ITALY,   2011

Madonna di Campiglio/Lake Garda/
Levanto-Cinque Terre

March 5 – March 16, 2011
Trip Recap Report

The Harford Ski Club returned to Europe again, this time to the perennial favorite of Northern Italy. The destination this year was the ski resort of Madonna di Campiglio, nestled high in the Brenta Dolomites slightly west of Trento. Eighteen game skiers and sightseers comprised the group; seventeen of us from the local area plus newcomer Roman Torbochkin from Pittsburgh who met us at Dulles Airport. Those from Maryland headed down in style in a stretch SUV limo and a party bus stocked with libations (and luggage) on a warm, cloudy Saturday afternoon. After some snacks and beverages at the airport, we boarded our Air France jet and were off on the overnight flight to Europe. Sleep was not in order for most, as we landed early in Paris and then quickly were on our way to sunny Italy across the snow-covered French Alps. After landing in Italy at Milan’s Linate Airport, we boarded a well-packed bus and set off for the 3 hour ride up into the mountains. Tracey Palese was dealt a bad hand early on, as her luggage didn’t show up until Tuesday, but she handled it like a trooper and at least has some stylish new Italian skiwear as compensation. It was sunny and warm on the Lombardy Plain and we didn’t hit snow until getting nearly into Madonna. Enroute we passed Carnival parades in a couple of the little villages along the way. There was plenty of snow on the slopes of Madonna diCampiglio, located at appx 1500 meters (5000’) base elevation. Our home there was the Hotel Touring, set on a hillside overlooking the main squares of the town. Plus it was actually “ski in-ski out” (via a small slope and poma lift), a relative rarity in Europe. Our first afternoon there was spent unpacking (well except for Tracey…), renting ski equipment and checking out the town. A number of us found a nice outdoor restaurant patio overlooking the local ice rink to enjoy some cold Moretti beers and the last warm rays of afternoon sunshine. Then it was back to the hotel for dinner (the tuna salad with beets, beans, etc would become a nightly staple), some light conversation and beverages by the lobby fireplace, and some much-needed sleep.

Above the CloudsThat Monday was the first ski day for many, whereas the rest spent the day exploring the local environs. Madonna diCampiglio sits at the end of the long Rendena valley, and is surrounded by high mountains. On the east side are the beautiful, jagged peaks of the Brenta Dolomites, the western edge of that mountain sub- range. To the west are the more traditionally-shaped Italian Alps which continue on all the way to the French border. The village itself, although somewhat modern by European resort standards, retains the aura of its Austrian heritage with traditionally painted wooden buildings and several large squares where people gather outdoors to eat, drink and converse. The Madonna Ski School is one of the largest, oldest and most renowned in Italy, and people from all over the country come here to learn to ski or improve their technique. As such, Madonna is more Italian and less cosmopolitan than other big Italian ski areas. We encountered some Austrian-Germans, Poles and Russians there as well but not much in the way of Americans or Brits. However, this region of Italy is fiercely proud of its Austrian heritage and its political status as an “Autonomous Province”, which I’ll expand upon later. The day dawned rather gray, but the clouds soon lifted out of the valley and eventually settled in around mid-mountain. The uppermost slopes were bathed in glorious sunshine, but visibility lower down varied greatly depending on where the clouds were. It’s always kind of neat skiing above the clouds though! Ski conditions remained very good all week; though it got a bit slushy at lower elevations during the afternoons. The area does a great job of grooming; every single slope all over the resort is groomed each night (again, a decided rarity in Europe) and light sleepers were heard to complain about the constant hum of the snow cats outside the hotel. It was also a holiday (Carnival) week, and the slopes could get quite crowded with lots of youngsters taking lessons. Bart Pierce and Dan Snoha referred to them as “Italian Bread Crumbs…”. But lift lines were generally very short or nonexistent due to the large number of high-speed, high capacity lifts in place. That evening, most of the group gathered down in the village at the Austrian-style Franz Josef Bierstube for some local beverages and discussion of the day’s activities. Mary Nichols, Deb Hannon, Jim Agosti and your trip leader were among those in attendance. Following the happy hour, we headed up the stairs to catch the opening parade of the weeklong “Hapsburg Carnaval” going on in town.Square of Madonna diCampiglio The parade featured costumed entertainers and musicians, horse drawn carriages and the much-anticipated arrival of the Imperial Court, all watched by hundreds of onlookers. After slowly winding through the village’s squares, the parade reached the small Belvedere ski slope for the official Opening Ceremony. More music, dance and theatrical performances ensued. This year’s mascot was called Rendenello, and he was (perhaps appropriately?) the Town Drunk. This part of Italy was Austrian up through World War I, the reigning Hapsburg Dynasty used to vacation here, and the locals seem to be totally enchanted with their former royal past. Austrian flags and banners hung from many buildings and throughout the squares, and the weeklong festivities also included wine tastings, high teas, lectures, a costumed torch-light ski parade, and a spectacular fireworks finale on Thursday night which went off right over our hotel. Some of the group saw costumed royals on the slopes throughout the week, mingling with the skiers and the drinkers in the various on-mountain restaurants. Mark Fischer discovered THE happening on-slope party spot, a mid-mountain restaurant where a DJ cranked party tunes, people danced on stage and drinks flowed freely all afternoon. Fortunately it was located adjacent to a gondola, which was filled with drunken revelers heading back DOWN the mountain come closing time.

