Think of La Villa as your gateway to La Dolce Vita. Base yourself here and you’ll have doorstep access to the easy skiing and top-notch restaurants of the Dolomites; and – by way of contrast – the scintillating Gran Risa World Cup descent.
Top lift: 2778m
Ski area: 130km of pistes locally (part of a wider 500km network of interlinked lifts and pistes)
Adult lift pass: €272-339 for six days
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La Villa may not feature in British tour operator programmes: but if you’re looking for good value, good food and wine, and door-step access to some of the most soothing pistes in the Dolomites, put it high on your short list.
Key to the appeal is the hub of lifts and pistes at its southern end. Yes, the main road to Corvara runs through it. But take a step or two back from the daytime traffic and you’ll find chic, family-owned hotels, apartments and chalets, right next to the lifts. Jump on one of them – the Piz la Ila gondola, and in five and a half minutes you’ll be clicking into your skis on the gentle Pralongiá plateau, surrounded by spectacular cliffs and crags, with the Sella Ronda ski circuit beckoning beyond. Or, if you fancy something a little more demanding, you can turn round and point your skis back down to La Villa. The plunging slope below is home to one of Italy’s best-loved World Cup race courses.
A guide to La Villa’s skiing
Like its neighbour Corvara, La Villa offers skiing in two directions. Catch the Gardenaccia chairlift, heading northwest from the village, and you can access two small but spectacular areas of intermediate skiing. One is immediately above the village. The other, further north, drops down from the Santa Croce chapel, through one of the most traditional landscapes in the region. Both are tranquil and under-used.
La Villa’s main draw, however, lies to the south. Here, the Piz La Ila gondola will whisk you up onto the Piz la Ila – Pralongiá plateau, where an intricate tangle of intermediate-level pistes explores the gentle, rolling terrain. Dotted with family-owned mountain refuges, and a smattering of proper, gastronomic restaurants, it’s a soothing and delicious place to ski – made magnificent by a 360-degree panorama of Dolomite cliffs and crags.
But this is only the start of the fun. Just beyond the plateau, on the far side of neighbouring Corvara, lies the circular Sella massif and the famous Sellaronda. This circuit of 20 lifts and 25km of pistes can be tackled by any reasonably fit and confident intermediate skier in three hours (five hours when lifts are busy), and can be skied both clockwise and anti-clockwise. Again, the scenery is never less than glorious, and although there is the occasional ho-hum moment as you ski a cat-track between more sustained slopes, several of the key pistes are well worth skiing for their own sake. On a sunnny day, when the slopes are quiet (in January, for example), it’s a superb day out.
You don’t, however, have to ski the whole circuit to get the benefit of its lift system. Like the spokes of a wheel, lone pistes and larger valleys spin off it in several different places. Some are close to home. Others – such as the Val di Fassa and the Val Gardena – are more far-flung. All in all, there are 130km of interlinked pistes in the local Alta Badia ski area, and 500km of skiing around the Sella Ronda hub, and in the neighbouring areas of Kronplatz and Cortina d’Ampezzo
You can also ski down to Armentarola at the southern end of San Cassiano, and catch a bus or taxi over to the Lagazuoi cable car above Cortina d’Ampezzo, and ski the Hidden Valley back towards the Alta Badia.
For more details on the best local skiing, see our guide to the Secrets of the Alta Badia Piste Map.
For more advanced skiers, the best piste is on La Villa’s doorstep
Lately, the Alta Badia has acquired a reputation as the home of Dolce Vita skiing: a place of confidence-boosting pistes, good food and delicious wine. The sense of well-being is helped by a sunny climate and jaw-dropping scenery.
So it’s a surprise for many overseas visitors when they stumble upon the Gran Risa Giant Slalom race track, immediately above La Villa. Ever since it became a World Cup course in 1985, Italian skiers have done well here: Alberto Tomba claimed four victories between 1988 and 1994, and Max Blardone won three times between 2005 and 2011. For Italians, it’s must-ski run.
We wouldn’t advise following them unless you’re comfortable and fluent on blacks. If you are – and you ski it when the snow’s soft and freshly-groomed – it’s a joyous experience, complete with sinuous, S-shape chicane in the middle to add some urgency to your turns.
Here’s how Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen skied it in 2021 – in smooth, controlled, attacking style. Oh, to be able to ski like this…
One thing to bear in mind about the Dolomites is the climate. It’s sunnier than almost every other part of the Alps: but also drier. Fortunately, the region’s resorts have developed world-class snow-making systems to compensate. Proof of their power came at the start of the 2016-17 ski season, where 900km of pistes were opened in the midst of the worst snow drought in the Dolomites for 20 years.
