Heading south for the winter – skiing near Florence

The ski resort of Sestola is just over an hour’s drive from the cities of Bologna and Florence and offers a good value alternative to the Alpine resorts further north.

Apparently, the further south you get, the more ‘Italian’ the Italians become. So if you want a true taste of real Italian culture on the ski slopes then Sestola, in-between the cities of Bologna and Florence, ticks all the boxes.

It’s not the usual Alpine destination and surprising that a ski area of this size can be found right down in the spine of Italy. The resort is popular with locals and weekend visitors from Rome and during the week, the slopes are empty and very few foreign tourists make it here to ski.

But there’s plenty on offer for all abilities from easy slopes for beginners, including a sunny south facing nursery area, to some interesting off-piste excursions through the trees when the snow is deep enough.

All the action takes place on Monte Cimone, the highest point in the Emilia-Romagna region and from the top at 2, 165 meters, you can see both the Mediterranean and Adriatic seas at the same time on a clear day. Bordering Tuscany, the rolling, green countryside that surrounds the respectably sized ski area (50 kilometres of slopes with 26 lifts), reminds you of a scene from Gladiator – with thousands of Romans marching northwards.

Plenty of snow in Sestola

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They get lots of snow here, despite only being an hour’s drive from Florence. The storms coming in from both sides, hitting this huge white divide that’s almost volcanic in appearance. The old NATO spy base on top is now a weather station serving the central part of Italy.

Fortunately they gets lots of sun too and we had the best of both worlds. The slopes suit beginners and intermediate skiers perfectly, with a dash of black here and there to keep the more extreme members of the family happy – or the ones who don’t lunch.

Food in this part of Italy is taken very seriously. This is the home of Bolognaise, ‘don’t even think about eating it with spaghetti’ said one local who pointed out that tagliatelle was the only option.

I visited a parmesan cheese maker who had over one million Euro’s worth in his shed. The lump I took home was larger than my ski boot.

Parmesan-cheese-factory-3

It’s also the home of the most famous Italian ski racer of all time, Alberto Tomba. He’s a national treasure in Italy, but around here, he’s worshiped. I couldn’t find Alberto but I did have lunch with his sister, Alexia, who works on the slopes as a ski instructor.

alexia Tomba

The town of Sestola is charming and steeped in history, formally being the regions capital. It’s typical of a medieval town perched on an Italian hillside, craggy, old and full of character. During the evening before dinner, it’s traditional to take a walk along the pedestrianised street to look and be looked at – maybe take a local aperitif made from wild forest fruits in one of the small bars along the way.

Down the road in Modena, the Ferrari factory is a joy for car lovers with some classics including Steve McQueen’s old car, used in the film bullet. Lamborghini, Maserati and Bugatti are located close by and it would be easy to lose two days of your life indulging in car heaven.

Ferrari-factory-2-Showroom

Sestola and Monte Cimone is not the Alps in terms of the sheer variety of skiing on offer, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in the richness of Italian culture and alternative activities unique to this area.

Getting there

BA Flies from London Heathrow to Bologna daily and hotel transfers are available from the airport and take about one and half hours to Sestola.

Accommodation in Sestola is hotel and apartment based

The three star Hotel Tirolo is centrally located and costs start at Euro 52.00 per person per night – packages are available

www.hoteltirolo.com

www.cimonesci.it

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Robert Stewart

Ski Editor at Snow.Guide

Rob has extensive knowledge and experience of winter sports and has been qualified to instruct and teach Alpine Skiing for over 25 years. He is also an experienced off-piste and backcountry skier and has competed in freestyle and freeride events around the world. Now a full-time ski writer and Director of Ski Press, Rob is Snow.Guide’s Ski Editor and contributes to many other snowsports, national and lifestyle publications.

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