There was a trace of snow overnight in the valley, which brought a couple inches of fresh powder up on the high slopes making Tuesday a great ski day for most of the group. The clouds dissipated early and it was another blue-sky day in the Dolomiti. Some of the crew headed onto the back side of the valley to ski the Folgarida/Marilleva areas. This comprises another huge ski area, though it took a little while to get there. Brenta DolomitiThe views looking back toward the Brenta peaks were spectacular and the ski pistes interesting albeit crowded. A long, wooded ski run into the far village of Folgarida was particularly nice. It didn’t take Jim Agosti, Deb Hannon, Bart Pierce, Dan Snoha, et al long to find a nice outdoor eatery and drinkery atop Monte Spolverino in the middle of the area. This place served huge wood-fired pizzas that cost 25 euros each but looked awesome and fed 4 people easily. It was packed with people at lunchtime and offered great views of the surrounding mountain peaks. Following the ski day people returned to the hotel, which was eerily quiet. About half the hotel, including many in our group, had come down with a nasty stomach virus of undetermined origin. Dinner that night was mostly deserted as everyone was sick. Fortunately the virus didn’t last much longer than 24 hours, but it nevertheless afflicted a majority of the group at some point during our week in Madonna. Those not ill spent that evening back down at the Franz Josef Bierstube trying to avoid the hotel’s germs.

