News from the snow
Chiesa is a typical northern Italian mountain village with a long, long history and a mixture of old and new architecture. It's a relatively compact resort that has grown up on a gentle hillside around the old church. The surrounding mountain scenery is attractive with pasture land giving way to forested upper slopes and the grey stone of the Alps, partially white with snow, towering above. Chiesa offers its visitors two ski areas locally, both of which are reached by a ski bus service. The ski areas are collectively known as the Valmalenco, shared with the smaller neighbouring villages of Caspoggoio and San Giuseppe. Skiing in the Valmalenco area, at least with lifts, began in the early 1960s, when Italian skiing legend Zeno Colò designed the slopes. The tradition was continued more recently when local champion Gustavo Thoeni returned to the slopes where he had trained in his youth, and designed the new black that plunges 500 metres beneath the Scerscen - Cima Motta high speed quad. In recent years the resort has invested heavily in new lifts and in snow making, replacing an aged gondola and several of the drags with four new chairs, including two high speed quads. The Valmalenco area is in turn part of Italy's Valtellina region wedged in between Lombardy (where the famous resort of Bormio is located) and central Europe. It represents a link between Northern Italy and central Europe, in the heart of the Alps, less than 100 km (62.5 miles) from Milan and on the border with Switzerland. This mountainous area covers 3.212 km/q from the 188 metres of the Trivio di Fuentes (Colico) to the 4.000 metres of the Bernina on the Swiss border. The valley runs from east to west, which distinguishes it from many other great alpine valleys as they run from north to south and the long history of the Valtellina communities has invariably been shaped by its key geographical position. Although tourism has become the dominant industry, the land still shows the centuries old signs of man's presence, especially in the vineyards and high mountain pastures. The natural scenery of the valley is epitomised in the Stelvio National Park, the largest in Europe
Picturesque old village with modern swimming pool complex and excellent Italian cuisine. The main ski area is a high altitute plateau from Alpe Palu offering a snowsure base for beginners.
The second area is above the neighbouring small resort of Caspoggio, reached by a mountain road up from Chiesa, smaller with four drags and two chairs; the skiing is almost entirely within the treeline and on gentler slopes, rated blue or red. Beginners will get a lot of benefits from starting their skiing at Chiesa, the scenery is pretty, the attitude light hearted, prices reasonable and the ski school with its staff of 50 instructors renowned for their professionalism.
There are beginners' slopes dotted all over the area, including the bases at San Giuseppe and Caspoggio, as well as at altitude up at Alpe Palù reached by the cable car, so snow cover should never be a problem. There is also plenty to progress on, with long gentle blues. Intermediates will enjoy the fast cruising on these too, but also have slightly more challenging slopes such as the 6km (4 mile) long super G slope that descends the full 903 metre maximum vertical down from Sasso Alto to San Giuseppe. Another option is the high speed flying kilometre training slope ' Del Dosso' down from Alpe Palù.
Experts have more limited terrain options, but there are some exciting slopes and Chiesa has a reputation for having staged competitions that have attracted the likes of Ingemar Stenmark; and for a ski school that includes former Italian racing champions in its roll call of teachers. Apart from Thoeni's run from Sasso Alto with walls, canyons and moguls, there is one exciting descent at Caspoggio, a 5km run down from Dosso del Galli descending more than 1000 metres. The Sole 2 slope here is also worth a look; it's normally used for racing or training. A third steep option is the slalom trail Costera beneath the two-seater chair that starts down at the village, and there's a self-timer course for those who want to check their speeds.
Those with transport can purchase the larger Ski Pass Lombardia, which covers more than 20 ski centres in the area served by more than 250 lifts in total. Cross-country in both Nordic and skating styles is well catered for in the Valmalenco region, with 15km (9 miles) of altitude tracks up at Lago Palù, in the forest around an alpine lake below Alpe Palù. There are also skating tracks for racers along the valley at San Giuseppe.
Most of the hotels have games available for children to use.
The best restaurant in town is in the Tremoggia hotel on Via Bernina, but the hotel Palu has a strong reputation with vegetarians.
Although there are local beers to try, no visitor should miss the chance to experience the famous local red Valtellina DOC wines. These are produced on the sunny slopes of the Valtellinese Alps in the region stretching from Ardenno to Tirano, a rocky terrain which the tenacity and labour of man over the years has transformed into fertile grape-growing country. Leonardo da Vinci, no less, described the characteristics of these robust, full-bodied wines as "potenti e assai" the perfect accompaniment to genuine local cuisine.