Finding the right resort for the annual Walker Easter ski trip is no mean feat: with an age range from teenager to fifty-something and ability from moderately competent to fearlessly expert, you might think they all want to be somewhere different. But they don’t – this is a family skiing holiday, after all…
Instead, the Walkers have concentrated on finding common ground – core ski holiday must-haves for all of them: real town as opposed to characterless resort; a variety of runs from cruising blues to adrenaline-fuelled off-piste; atmospheric bars and restaurants, not bass-pumping clubs. Plus, of course, relatively easy airport transfers. On paper the resort of Cervinia in the Italian Aosta region looked a fine choice. So how did they get on…?
(the 30-something Son and Organiser)
Level: Expert snowboarder, ex-seasonaire with 15-years’ riding experience
Likes: Deep snow, steep riding and long lunches
(the Teenage Daughter)
Level: Intermediate, and keen to progress
Likes: Runs she can do with both Dad and Jim, and her own room with strong, free Wi-Fi so she can keep her social media up to date
(the Mid-fifties Dad)
Level: Intermediate with a dozen or so ski holidays under his belt
Likes: Quaint, authentic towns with plenty of open cruising runs
Checking the piste map on the first lift to Plan Torette, in glorious sunshine on our first morning, I was delighted to find that Breuil-Cervinia looked an intermediate’s paradise, filled with long , cruisy blues and reds, all in the shadow of the Matterhorn.
This incredible mountain dominates Breuil-Cervinia and its iconic form provided a stunning backdrop as we paused for some on-piste photos during our first morning on snow.
Keen to see as much of the resort as possible, after a fantastic first half-day exploring the slopes, we set off on a pre-lunch expedition to the Matterhorn glacier. At 3,800m the panorama from the viewing point is well worth the crowded Gondola trip up, but beware of altitude sickness, which had a very real effect on all of us, especially on day one.
Aside from excellent skiing, there is, of course, one major attraction for which Italy is known: food.
Thankfully, this most Italian of resorts certainly didn’t let the country’s culinary reputation down. Imagine your perfect Italian restaurant. Now place it 3,500 metres up a mountain, with jaw-dropping views on all sides. Add friendly staff, great food and a suitably fortifying range of genepis (the local liqueur) and you have Refugio Guide del Cervino. Easily accessible via the Monte Rosa gondola, this was quite simply the best mountain restaurant I’ve had the good fortune to experience. By day two the genial proprietor Eric was greeting us like old friends and the Refugio quickly became our daily rendezvous point.
The thigh-burning 11km run back down to the village after was certainly a good excuse for the carbs we piled on during lunch (although possibly not the beer and genepis). The same goes for the soothing effects of the delightful spa in the traditional Compagnoni Hotel, which is conveniently located close to the centre of the resort, and was our comfortable base for the trip.
There may well be lively clubs and bars in Breuil Cervinia, but our evening needs were of a quieter, more culinary variety. The village centre offers bars and restaurants catering for all tastes, and a recommendation to try out the Grivalo restaurant proved well-founded. Good, simple Italian food served with friendly professionalism. Easy on the pocket too. Perfect for a family night out.
“Cervinia is probably the most rounded resort for this kind of trip we’ve discovered so far. You get a pretty town with delightful restaurants mixed with good skiing. I’ve since been back for some summer skiing and the snow at top of the Matterhorn glacier is just as good in the summer!”
Cervinia isn’t a resort you should consider visiting without a camera or with low memory on your phone. I can’t recall one slope I skied down where I didn’t feel the need to stop and capture the stunning scenery. We ate lunch every day at Refugia Guide del Cervino, where two notable mountain views were offered. One being the impressive panorama of snowy mountains encircling us; the second being the mountain of meat and cheese that rose from my plate.
I really enjoyed the slopes here. I even managed to keep up with my brother for a change due to the lovely, long and flattering red runs, which helped Dad and myself build our confidence. The sheer width of the pistes allowed us to challenge and develop ourselves without the risk of taking out half a dozen others.
After a tough day on the slopes it was a treat to get back to our hotel, The Compagnoni, and sleep in a comfortable, traditionally furnished room. The spa provided the perfect opportunity to unwind after a long day’s skiing too – though not before we’d found it had to be booked in advance. We only found that out after an embarrassing traipse down to reception on our first night in nothing but a skimpy robe and a rather inelegant pair of flip flops. It was also enjoyable to venture out into the rustic town in search of bars and restaurants.
“Cervinia is a great resort for a family holiday, possibly more so than for a group of friends due to relatively low-key après ski nightlife. But we were there in late season and I did see some livelier clubs that I wasn’t allowed in!”
All three of us were standing together at nearly 4,000 metres in wonderful, warming sunshine, having just disembarked the Matterhorn lift and deciding which of the long routes we should take back down to the town of Cervinia. The snow was near perfect at this altitude, despite it being Easter weekend, and the conversation paused for a second as we took in the majestic views.
To our right was the iconic Matterhorn, ahead was the seemingly endless Aosta Valley, and to our left we could see all the way to Mont Blanc. Once again we were all compelled to comment on the fact this was probably the most spectacular resort we’ve ever been to.
It’s a pleasure to find a resort that allows us to ski together and all enjoy the terrain. I’m usually happiest off piste but the 11km run from the Rifugio restaurant all the way down the village is not gentle to the extent that I get bored. Instead, it’s forgiving and wide open all around, allowing my dad and sister to ride without stopping and without fear.
They say if you’re not falling over you’re not going fast enough, and as I’d been nowhere near falling over for a couple of days, it was time to head over to the other side of the Matterhorn with a friend to explore world-renowned Zermatt.
The difference was immediately noticeable. Strapping on at the top of the gondola, we took the first chairlift we found and began pointing out sections of off-piste we’d be eyeing up if the snow was better.
30 seconds down our first red and, hey presto, down I went. Completely duped by the gradient after two days of being forgiven for a lazy carve or two. It felt good, and even better to get some real speed up.
For me, any holiday in Italy has to be done on a bed and breakfast basis only. To fail to explore the restaurants is a huge shame and, as mentioned before, Cervinia is no different. The food was stunning and wine equally so, but the place that sticks in my memory is the bar we frequented most evenings, Copa Pan.
A bizarre mix of traditional wooden chalet-style décor with quirky modern art, where they played swing music followed by house, followed by hip-hop. Possibly most bizarre though was when it got dark outside they replaced the glazing on the window with a picture of a fairly spooky looking moon. An entertaining place for sure!
“Cervinia is excellent in so many ways and I would say a nigh-on perfect option for a group or family trip any time of the season. Don’t forget to head to Zermatt for a day too – it is, after all, one of our selected top ten ski resorts in the world!