On Wednesday nobody skied as we had a day trip scheduled to nearby Lake Garda. Unfortunately a number of the group were still sick and could not make it. For those that did, it was a beautiful sunny day and a great way to see some more of the bucolic local environs which have made Northern Italy such an enviable vacation destination for centuries. We rode a minibus through a deep gorge out of the mountains and over to Lake Garda, the largest lake in Italy and an important medieval trade route lined with old castles and stunning scenery. It also enjoys a unique “microclimate”, whereby the warm winds of the Mediterranean blow up across the lake and then get trapped by the high mountains surrounding its fjord-like north end.Lake Garda This warmth allows tropical foliage like palm, olive, lemon and tangerine trees and a myriad of plants and flowers to grow much further north than they ordinarily would. We met our local guide for the day, Carmen, and set off exploring. Our first stop was in Arco, a former Austrian vacation spot known today for its spectacular ruined castle perched atop the town. We walked around the medieval streets of the village for a time checking out the castle and a large church and then set off for the next stop, Riva del Garda. This town is an exceedingly pretty place set right at the very top of the lake. Many vintage lake cruise boats still ply the waters of the lake during the warmer months. Some of them were moored here for us to see. We spent a couple of hours here, as Carmen took us on a wandering tour of the backstreets in her hometown. There is a lakeside castle here along with a couple of nice churches. Also a big Wednesday morning Street Market attracted the shoppers in the group. Mike Zullo, Charles Robinson, Cathie Morrison and Sharon Roche were among a group who enjoyed coffee at a pretty courtyard café. Then it was time to head down the east side of the big lake, with our next stop being in the village of Malcesine. This is a more modern vacation town, but it has an old center with narrow, winding streets leading to another well-preserved lakeside castle. It was also basically deserted on a weekday this time of year. After walking for awhile, we came across a nice little outdoor trattoria offering good local food. Following the traditional 2-hour Italian lunch, we re-boarded the bus and continued down the lake. Our next stop was in Torri del Benaco, where yet another castle keeps guard over the town. There is a gorgeous little fishing harbor here lined with colorful buildings and boats. Shore of Lake GardaAlso a grove of lemon trees. Then it was on to our final stop of the tour, the Zeni Winery in Bardolino. Bardolino is well-renowned in wine circles for the sweet, fruity red wine of the same name which originates here. We enjoyed a tour of the family winery (established 1870) and its museum before settling in to the cavernous underground wine cellars for a private wine tasting accompanied by some snacks. Sara from the winery took care of us, filling us in on the nuances of their wines and the winemaking process, though somehow Roman’s glass kept coming up empty… Upon exiting the cellars we were treated to a spectacular sunset across the hazy waters of Lake Garda. Then it was time for the long bus ride back to Madonna, where thankfully many of our compatriots were feeling better and joined us for dinner. Those not so tired joined some local Italian vacationers afterwards to watch the AC Milan soccer match on the big screen in the hotel’s TV room.

On Thursday it was time to hit the slopes once more, the weather was fine and fortunately more people were well enough to partake of it. Phyllis Sassone and Haven Frank went snow-trekking up to a scenic little lake above the town. Others enjoyed the DJ-led party action at the Boche Restaurant on the Passo Groste slopes all afternoon long.Hapsburg Carnaval Roman continued his conquest of the Pradalgo slopes. Donna Andrews made the rounds of the stores in town. That night everyone enjoyed the grand finale of the Hapsburg Carnaval, which started off with a torchlight ski parade by costumed characters on the adjacent Belvedere ski slope. Following that there commenced a huge fireworks display which went off literally right above our hotel, littering the grounds and ski slope with ashes and spent rocket cartridges. Many of the group watched from their balconies, looking straight up at the spectacle overhead. Friday was our last day in Madonna, and thankfully the good weather held on one more day. So it was a final chance to enjoy the glorious ski conditions of the Val Rendena. That afternoon a number in the group ventured down to the nearby village of Pinzolo to check out the ancestral town of club member Robert Martello. There are also ski slopes above Pinzolo, but unfortunately the long-planned connection gondola was not finished yet for us to use. Pinzolo is the main town in the valley, and has been a center of knife-making and knife-sharpening for centuries. There is a big old church right in the middle of town surrounded by winding narrow streets and pedestrian passageways. The group found the Martello “compound” and enjoyed drinks at his cousin’s new café-bar the Osteria Bagat. Then it was back to Madonna where everyone returned rental equipment, packed up luggage, enjoyed one final group dinner at the Hotel Touring and then gathered in the lobby for drinks, perusing the local historical books and discussing the week’s activities. The next morning it was on to Phase Two of our Italian adventure…

