The beach or the mountains? The perennial question. Until recently if you had posed it to me I would have quickly and forcefully answered MOUNTAINS, but, after our last summer spent seaside my fondness for sand and salt has increased. And I find myself acclimating easier to the heat perhaps due to living now nearly two years without air conditioning. Also, beaches are flat, and as I have found out from living in the Netherlands I quite like flatness (or laziness as the case may be.)
For the Frenchman, the answer is easier as the beach means sun, which he prefers to avoid. Thus, when I suggested we visit a beach this winter instead of the mountains he balked and begged and pleaded. He very strongly wanted to go on a ski holiday instead. Finally, after he became the first person in history to assert that he had no desire to go to the Maldives, I gave in and, on the same day, booked tickets to both the mountains and the beach as I inwardly grimaced about the long hours of work needed to accomplish two large-scale vacations in a single month. Truthfully, I was also patting myself on the back – for having not traveled much before we met, the Frenchman’s willingness to explore and go along with my crazy travel ideas has increased exponentially (though I am still working on him with the idea of Egypt.) Also, he has quite taken to skiing, an activity he avidly detested before I began to drag him along each winter
After much debate and many spreadsheets of figures and costs and columns of positives and negatives we settled on spending ten days from Christmas through the first week of January in the Dolomites, which reviewers (snowheads.com is great for all such ski-related research) promised would give us long trails of medium difficulty and good food. While I can appreciate a good black run I also appreciate a good mountain-side Irish coffee or cold beer in an apres ski lounger just as much, so Italy sounded like the perfect destination to compare to last year’s ski trip to France’s Three Valleys.
Getting to Italy was an adventure in itself with four flights in forty-eight hours: I had gone to the States to spend Christmas with my family, flew out on Christmas Day to rendez-vous with the Frenchman in Paris, and then fewer than twelve hours later jetted of to Venice to pick up our rental car and drive to the mountains. After two days of traveling collapsing into bed at the Relais de Guisto inn was one of my greatest pleasures of the entire trip.
The Dolomites offer a unique skiing opportunity quite different than that of the States or the French Alps. Here, the emphasis is on families and sight-seeing. Thus, the trails were easy and connected via various themed routes linking the resorts: the World War route across the battlefield, the route with the best vistas, etc. Of these, the most famous is the Sella Ronda, a ski tour that circles the Sella massif, crossing four mountain passes, three Italian provinces, and forty-two kilometers. It can be made either clockwise or counterclockwise, and, though it was closed many of our days due to high winds on the upper passes, we managed to complete the circuit both directions as well as a panoramic tour, whose highest lift, the sass podori to the Refugio Maria, was otherwise closed during our trip due to poor weather conditions. The area in which we stayed, the Val di Fassa, is part of the larger Dolomiti Superski, which encompasses 450 linked lifts, more than 1,200 kilometers of trails, twelve resorts, and the Marmolada glacier.
The mountains were beautiful, the skiing easy, the food delicious, and the bombardinos boozy. Unfortunately, it was also nearly snow-free after the snow quickly melted following the initial blizzard during our drive to our base in the village of Campitello. Thus, many of the ski tours and scenic routes were inaccessible. While we could have accepted the early-season conditions without passing judgment as to the ski area itself what put us off of the skiing in Italy and why we would chose the French Alps over the Dolomites after having compared both was the trail length versus lift-sitting time as well as the complete inability of the Italians to form a queue or regulate the number of riders on a ski lift, resulting in absolute madness and jostling lines lasting for sometimes more than an hour and a half for the large lifts to and from the villages. Other times we wanted to scream at chair lift operators with lines of half an hour or more who allowed six-person lifts ahead of us to be filled by only one or two people. Truly, 80-90 percent of our time was spent either sitting on a lift or waiting in line instead of enjoying the ski slopes.
Compared to the British-haven of the French Alps, the Dolomites gave off the impression of being the ski resort for the locals with only Italian being spoken by skiers and workers alike. The food, too, was comprised of local dishes, barley soup and cream-heavy pasta, and, of course, pizza.
In five or six weeks we will fly back to Venice – the mountains only visible in the distance – to experience the food and historical sights, well away from ski-boot clad, ski-wielding Italians, surrounded instead by, we hope, well-behaved, line-forming-capable tourists.
To make your own warming Bombardino:
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
6 ounces brandy
4 egg whites