However, the Piz La Ila – Piz Sorega – Pralongiá pistes are quite low (at around 2000m), so you will find slushy afternoon snow a problem on sunny pistes in April – unless the conditions are unusually wintry.
The dry weather also means fewer powder days for off-pisters. Snowy weather patterns do sometimes establish themselves over the Dolomites – and when they do, they quite often repeat themselves. Check out the back end of this Salomon FreeskiTV programme for an idea of just how snowy the region gets when such a weather pattern sets in. But you can’t rely on it happening every season.
Ski schools in La Villa
There are two ski school in La Villa. The Ski & Snowboard School Dolomites meets at the Piz la Ila gondola and works primarily on the Piz La Ila – Piz Sorega – Pralongiá plateau at the top of the lift. Meanwhile, the Ski & Snowboard School La Villa is based on the other side of the main road from the gondola station, near the bottom of the Gardenaccia lift, and runs its kindergarten there.
Both offer group lessons, as well as refreshingly inexpensive private lessons. The latter are a great idea if you want to fine-tune your technique without signing up for a whole week of courses. They also guarantee you’ll be taught in English – something to bear in mind in a resort that’s all but unknown in the British market.
Where to stay in La Villa
By no means all the accommodation is close to the lifts or pistes at La Villa. Of course, for many of its guests, that’s no bother. They’ve driven down from Germany or up from Italy in their own cars, and they’ll drive themselves into the lifts each morning as a matter of course. If you have a hire car, you can do the same – and you’ll pay a little less for your room as a result.
That said, there’s nothing quite like staying close to the lifts; so you can launch your day without having to load and unload a car or pile onto a ski bus. One of La Villa’s strengths is that several of its properties offer that hassle-free, doorstep experience, while others are only a few steps away.
Here, we’ve picked the plums.
Chalet Prades Dolomiti Lodges
Want the quickest possible access to the Piz La Ila gondola each morning? Then book one of the four chic, wood-panelled self-catering apartments in Chalet Prades. They are, literally, next door to the lift station. They are also next door to the lift-station’s car park, so the view out of the northern and western side of the building will be across glittering windscreens and clomping skiers, who are bound to generate a bit of noise once the lifts open each morning. But that seems like a small price to pay for such a launchpad – and comments from previous guests are overwhelmingly positive.
Apt Bel Pre
300m from the Piz la Ila gondola, close to the pistes, and one step back from the main road, the three highly-rated Bel Pre apartments are almost as convenient as those in the Chalet Prades above. The style is crisp, clean and very woody, and you’re not far from cafés, bakeries and restaurants on those days when you can’t be bothered to cook.
Hotel Ciasa Soleil
Set back from the main road, on the far side of a piazza/parking area, the Hotel Ciasa Soleil is another canny spot for those wanting crisp modern styling and quick access to the Piz la Ila gondola. As a four-star it’s more luxe-y than the other properties close to the lifts recommended here, and the hotel includes a good wellness area with a small indoor pool, as well as a bright and airy double-height lobby. The restaurant gets rave reviews from half-board guests as well. For the full effect however, you need to book an east-facing room: for views towards San Cassiano and the cliffs and crags of the Cima Conturines.
Garni La Ciasota
Set on slope just above the main road, and one step back from it, Garni La Ciasota is a popular B&B just a few minutes’ walk from the main gondola. Parts of it have been recently renovated, too – notably the spa, the breakfast room and the superior double and single rooms (the older rooms are traditional in style). Bear in mind though, that when it’s icy, you might want to walk down the driveway to the lift in trainers/hiking boots and stick them in a rucksack when you ski.
The Mountain Spirit superior rooms are the ones to go for in the Hotel Antines. Newly-refurbished, they partner richly-textured wood with touches of charcoal grey to create a very modern sense of the mountains. But really, all the rooms are pretty here. Add the appeal of its highly-rated restaurant and wellness centre (complete with indoor pool), as well as its attentive staff, and it’s no wonder reviewers are so enthusiastic. The location is good too – 50m back from the main road, as well as close to the both the Piz la Ila gondola and the Gardenaccia chairlift.
