Italy is a country stepped in tradition. Regional recipes are sacred, local saints are commemorated in small-towns throughout the country, Sunday is spent at nonna’s house and you always go on an obligatory passeggiata after dinner to aid with digestion. Italians abide by a number of unwritten rules in their daily lives, even when it comes to their holidays: each year, without fail, Italians head to the beach for ferragosto and flock to the mountains to ski during a settimana bianca, or “white week”.
This annual pilgrimage to the mountains marks the height of the winter season particularly sacred ritual for north Italians who live in close proximity to the Dolomites, one of the most beautiful and celebrated mountain ranges in the world. The Dolomites, also known as the “Pale Mountains”, take their name from the mineral dolomite rock and are recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They are well-known for glowing pale pink in the morning light and fire red in the evening, making for dramatic panoramas that contrast with the snowy mountain peaks.
Located in northeastern Italy, they span 140,000 hectares and rise above 3,000 meters, with 18 peaks, dramatic cliffs and long valleys that make the mountain range an excellent getaway for winter sports like skiing and snowboarding, as well as summer activities like mountain climbing and hiking. The highest peak, Marmolada, rises up to 3,343 meters and is located between Trentino and Veneto.
The Dolomites boast numerous renowned ski resorts, including Cortina d’Ampezzo, Madonna di Campiglio and Corvara in Val Badia. In recent years Italy has also begun building luxury ski chalets which come at an excellent value compared to other alpine nations – with excellent food and a relaxed atmosphere to boot.
During the settimana bianca, days are spent out on the slopes, soaking in vitamin D on sunny days, eating Austrian-inspired treats like apple strudel or Sachertorte, sipping vin brûlé at the ski lodge and enjoying some spa time before dinner at your chalet. Though I love languishing at the beach during the long summer months, there’s something special about the season and indulging in some fresh mountain air (and warming mulled wine!).
Although the Dolomites are undoubtedly Italy’s most famous mountain range, Campo Felice and Ovindoli are two popular resorts located close to Rome in Abruzzo and are great for an easy mountain fix from the capital. Fewer people know that you can even ski in Sicily: from the snowy top of Mount Etna you can see both volcanic eruptions and the Ionian sea in the distance while you hit the slopes.
The ski season in Italy runs from December through the end of March and most people choose to take their settimana bianca in January and February. Many hotels in the resort towns offer inclusive packages for the weeklong holiday that include half or full board, making it a convenient trip for the whole family.
(Pictured is the ski resort of San Martino di Castrozza in Trentino where I spent my last settimana bianca).