Winter 2103: Christmas markets, Impressionsits, skiing the Matterhorn

Monday, 23 December 2013

Welcome to the Winter 2013 edition of the Hidden Italy newsletter: Italy’s cultural life comes live in winter – opening of the opera and classical music seasons and some fine international art exhibitions among others; the magic of the Xmas markets and festivals; and, under the shadow of the giant, some the finest skiing in Europe, a ski loop from Italy into Switzerland around the Matterhorn….. read on

Hidden Italy walking tours 2014:

Hidden Italy walking tours 2014:

The Sardinia; Verona and the Dolomites; and Trieste and Friuli guided tours are all fully booked for 2014 but we still have two places each available on the Sicily in Spring (May) and Sicily in Autumn (October) tours: it’s a marvellous destination, with arguably the finest cuisine in Italy….. grab them while you can!

Events in Italy, Winter 2013/14:

Events in Italy, Winter 2013/14:

Christmas markets, Bolzano (www.mercatinodinatalebz.it). Sharing itsborders and history with Austria, and with a long tradition of crafts and arts, means that all towns and most of the villages the Alto Adige region (home of the Dolomites) host Christmas markets in this period – the largest and most spectacular being in the regional capital Bolzano.

La Traviata, Teatro della Scala, Milano (www.teatrodellascala.it).  The Italians celebrate the chilly months of winter with music, La Traviata kicking off the opera season of Italy’s most famous concert hall, il Teatro della Scala in the heart of Milan and Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida opening the opera season at Naples grand Teatro di San Carlo (www.teatrosancarlo.it).  However, there are many more concert programs, big and small, throughout the country, check the local tourist office (Pro Loco) for details.

The Magical Christmas Village, Govone (Cuneo) (www.ilpaesedinatale.com).  The Christmas Nativity scene, telling the stories around the birth of Jesus, is celebrated through Italy from traditional figures on the Christmas table, to models in salt at Cervia near Ravenna; life sized recreations in the Etruscan tunnels under Orvieto and a whole village, Govone (near Cuneo south of Turin) giving itself over completely to live recreations of Christmas eve, the arrival of Santa Claus, concerts, a Christmas market, gastronomic events and fireworks.

l Tuffo nel Tevere or diving into the Tiber (www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eenou3yazok).  Another grand tradition for this time of year, though quite not so old, is the annual dive into the icy waters of the Tiber river in the heart of Rome on New Year’s Day – only for the brave, the extroverted and possibly the stupid!

Exhibitions in Italy, Winter 2013:

Exhibitions in Italy, Winter 2013:

The icy weather also lends itself to indoor contemplation and winter is also a time of grand exhibitions throughout Italy.  I don’t know whether by design or by chance, but this winter there are four grand French Impressionist exhibitions, alone well worth a trip to Italy!

Rodin.  Palazzo Reale, Piazza del Duomo, Milano, until January 26.  Rodin transformed blocks of marble into intimate, sensual beings, revolutionising modern sculpture.  This important exhibition shows over sixty marble works by the master, on loan from the Musee Rodin in Paris.  It includes the iconic Kiss, Psiche and Amore and the powerful Hand of God (no reference to Diego Maradona!).

Towards Monet, a history of landscapes from 1600 to 1900, Palazzo Gran Guardia, Verona, until 9 February.  With over 90 paintings, the exhibition tracks the evolution of landscape painting from Romantic reproduction to the point where nature became the mirror of the soul.  It includes works by Lorraine, Poussin, Bellotto, Turner, Matisse and, of course, Monet.Impressionists at the Palazzo Pitti, Galleria d’Arte Moderna di Palazzo Pitti, Florence, until 5 January.  12 masterpieces from the Museo d’Orsay are on exhibition in the grand ballroom of the Palazzo Pitti.  They are divided into two sections, one with paintings of interiors the other in plein air, and include works by Degas, Pissarro, Monet, Cezanne and Renoir!

Impressionists from Washington to Rome, Museo d’Ara Pacis, Rome, until 23 February.  For the first time, masterpieces from the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington (created by Franklin Roosevelt in 1936) will come to Italy.  They include works by Sisley, Manet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Gaugin, Toulouse-Lautrec and Seurat.

Hidden Italy Winter weekend 2013: Ski the Matterhorn

Hidden Italy Winter weekend 2013:  Ski the Matterhorn

The Matterhorn, known in Italy as the Cervino, sits on the border between Italy and Switzerland, the most dramatic and photographed mountain in the European Alps – a massive, pyramidal form, with four spectacular faces (each over 1200 metres high) that taunted mountaineers for decades.  It was believed that Cervino/Matterhorn was haunted and the ruins of an ancient city was hidden in its jagged peaks.  A mystery that wasn’t solved until Englishman Edward Whymper finally conquered the peak in 1865 (days ahead of local Jean Antoine Carrel).  Three of Whymper’s group died on the way down (including the young Marquis of Queensbury) which only added to the mountains legend.

