Value for Money 82%
The scenery will blow your ski boots off. But look beyond the cliffs and crags, and you’ll notice Canazei offers excellent intermediate-level skiing and delicious (and affordable) restaurants too. Top-notch snowmaking goes a long way to compensate for the dry, sunny climate – on-piste, at least.
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It’s a question that always has us stumped at Welove2ski. Why isn’t Canazei better known amongst English-speaking skiers?
After all, most of us don’t get to the mountains more than once a season, and when we do, we’re not skiing backwards down a half-pipe or ploughing through waist-deep powder. What we’re looking for are broad, well-groomed pistes, some good-looking mountains to marvel at, and as much sunshine as possible, so we can see where we’re going. Oh yes, and a restaurant which offers more than chicken and chips for lunch is pretty high on the wish-list, too.
Canazei and its near-neighbour Campitello have all these things in spades. Wedged into a narrow cleft of forest and rock at the far end of the Val di Fassa, these friendly, unpretentious resorts offer quick access to some of the most scenic intermediate skiing on the planet. The backdrop comes courtesy of the sheer-sided Dolomites – former coral atolls which were left high and dry by retreating oceans. The skiing is provided by the vast Dolomiti Superski lift system, which serves up a muscle-melting 1200km of pistes.
This isn’t a seamless ski area like the Three Valleys or Val d’Isere–Tignes in France. To explore its full extent, you’ll need to ride some buses, or hire a car. But its core, around the Sella massif, will keep even athletic intermediates happy for a week – provided they explore the valleys that spin off the central hub.
As they ski they’ll notice that the area has more than its far share of long, broad, and confidence boosting pistes. Even during a snow drought they’ll be impressed by the quality of the snow, too. Canazei’s snow-making and grooming teams are second to none, and even in the bone-dry start to winter in 2016-7, they were able to produce soft-grippy pistes, even when the slopes around them were brown with exposed winter grass.
As for the food – well, the reputation of the Dolomite restaurant scene is spreading, and prices are creeping upwards. But they’re still lower than the A-list resorts of the north, and the quality and novelty of the cooking is just as refreshing.
So why don’t more Brits and Irish come here? It may be because not many of us work winter seasons here – and so there’s no-one spreading the word amongst friends and family back home. But whatever the reason, there’s no shortage of other nations. The Dutch, Germans, Czechs, Poles, Scandis, and of course the Italians are all here. We even heard a few French skiers on a recent visit. Admittedly, it’s a tad more formal than some of the sportier resorts further north, which attract a younger clientele, and offer buzzier bars and nightlife. But there’s no doubting that, on an average week, its guests are having a ball.
A Short Guide to the Skiing in Canazei
There’s a vast amount of skiing on offer around Canazei and its neighbour Campitello. Most of it is intermediate-friendly, and some of it is deliciously uncrowded. It isn’t as neatly interconnected as the Three Valleys in France, but if you like your pistes wide, gentle and confidence-boosting, you’ll enjoy the Canazei skiing experience at least as much: provided you get away from the Sella Ronda, and explore the full extent of the skiing on offer.
The Sella Ronda is the big attraction
The big draw in in this part of the Dolomites is the Sella Ronda. It’s probably the most famous round-trip in skiing: a 40km circuit of lifts and pistes that girdles the fortress-like walls of the Sella Group. Everyone skis it at least once during their holiday.
In many respects, it’s worthy of the hype. It’s not often you get to get to see a massif from every side – especially one as abrupt and magnificent as this one. What’s more, all but the wobbliest of intermediates can make the tour – provided they give themselves a whole day to get round, and pay close attention to the signposting and piste map.
However, the Sella Ronda’s popularity is also its bane. In peaks weeks the pistes are crowded and lift queues can be a pain. You also get the sense that – in order to get round it – you’re not skiing the best slopes. Our view is that you should leave it till the end of your holiday week (when most skiers will have already tackled it), and warm up your ski legs on some of the other, quieter, parts of the lift system. There are four areas which feed into the Sella Ronda like the spokes of a wheel – the Val di Fassa, the Val Gardena, the Alta Badia and the slopes above Arabba. All offer better skiing than the Ronda itself and you’d be nuts to ignore them.
But the best of Canazei’s skiing lies elsewhere
So where else to ski? Well, there’s so much on offer it’s hard to summarize. But here are a few suggestions.
Pocket-sized Ciampac-Buffaure area, on the other side of the Val di Fassa from the Sella Ronda, is a lovely place to start the week. It’s not big, but there are some wide, confidence-boosting pistes at the top of the area, and three steeper valley runs, too. One drops down to the Alba and two go down to Pozza di Fassa on the other side of the area. Keen and athletic piste skiers should warm up on the red, and then go for the two blacks. All three are superb.
