rifugio Tondi (0436 57 75) Location: on the Tondi Normale piste in the Faloria area.
One of the best places to have lunch. Top food in chalet-style setting.
Rifugio Son Forca (0436 866 192) Location: Staunies, under Cristallo. Nice food, great views and an outdoor terrace.
Rio Gere (0436 34 34) Location: at the base of the quad chair in between the Cristallo and Faloria ski areas. Excellent restaurant serving quality food and with beautiful views.
Best on Tofana
Pomedes (0436 862 061) Location: under Tofana, on the Pomedes piste. Highly-rated, friendly atmosphere and very popular.
Rifugio Averau (0436 46 60) Location: Cinque Torri (2,400m). A firm favourite. This wonderful restaurant is famous for its delicious pasta dishes and memorable views of Marmolada and Civetta from its sunny Terrace.
Rifugio Col Taron (0436 868 330) Location: Tofana. Marvellous, homely Italian cooking.
Baita Pietofana ( 0436 42 58) Location: further down the mountain on Tofana. Lovely sun terraces and wholesome food.
Tivoli (0436 866 400) Location: central. Michelin-starred and highly-regarded, featuring prize-winning tortelli di patate. Overlooking Cortina. Closed Mondays.
Petite Fleur (0436 32 61) Location: central, in the basement of Hotel Ancora. This is local cuisine served with gourmet style.
Lago Ghedina (0436 860 876) Location: just out of town, so you will need a car to get there. The food is tasty, served in a lovely location with views of the lake.
Da Beppe Sello (0436 32 36) Location: town outskirts. Another top-notch restaurant worth the journey – though again, you will need a car or taxi to get to it.
Cinque Torri (0436 866 301) Location: central. The best pizzas in town.
Baita Fraina (0436 36 34) Location: via Fraina, 2. Mountain cuisine at its finest, with plenty of meat, especially game, on the menu. Don’t forget to sample some of the 100 different varieties of grappa behind the bar.
Pasticceria Lovat (0436 33 07) Location: corso Italia, 65. A lovely little patisserie serving delicious apple strudel and doughnuts – and the best Italian coffee and hot chocolate. Great way to start the day.
Nightlife in Cortina is rather understated, by normal après-ski standards. All the fun happens in the popular wine bars dotted around town. Cortina is a place to wine and dine rather than sing-along. If you want to party late into the night, there are a few nightclubs in some of the hotels.
Best places to start the night
Enotica (0436 862 040) The best wine bar in town is also the best place to start your evening. This traditional old venue is very popular and usually packed during high season. Wine is served by the bottle or glass (with more than 700 different wines to choose from).
Terrezza Viennese (0436 3261), in the Hotel Ancora. Piano lounge, relaxed atmosphere.
Best whisky bar
Bar Arnika (0436 32 66) at corso Italia, 102. Hidden down a narrow passageway, this place has a huge choice of single malts.
Best for traditional après-ski
Clipper (0436 867 999) Usually full of Brits in a party mood.
Birreria Hacker Pschorrz (0436 867 625) Bavarian beer house with live music from 10pm. Gets lively early. Closed Mondays.
Like most places, the clubs really don't liven up until after midnight. They're not cheap – but quite cheerful.
VIP Club (0436 32 21) The nightclub at the Europa hotel is the best place to end your night. There's a mixture of Brits, Americans and Italians, so it's usually lively and busy with good music.
Blue Room (0436 43 66) Located (along with the Bilbo club, below) in the Galleria Nuovo Centro. Popular with good DJs.
Bilbo Club (0436 55 99) See above. A mixture of young and not-so-young dance until the early hours.
Best for live music
The Monkey Club (0436 881 111) Located inside the 5* Cristallo Hotel at via Menardi, 42. The club, famous for its international live acts and cabaret, has achieved prestige status.
Miramonti Majestic Grand Hotel 5* Via Peziè 103. The only drawback with Cortina's most elegant luxury accommodation is that it's a little way out of town. The hotel was famously used in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only. Features a pool, a full fitness centre and a restaurant.
Hotel Cristallo 5* Via Menardi 42. Situated a five-minute uphill walk from the centre of town, the Cristallo is rated one of the best hotels in the world. It has stunning food, attentive staff, great leisure facilities and a sun deck.
Best for location
Hotel Ancora 4* Corso Italia 62. Family-run hotel in the centre of town. Its main restaurant and à la carte restaurant, the Petit Fleur, are renowned for their gourmet cuisine.
Hotel de la Poste 4* Piazza Roma 14. Centrally-located, family-run, comfortable with popular terrace.
Parc Hotel Victoria 4* Corso Italia. At the southern side of town, on the Faloria side, is this rustic-style family-run hotel with excellent on-site food and après-ski.
Hotel Olimpia 3* Largo delle Poste 37. Located in a quiet area in the centre of the town, this family-run, cosy hotel is good value for money. Friendly service from the staff; also has a sauna and gym.
Best budget hotels
Hotel Montana 2* Corso Italia 94. Perfectly located in the centre, across from the town church – and within walking distance of Cortina's best restaurants and bars. Spacious rooms, modern bathrooms, good continental breakfast provided.
Hotel Corona 2* Val di Sotto 20. This affordable hotel is a 10-minute walk from the centre of town, though a bus service runs from just outside it. Good value and service, cosy rooms, nice breakfast.
Hotel Italia 2* Via Marconi 2. Excellent food, good value, right across the street from the Faloria cable car.
Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) flies to Treviso, from about £20 return. The airport is less than two hours' drive from Cortina – or take the Terravision coach (00 39 331 781 4916), timed to depart after Ryanair flights arrive, for about £16 return. The transfer takes about three hours.
A daily service connects Venice to Cortina, taking four hours.
Trains from Innsbruck and Munich arrive at Dobbiaco, a 50-minute drive from Cortina. Taxis (00 39 335 637 1419, www.taxicortina.com).
Highway SS48 leads from Egna Ora (A22) to Cortina. For car hire, try the following: Alamo (0870 400 4562, www.alamo.co.uk); Avis (0844 581 0147, www.avis.co.uk); Budget (0844 581 2231, www.budget.com); or Easycar (08710 500 444, www.easycar.com).
Tourist office (0436 866 252, www.cortina.dolomiti.org), via Marconi. Open daily 9am-2.30pm and 3.30-6.30pm.
Before you leave Cortina, check out www.dolomitisuperski.com. Click on the ski performance tab and type in your pass codes to see the routes you have skied, the total area covered and your vertical descents.