In the mid-1930s, driven by the dream of skiing on permanent snow, two cable cars were built with great effort, connecting the high fields of Plan Maison and the Plateau Rosa with the town of Breuil, and what was once the domain of a few game Alpinists became the playground of thousands of skiiers.

The snow fields that spread out from the foot of the Cervino/Matterhorn, connect the Italian valley of Valtournenche with Zermatt and the Mattetal in Switzerland.  It offers everything for winter sports, from heliskiing to kids runs.

How to get there:

Breuil is in the Val d’Aosta region.  If you are driving, drive the A5 autostrada from Turin to Aosta on the French border, taking the Chatillon-Saint-Vincent exit, and then the 46 highway to Breuil, which is 28kms up the Valtournenche valley from Chatillon.  The closest train station is at Chatillon and there is a bus service to Breuil from here (www.savda.it) - there is also a direct bus service from Milano.  The nearest airport is Torino Caselle (118 kms) – private transfers can be organised here through Eurpoean Transfers.

Where to stay:

The Hotel Hermitage is a grand chalet in the Neyroz family, which is part of the Relais & Chateau group.  It has luxurious rooms, large common spaces, a wellness centre and an excellent restaurant.  Doubles start from 270 euro.  Hotel Mignon is a smaller chalet that has been run by the Pession family since 1968.  It is well-furnished and steeped in the alpine traditions and history of Cervino.  A week b&b starts at 595 per person.  Maison Tissiere is in a restored 18th century barn in the upper part of the village, it serves robust local fare and hasdouble rooms from 120 euro per night.

Where to eat:

Lo Copa Pan (Via Carrel 47) is the classic address, divided between a bar and a refined restaurant.  Chef Paolo Secci prepares local specialities such as the Cervino version of fondu, homemade pastas, risotto with pumpkin, soups and a variety of beef fillets.  Metzelet (Via Circonvallazione) is a welcoming timber chalet, slightly out of the historical centre that serves traditional food, including the finest fondue in the town (based on fontina cheese, milk and eggs).
On the slopes:  There are a number of lovely chalets and mountain huts on the slopes themselves, where you can have all kinds of lunch, including the Rifugio Guide del Cervino, which serves Aostian ‘glacier’ food and has extraordinary views, while, for something different, the Chalet Etoile (on pista 6) offers fresh seafood presented with a Nordic twist (provided by the chef’s Swedish wife Ulla.

What to do:

The Breuil-Cervino-Zermatt covers a vast area and has 54 ski-lifts of various types and offers and extraordinary variety of runs some of which can be joined together for a loop from Italy to Switzerland and back again in a single day, from Breuil to Breuil.  You can heliski with groups of 4 for around 200 euro per person (www.heliskicervinia.com); or go snowshoeing (there is an easy trail from Breuil to Fontana Freida).  The Guide Alpine di Cervino run advanced courses for skiing on fresh snow and first aid/survival skills for avalanches.  aT the other end there are ski areas for children and families around Chamois (www.chamoisimpianti.it) in the lower Valtournenche Valley.

The loop from Italy and into Switzerland and back again can be done in a day and completely circles the most spectacular mountain in the Alps – one for the bucket list!  From Breiul you take the cable car up to Plateau Rosa-Testa Grigia (3480 mts), just over the border in Switzerland, with spectacular view over the southern face of Cervino/Matterhorn.  At the top you take the run to the left, passing under the eastern face of the mountain, an almost perfect isosceles triangle until you come to Trockener Steg.  From here the trail passes Furgg and Schwarzersee and you then take the ‘White Pearl’ piste through forest under the north face of the mountain to the Furi mountain hut.

From here you take a cable car up to the famous Riffelberg Hotel and thean another on from here Gonergrat, from where you will get the most famous and disfuse view of the Matterhorn/Cervino.  From Gonergrat you ski deeper into Switzerland, down towards Gant and then from here via Hohtalli back down to Furi.

From Furi you take another cablecar, possibly the most spectacular, up to the Klein Matterhorn/Piccolo Cervino (3883 mts) a 2000 metres climb.  The grand finale is then the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise run to Plateau Rosa which takes you back to the Palteau Rosa/Testa Grigia cablecar where you started.  From here you can take the cablecar back down to Breuil over, if you are feeling energetic, take the classic Ventina run back into Italy via Lago Goillet.

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