The medieval cobbled streets of Bormio, in a valley at 1225m, are spectacularly hemmed in by 300° of mountains rising above 3,000m. Making this big and ballsy resort a favourite for visitors from Milan to Warsaw to Moscow, and for a growing number of Aussies all singing her praises.
From town she’s straight up and up on the lifts for over 1800m vertical, and it’s possible to even hike up further, as I discovered with local boarder Alessio Tacchini and his mates. Alessio heads up every weekend from Lake Como to enjoy the massive free-ride zones between Cima Bianca (3,012m) and Monte Vallecetta (3,148m). Fabio from Livigno gave me Alessio’s number and insisted I call, “He’s a great guy and terrific boarder”. We rendezvoused at Bormio 3,000 and with his 8 year old Giorgio in tow headed skier’s left under the funivia to the Vallone free ride zone. Doing laps through 1,000m vertical are the order of the day, or week here, if you feel so inclined. We enter the zone at numerous points off the brilliant Bimbi al Sole run, usually exiting through a powder cache in the trees.
You can spend as little or long in the Vallone zone as you want as it’s immediately adjacent the pistes – if it’s too crusty in the morning or turns gloppy in the afternoon then pop back out on the groomer. Fortunately, I experienced neither as we ripped up tip top conditions with fresh snow and sub zero temps through a series of interconnecting valleys and generous chutes.
Given that the majority of Bormio is above tree line there are vast tracts of ungroomed trails between the pistes, around avalanche barriers, and below the lifts,Valbella being my favourite, in part due to the fur clad chairs on the sun deck of La Rocca refugio.
Bormio is deceptively large, and with so many routes from the top I’d often take the wrong turn in my search for La Rocca, though an espresso or coldie wasn’t ever too far away elsewhere. Even the night skiing is huge. It isn’t some lame affair on the kiddie slopes. It’s 800 vertical metres down sweeping red runs onto the bottom half of the World Cup Stelvio course. Noticeably, plenty of fast locals carve it up in packs and enjoy a drink at BeWhite adjacent the telecabine base station. As 7 year old Luca from Sydney proclaimed, “Night skiing – it’s a group thing!”. And to finish it off, the mandatory Nutella crepe.
The Stelvio was inaugurated in 1982, hosted the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in ‘85 and ‘05, and since 1993 the the World Cup end-of-year Downhill race every 29 December. On the north side of town (by car/bus) is San Colombano/Isolaccia/ Oga, a smaller, picturesque area served by the Happy Mountain gondola, surface lifts and non-detachable twins and quads. With less (no) crowds I was free to carve the super crisp groomers all to myself, and enjoy a hearty mountain meal and glass of vino at the remotest of refugios, the delightfully quaint Agriturismo Malga. Rather than waiting for the bus I hitched a ride home from Le Motte.
It doesn’t get anymore authentic than Bormio; there’s no prefab/ purpose built construction or atmosphere here. It’s the real deal. Bormio epitomises all that’s great about Italy (not that there’s much wrong about it) – glorious scenery, fashionable shopping, history, art, culture, Roman remains, churches, museums, fountains, squares, tall towers, delicious food and wine (the local specialities being Britto cheese, Bresaola salumi & Nebbiolo reds) and, of course, the generously warm people. And that’s just in the pedestrian zone around Via Roma and Piazza Cavour.
Though rich in history Bormio is nonetheless contemporary and vibrant attested by the über modern Ristorante dell’Enoteca with a wine list longer than both my arms and a sumptuous menu to match. There’s also the chic day spa and cool retro lobby bar at the 4 star Palace Hotel. And the impressive cable-stayed bridge across the Frodolfo River, which would be right at home in Dubai, Singapore or Tokyo.
Bormio is also host to three wonderful baths/termes – the old, the new and the public. Truth is they’re all public, with varying degrees of luxuriousness, charm and price tags. All three take advantage of thermal springs dating back to Roman days. The ‘old’ (Bagni Vecchio) sits high above town on the Stelvio Pass and let’s you soak in the views across the valley from a vast array of baths, including a magical grotto. The exclusive ‘new’ (Bagni Nuovi) is lux personified set in the grounds of the 5 star Grand Hotel. The ‘public’ (Bormio Terme), located downtown, is large, popular and fun, with indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a water slide, hyrdo baths, saunas and kiddie pools.
Half an hour or so from Bormio at Arnoga is the Husky Village. Our hosts, Lorenzo and Silvia introduce me to my team of 4 dogs – Kora, Ice, Spirit & Alice and teach me the ropes of handling their home made sleds for the 5 km circuit through the gorgeous snow laden pine forest. With ‘only’ 58 dogs it’s a far cry from the 500 or so that Lorenzo tended in Alaska as part of the Iditarod support crew 12 years ago. This experience fuelled his passion and desire to move from Milan to the serenity of the Alps.
Alas, as my week drew to a close I found myself on the train from the Alps to Milan for a spot of shopping, cathedral climbing, and a last supper along the canals of the Navigli district, then bunking down at the luxurious Sheraton at Malpensa Airport before my flight home. One final tip, sit on the left side of the train/bus on the way up and right side on the way back for the best views of Lake Como and the magnificent sunny Alps of Italy that dominate the horizon.