Chalet La Tradiziun
The two rather chic apartments at Chalet La Tradiziun are so close to the Gardenaccia chairlift some guests complain about a lack of privacy. But if you’re there to ski, you won’t be sitting on the sofa when the lift is running. Bear in mind that the kitchen areas are small and have only a couple of hot spots on the hobs. Bear in mind also that the skiing on the Gardenaccia area’s pistes face south-east and will get slushy in the spring sunshine. But even so, if you’re holidaying before mid-March, and are looking for luxe-y, richly-textured self-accommodation, you couldn’t hope for a more convenient spot.
Larix Lodge offers three spacious, self-catering apartments in a minimalist Scandinavian style. Expect lots of wood, lots of light, and a location that’s very nearly as convenient as the Chalet La Tradiziun (above) which is its immediate neighbour at the bottom of the Gardenaccia chairlift. All have plenty of wow factor, but the second floor bedroom of Corf, the penthouse apartment, takes some beating – looking out from under the eaves straight onto the piste.
The best restaurants in La Villa
A mouthwatering choice
Chefs in the Alta Badia can draw on an exceptional range of ingredients – from the mountain forests and pastures, from the vineyards and orchards of the Adige valley, and from the waters of the Adriatic. And with hundreds of well-heeled skiers whizzing past their doors each day, they’re not short of customers either.
Even so, the region’s transformation into one of the main gastronomic hubs of the Alps has been remarkable.
In part, the Alta Badia owes its reputation to the work of Norbert Niederkofler and Hugo Pizzinini – respectively, the head chef and owner of the Rosa Alpina hotel in neighbouring San Cassiano. Here, the St Hurbertus restaurant now has three Michelin stars as well as a green star for sustainability. Niederkofler’s 13-course Cook the Mountain tasting menu is a must-try experience for visiting gastronomes.
But there are many other delicious places to eat. Just north of La Villa, the Maso Runch Farm in Badia is another must-eat dinner destination. Set on a working farm, and specialising in traditional Ladin food, it’s a holder of Michelin’s Bib Gourmand award – for exceptional cooking at more affordable prices. At the time of writing, its six course tasting menu cost €39. Be sure to book well ahead – dinner is served in two small and cosy wood-panelled rooms, so there aren’t many tables.
Meanwhile in La Villa itself, there’s a good choice of less high-falutin’ food, which includes the pizzas at La L’Faná and La Tor – two of the buzziest restaurants in the village. La Tor also serves excellent pasta – include squid ink taglierni and tagliatelle served with a venison raguout and chanterelle mushrooms.
Up on the mountain, the feast continues
One of the loveliest spots on the slopes is the sundeck of the Club Mortizino, at the top of the Piz la Ila gondola. Seafood is the speciality, and it’s quite something to sit here soaking up the view over scallop carpaccio and fresh lobster, with a glass of Metodo Classico sparkling wine fizzing in your glass.
Other names to put on your lunch list include Rifugio Ütia de Bioch, where Simone Cantafio of La Stüa de Michil in Corvara has created a lasagne of celeriac puff pastry with venison ragout. The collaboration is part of the Alta Badia’s A Taste for Skiing initiative – in which top Italian chefs have created dishes for specific mountain refuges. Meanwhile, at I Tablà nearby you can try barbecued potato served with potato and white butter purée and potato skin, created by Michelin-starred chef Riccardo Gaspari, of San Brite in Cortina d’Ampezzo. Meanwhile, those hunting the hearty, Austrian-influenced cuisine of the Südtirol should try La Fraina, whose menu includes Gulaschsuppe and Apfelstrudel.
Remember to taste the local wines too. At the very least you should read sommelier Andrè Senoner’s introduction to Alto Adige wines for Welove2ski. Even better would be to join him on one of the Alta Badia’s Sommelier on the Slopes tours.
Après-Ski in Alta Badia
The Alta Badia isn’t one of the world’s big après-ski destinations. It’s more a place for sipping wine by the fire in your hotel lounge, or settling into its wellness centre. But if you are looking for a bit of slopeside buzz, then the sundeck at the Club Moritizino is the place to find it. From 2pm, DJ Thomas Dorsi is working the decks, while drinks are poured at the ice bar. On sunny weekends a considerable crowd gathers.
Given you can just hop on the Piz la Ila to get down the mountain afterwards, it’s the obvious watering hole for anyone staying in la Villa. The Club also has a wine bar too for anyone looking for a more low-key atmosphere. Meanwhile, down in the valley Durni’s Pub is the most “après-ski” of La Villa’s bars. Glam’s is the place for cocktails.