Skiing over to the Val Gardena is essential too. You’ll want to have a crack at the swooping and surprisingly unscary Saslong World Cup downhill race course. But there are many other scintillating pistes besides.
The slopes above the village of Arabba are home to best collection of steeper pistes in the region. They’re north facing too, so hold their snow well, but during a snow drought they can be icy, despite the work of the snow cannons.
The Marmolada glacier, reached from the back of the Arabba slopes, is where you’ll find the best snow in the Dolomites (and the often the deepest powder after a dump).
On the far side of the Sella Massif, the Alta Badia is where you’ll find the biggest single collection of gentle ego-boosting pistes.
Meanwhile, the pocket-sized ski area of Catinaccio is worth a visit, for its towering backdrop of Dolomite rock, and for lunch at Baita Checco (see Where to Eat, below). You will however need to ride a bus 5 miles to Pera in the Val di Fassa to get there.
Finally, don’t forget the Belvedere and Col Rodella sectors immediately above Canazei and Campitello. The Sella Ronda threads through both, but you can spend a happy day skiing here on broad, and beautifully-groomed pistes without ever doing the tour.
You won’t find many expert skiers here in a normal season
There are some famous, arse-tight couloirs to be skied here, between the soaring Dolomite crags (check out the back end of this video, filmed in the exceptional winter of 2009-10 for a sense of that). And when the snow is fresh, you can enjoy some cracking powder runs on the Marmolada – or on the hikeable south-east face of the Sassolungo. But generally experts don’t flock to Canazei; for the simple reason that the climate’s too dry.
The storms that hit the Alps from the north and north-west rarely drop much snow here. To get a proper dump, you need a weather system that bubbles out of the Gulf of Genoa and rolls along the southern face of the Alps. When that happens, the Dolomites can get absolutely plastered – and it will be the northern Alps’ turn to be dry. But those kind of weather systems are the exception, not the rule.
That said, when the weather does turn, you do tend to get more than one these southern storms: and sometimes the sequence can set in for weeks. If you can travel at short notice and fancy a crack at those couloirs, keep an eye on the snow reports: but be ready to travel to more familiar off-piste destinations such as Tignes, Verbier, St Anton and Chamonix if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate.
World-class snow-making will keep the pistes open, even in a snow drought
In contrast with the experts, piste-skiers don’t need to worry too much about the dry climate – because the snow-making here is extraordinarily good.
Yes, every resort in the Dolomites is pretty good at it – a reflection of the fact that this part of the Alps can’t rely on Mother Nature to produce the goods. But if a recent visit here is any guide, it does seem as though Canazei does it better than its neighbours. A local ski instructor told us that this was because they pumped more air through the snow cannons -along with the water. This makes the process more expensive, but also means the snow created is lighter and drier. It’s chalkier and more grippy as a result. We’re not sure about the theory: but we could certainly feel the result beneath our skis. It was almost impossible to tell the difference between the man-made stuff and natural mid-winter snow.
The real drawback to the climate here is the way it can warm up here quickly at the back end of the season. Ski here before the end of February to get the best of it.
One final thing: you can now buy your ski pass direct from your hotel in Canazei, or buy it online and pick it up at reception. Bear in mind, however, that not all accommodation providers are taking part in the scheme.
Ski School in Canazei
The two main ski schools in this part of the valley are the Canazei Marmolada Ski School and the Campitello Ski and Snowboard School. Both have well-organised creches and facilities for children, and offer nursery slopes down on the valley floor.
There’s also a big area of almost-flat, beginner-friendly snow at Ciampac, above the village of Alba. But it’s a bit of a faff to get there: by bus, and then cable car. We think grown-up beginner skiers should look for a resort where they’ll be skiing a little closer to the centre of the resort instead.
For intermediates, Canazei is a great place to improve your skiing
The idea of booking some tuition really comes into its own if you’re an intermediate or advanced piste skier. With so many broad, sunny pistes, Canazei is a naturally confidence-boosting playground: and the local instructors are dab hands and getting their pupils up on their edges and carving.
Best of all is if you can book private lessons. In the 2016-7 season, a two-hour morning session for three friends and a ski instructor from the Canazei Marmolada Ski School cost just €34 a head. That’s a fraction of what you’d pay in an A-list resort in France, and with all the personal attention you’ll get, you’ll make quicker progress than in a big group lesson. Plus of course, you’d feel like a gazillionaire, skiing with your friends/family and your own private guide and instructor.
By contrast, group lessons cost 155€ for 3x3hr sessions days. So if you’re holidaying with friends and/or family, and you’re skiing at more or less the same level, group tuition may not be any cheaper than private lessons.
