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9Dec/100

Discover Venice in December, Italy’s winter wonderland

For most of the year, Venice is gorgeous, but maddening: the finest squares, flanked by churches and palaces, are choked with people; while the tawdry side-industries that thrive on mass tourism diminish the appeal of the city and make a mockery of its nickname, La Serenissima.

In winter, though, the crowds melt away as the December mists confer the canals with an exquisite extra dimension. While Christmas and New Year are popular (especially with Italian visitors), travelling before midwinter's day and between early January and the St Valentine's Day weekend is richly rewarding.

If you have been to Venice previously only in summer, you get a chance to see the beauty of the naked city. Without the waterborne congestion caused by gondolas, you are better able to appreciate the fascinating ways in which the city copes with its unusual geography: everything from the post to funeral processions moves by water. And after the sun sets (before 5pm at this time of year), you will also meet its people, and discover a conviviality in the cafés and restaurants that gets submerged when the tourists take over.

More practically, air fares are at their lowest in early December (with bargains to be found after new year, too), and hotels are offering special deals.

Regardless of the time of the year Venice is one of the most beautiful places to visit. Search Bargain Villas for some fantastic deals on Venice villas and apartments.

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21Nov/100

Ski Cortina Piste guides

There is a good mixture of Cortina Ski slopes above and below the treeline. Reporters consistently praise quiet slopes, at least in the areas close to the town, but complain about signs, piste classification and marking, and the piste map.

All Cortina’s smallish separate areas are a fair trek from the town centre. The largest is Pomedes, accessed by chair and draglifts a bus ride away from the centre. You can reach it by tricky black piste from Tofana, Cortina’s highest area, accessed by cable car from near the ice rink. There is no link in the opposite direction.

On the opposite side of the valley is the tiny Mietres area. Another two-stage cable car from the east side of town leads to the Faloria area, from where you can head down to chairs that lead up into the limited but dramatic runs beneath Cristallo.

Other areas are reachable by road – in particular the road west over Passo Falzarego. (Taxis are an affordable means of access if shared.)

First, there’s the small but scenic Cinque Torri area. Excellent north-facing cruising runs are accessed by a fast quad, followed by an ancient one-person chair; beyond that, a rope tow leads to a sunny, panoramic red run on the back of the hill to Fedare.

From Fedare the Croda Negra chairlift links to the tiny Col Gallina area – north-facing, again – from where you can take a blue back to Cinque Torri. The cable car from nearby Passo Falzarego up to Lagazuoi serves an excellent red/blue run back to the base station and accesses the famous ‘hidden valley’ run to the fringe of the Alta Badia area.

One way to tour the area is to use special ski itineraries (maps are available). ‘Skitour Olympia’ takes you on the 1956 Olympic courses and the bobsleigh run.

FAST LIFTS

Some in each sector

The main access lifts are cable cars and there are fast chairs scattered throughout each sector, but a lot of slow old lifts remain too.

QUEUES

No problem

Most Italian visitors rise late, lunch at length and leave the slopes early to get scrubbed up.

That means few lift queues and generally uncrowded pistes – in the afternoon especially. A 2009 visitor, however, reports crowded runs at Cinque Torri, even in low season.

He speculates that the crowds came from the Sella Ronda resorts, taking in Cinque Torri before riding the cable car to Lagazuoi for the famous ‘hidden valley’ run. Queues can form for this cable car, not surprisingly.

TERRAIN PARKS

Not a bad one

There is a terrain park at Faloria that has some decent kickers and rails, and a half-pipe. It’s not open to skiers.

FOR EXPERTS

Normally rather limited

Decent amounts of natural snow are the key factor – not only to provide plentiful off-piste (which will offer fresh tracks for days on end) but to ensure adequate snow cover on the sunny black runs.

These include the excellent Forcella from Tofana to Pomedes: deservedly classified black, it goes through a gap in the rocks, and gives wonderful views of Cortina way down in the valley below.

And Cortina’s most serious challenge, the Staunies run at the top of the Cristallo area – a south-facing couloir that we have never found open (tougher than it looks from below, warns a reporter).

There are short but genuinely black runs below Pomedes and Duc d’Aosta.

There are some excellent red runs too, notably at Pomedes and Faloria. Heli-skiing is available.

FOR INTERMEDIATES

Fragmented and not extensive

To enjoy Cortina you must like cruising in beautiful scenery, and not mind doing runs repeatedly.

The runs at the top of Tofana are short but normally have the best snow. The highest are at over 2800m and mainly face north. But be warned: the only way back down is by the tricky black run described above or by cable car. The reds in the linked Pomedes area offer good cruising and some challenges.

Faloria has a string of fairly short north-facing runs – we loved the Vitelli red run, round the back away from the lifts. And the Cristallo area has a long, easy red run served by a fast quad.

It is well worth making the trip to Cinque Torri for fast cruising on usually excellent north-facing snow. And do not miss the wonderful ‘hidden valley’ red run from the Passo Falzarego cable car.

FOR BEGINNERS

Wonderful nursery slopes

While there are no special deals for beginners, the Socrepes area has some of the biggest nursery slopes and best progression runs we have seen.

Points cards are issued by the day too. You’ll find ideal gentle terrain on the main pistes but some of the blue forest paths can be icy and intimidating.

SNOWBOARDING

Despite its upmarket chic, Cortina is a good resort for learning to board. The Socrepes nursery slopes are wide, gentle and served by a fast chairlift.

And progress on to other easy slopes is simple because you can get around in all areas using just chairs and cable cars – although there are drags, they can be avoided.

Boarderline is a specialist snowboard shop that organises instruction as well as equipment hire. In a normal snow year there is little off-piste, but there are some nice trees and hits under the one-person chair at Cinque Torri.

FOR CROSS COUNTRY

One of the best

Cortina has around 78km of trails suitable for all standards (including a new one in 2009), mainly in the Fiames area, where there’s a cross-country centre and a school.

Trails include a 30km itinerary following an old railway from Fiames to Cortina, and there is a beginner area equipped with snowmaking.

Passo Tre Croci offers more challenging trails, covering 10km. A Nordic area pass is available.

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Cortina is one of the most beautiful Ski resorts in Italy. search Bargain Villas for a bargain Ski Villa in Cortina

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