Saturday morning dawned cloudy and gray, with a fine sleet/snow combination falling in Madonna. By the time we reached the Lombardy Plain it had turned to a steady rain, which would mostly follow us for the remainder of the trip. We rode in a comfortable bus for the lengthy 6-hour journey down to the Mediterranean. Enroute we passed the vineyard-filled Adige Valley, Verona (sorry Roman!), Mantua and Parma. We found snow again in the western reaches of the Apennines and followed the scenic, castle-lined Taro river valley for a time. Around mid-afternoon we pulled into the seaside village of Levanto, which would be our home base for the following 3 days. Levanto by-the SeaWith a pretty stretch of beach and surrounded by the green hills of Liguria, Levanto is one of a series of small beach resorts tucked into coves along the eastern stretch of the Italian Riviera. But it is also an ancient seafaring town featuring a castle, the remains of the old city wall, many beautiful old pastel villas and an interesting medieval quarter with lots of narrow winding streets and passageways. An old monastery in the middle of town now serves as the city hall. Even in the off-season there were ample eateries and drinkeries to keep us sustained during our stay. The Gambrinus Pub was a particular favorite. Our home base here was the lemon-yellow Hotel Oasi on the edge of the old quarter. Levanto is the center for an extensive hiking trail network running along the coast which brings many vacationers here. No, nobody took a dip in the sea that I know of but that might have been an option even in March had the weather been better!

For the next 3 days, the group explored the beautiful local coastal environs despite the near-constant rain, with the matching black umbrellas from the hotel racking up some miles. Phyllis and Haven continued their trekking ways, hiking the rugged trail between Levanto and the next town to the east, Monterosso, along with an even longer loop running between the Cinque Terre towns of Corniglia and Riomaggiore. Most everyone walked the new bike path from Levanto west to the neighboring town of Bonassola through a series of old railroad tunnels. Roman went exploring farther afield, taking the train to the resort town of Portofino and also to Genoa, where he (appropriately) caught a performance by the Kiev Ballet.St. Francis of Assisi statue But the majority of the group concentrated on exploring the Cinque Terre villages to the east, which was our primary reason for coming to this part of Italy. Though popular tourist attractions today, the Cinque Terre towns have retained much of their traditional medieval flavor. Tucked into seaside coves and cliffs, the towns have been largely dependent on their local traditions of fishing and winemaking for centuries. “Discovered” by the late 19th century romantic poets and writers including Byron, Lawrence and Shelley, the towns are connected by a mostly subterranean train line and hiking paths. During our stay there, they were filled with American college students on Spring Break, keeping the coffers of the local train authorities full. Running from west to east, the towns are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. George Mojzisek managed to hit them all in one day, but I think he was the only one. Monterosso contains a very nice beach, lots of shops, a pretty square dedicated to local son Giuseppe Garibaldi, and a huge statue of St. Francis of Assisi with his dog looming over the sea. Vernazza, arguably the prettiest, has a beautiful harborfront and a signature medieval watchtower atop. The hilltop village of Corniglia is surrounded by terraced vineyards and features 382 steps up from the train station, which were thoroughly enjoyed by Bill Shewchuk and Donna Andrews.Path of Love Manarola is probably the most colorful, with pastel houses covering the hillsides, boats in the streets and a waterfall running beneath it. Easternmost Riomaggiore is the largest, with a tiny boat harbor down by the sea and a large church plaza and castle ruins perched high above. The latter two towns are connected by the seaside “Path of Love”, a much revered and reinforced walkway where Tracey Palese now has a lock amongst the thousands of others left behind by lovers over the years. The sun did come out briefly on one afternoon, allowing us a glimpse of what this place looks like under good weather conditions. In short, magnifico!



Our last night in Levanto featured an extensive “pot-luck” happy hour in the hotel lobby catered primarily by Donna and Tracey. Everyone brought their remaining food, beer and wine along to finish up. After that most went to one final dinner at a vaulted restaurant on the Cavour Square near the monastery. The next morning, in the pouring rain naturally, we loaded the bus and set off for nearby Christopher Columbus Airport in Genoa to begin the long journey back to the States. Fortunately it went off without a major hitch, and it was sunny and almost 70 degrees when we landed in Paris (next time, France!) and warmer still when we arrived back at Washington Dulles that night. Following the last bus ride back to Abingdon we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways, another fun and festive ski trip to Europe in the books. Thanks to all for going along and contributing to such a nice travel experience. Until next time, Arrivederci!

Steve Andrews
Trip Leader

Our fearless Trip Leader