Where to Stay in Canazei
Where to stay? Canazei or in its immediate neighbour, Campitello?
We’d recommend Canazei for most skiers for four reasons.
- The queues for the cable-car up the mountain at Campitello are notorious. You need to be there at the bottom lift station before 8.15 in peak weeks, otherwise you risk an hour’s queueing.
- Canazei offers quicker access to the gorgeous pistes on Ciampac/Buffaure on the other side of the valley.
- You can ski back down to Canazei, but not down to Campitello.
- Canazei has the best nightlife.
The standard of hotel-keeping is generally very good. Many of the hotels are family-run – and are friendly and spotlessly clean. However, family-run hotels don’t often have the budget for top-to-bottom refurbishment, and update their rooms on a rolling, year-by-year basis instead. You may find some bedrooms and public areas are rather dated as a result.
Prices tend to be a little lower than they are over in Selva, in the Val Gardena: and a lot lower than in an A-list French resort. A January week in a chic, refurbished room in the four-star Astoria in Canazei, for example, costs less than week in a three-star in Meribel, France.
Bear in mind that much of the accommodation is at the on far side of the village from the Belvedere gondola, which is the only lift up to the slopes in the village. To get there, you’ll have to hoof it along the main road, or catch the shuttle bus. So if you’re renting skis, pick a shop that’s close as to the lift as possible, such as Peak Sport, which allows you to leave your skis and boots overnight (you can pay to keep your own skis and boots there, too). That way you can walk in each morning wearing something more comfortable than ski boots.
Four-star Hotel Perla is close to the lift. In fact, it’s only 100m away, and is popular with Brits, who like the big breakfasts. It’s also home to an exotic wellness centre with swimming-pool, hot tub, steam room and a ‘beauty farm’. However, it is on the main road, so book a room at the back of the hotel if possible. Rooms are large, and decor varies enormously with some on the old-fashioned side, and others contemporary and stylish.
Hotel Croce Bianca
Hotel Croce Bianca is about 300m from the gondola. It has one of the best restaurants in the resort. It’s been in the same family for five generations – since 1882 – (having gone through several metamorphoses since then). Welove2ski stayed here in recent years: the lift is a little cranky, but the food’s good, the wellness area is recently refurbished, and at around 32sq metres, the standard rooms are big for the Alps. Once again, you should book a room at the back of the hotel to avoid noise from the road.
The popular four-star Hotel Astoria has been run by the same family since WWII, and gets rave reviews for its service. It’s Welove2ski’s favourite hotel in Canazei. The refurbished Mountain Superior rooms are a dream, there’s an indoor swimming pool, and the food is excellent. We find the furnishings in the shared living spaces a little impersonal, but it’s clean, spacious and stylish in a minimalist way. It’s a ten-minute walk from the lifts, but set back from the road, and the hotel runs a shuttle-service.
The Hotel Cristallo is the pick of the three-stars, recently-refurbished but 600m from the gondola. There is, however, a ski bus stop outside the hotel. It’s very Italian, and exactly what you’d expect from a mountain hotel in every way, from the colour palette to the polished wood floors. However, guests love the wellness centre and the atmosphere seems to be generally warm and friendly. Cristallo’s restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner, offering Trentino specialities, all prepared using healthy ingredients.
Hotel Cesa Rotic
If you’re on a budget, Cesa Rotic is small and simple, and about 20 minutes from the lifts, which is not ideal – but on the plus side it is far from the hustle and bustle and is certainly cheap. Bargain-hunters should keep an eye on it in the run-up to the quiet weeks of January. The last remaining rooms are usually sold off at the last-minute – at a healthy discount.
Residence Hotel Contrin
If you’re on the lookout for a cheap self-catering experience, the Contrin apartments are five minutes from the Belvedere ski slopes. Buses to the ski slopes at Moena, Campitello di Fassa and Alba stop 180 metres away. They’re absolutely nothing fancy but we reckon you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the quality of apartment. They’re central, comfortable, and won’t break your bank.
Campitello has ten four-star hotels. These include Gran Paradis, which is centrally-located. The family-run hotel has a spa complete with hot-tub, steam room, sauna and indoor swimming-pool. The rooms are decorated in typical Alpine style and there is a traditional restaurant. “Beautiful place and view, room was big and bright, very clean and cozy, swimming pool + sauna + spa,” was one report.
Golden Park Resort
Another four-star in Campitello is Golden Park Resort, which is close to the village centre, has spacious family-sized rooms with lots of wood, and a good wellness centre with an indoor swimming-pool: “Very friendly helpful staff. Excellent spa. We liked the shuttle service to the cable car and the breakfast was excellent,” said a visitor.
Where to Eat in Canazei
One of the great joys of skiing in Canazei – and in all the Dolomites – is eating out on the mountain. In fact, the combination of quality, service and affordable pricing make for one of the best restaurant scenes in the skiing world. You’d be mad not to make room for at least a couple of big mountain lunches during your holiday.
Why are the restaurants so good? In part, it’s because the guy in the kitchen, or the man behind the till, is often the owner. With the boss on site on a daily basis, everyone has to pull his or her weight. There’s no room for surly teenagers à la France.
But it’s also because of the quality of the ingredients and the rich culinary traditions of the region. Here, Italian cuisine mixes with the legacy of both the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Ladins – who lived in these parts long before anyone else. All sorts of delicious things appear on the menu – local cheeses, figs, venison, seafood, beef, barley, rice, gnocchi, pasta – and the local wine is delicious. After a week here, you’ll never want to touch another sticky tartiflette.
Oh yes – prices are roughly half what you’d pay in most top-notch restaurants in France.
Six Welove2ski favourites around Canazei
Baita Checco: home to some of the best cooking in the Val di Fassa, courtesy of young chef Matthias Trottner, the nephew of the owner. It’s in the Catinaccio ski area, above Vigo di Fassa, and well worth the day-trip down the valley.
Rifugio Salei: set beneath the Col Rodello, on the slopes above Campitello. They do a delicious pan of medallions of pork and Spätzle (a kind of mini-gnocchi), with a mix of mushrooms.
Fienile Monte: just above the Rifugio Salei, this recent addition to the mountain-restaurant scene serves irresistible Bistecca alla Fiorentina, and is open on Friday nights for dinner, too (access is by snow mobile).
Rifugio Emilio Comici: on the slopes above Selva, beneath the north face of the Saslong. This is the go-to restaurant for seafood, thanks to its long-standing links with the town of Grado, on the Golfo di Venezia.
Baita Cuz: set in the Pozza-Buffaure ski area, and owned by the fun-loving Stefano Zulian. It serves delicious ciasoncie: pasta stuffed with figs, flooded with butter, and topped off by a puree of apples. This is also the spot for your first-ever glass of calimero.
El Zedron: this simple restaurant and snack bar is right at the top of the Pozza-Buffaure ski area. They serve freshly-cooked pastas and soups, but what really struck Welove2ski were the snacks: little sandwiches that cost just €1.50. We’ve never seen a mountain restaurant or bar offer something like that before.
By contrast, down in the village the restaurant scene is less spectacular – for the simple reason that most guests stay in hotels or chalets on a half-board basis and rarely eat out. If you’re looking for pizza, no problem: Canazei is not short of pizzerias. But if you want something more sophisticated, you should book a taxi to Michelin-starred ‘L Chimpl, 10 miles away, above Vigo di Fassa. Make sure you order chef Steffano Ghetta’s signature dish: Uovo Soffice di Tamion.
Meanwhile, the pick of the hotel restaurants in the village is the intimate Stübe-style Wine and Dine restaurant at the Croce Bianca hotel, which seats just 25. The food at the four-star Hotel Astoria is also good.
Apres-Ski in Canazei
If you’re looking for proper, dancing-on-the-tables apres-ski, then Canazei is the best ski resort in the Dolomites. However, it’s no match for the biggest party towns of the Alps – such as Val Thorens, Meribel, and Ischgl.
Apres Ski Paradis is the main venue. It’s actually pretty hard not to fall into Apres Ski Paradis at the end of the skiing day. It’s the big pub-cum-disco-cum-log-cabin on the road back into town for anyone who’s skied down from the Col Rodello. The Taverna Espanola is also popular.
Meanwhile, in the Belvedere sector of pistes above Canazei, the bar at the Gran Bar Pecol, close to the gondola station back down to Canazei, is the place to stop for a drink before heading home. Over in the Pozza-Buffaure ski area on the other side of the valley, Baita Cuz is a lovely spot for a spritz or a glass of fizz as the sun begins to set.
By the way, if wine is your thing, then you have to check out the Enoteca Valentini in the middle of Canazei. Run by Sergio Valentini, who’s both a vastly-experienced UIAGM mountain guide and a sommelier, it’s home to a selection of over 800 wines – about half of which come from the Alto Adige. The climate there – which in summer mixes blazing hot days and chilly nights – is perfect for producing fragrant and complex wines, and there several varieties of both red and white worth trying. It’s also a great place to make sparkling wine, and if you do nothing else, buy a bottle of Ferrari, which has nothing to do with the sports cars and is better than most champagnes.