Dec 2015: Xmas markets, Florence in 3D, Big Ships in Venice, Dolomites cross-country

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Welcome to our last newsletter of 2015.  This month we have the Christmas markets in Bolzano, the Big Ships in Venice, the Breughels and a fab weekend cross-country skiing in the Dolomites.

Hidden Italy December, 2015:

Hidden Italy December, 2015:

It’s been a big year with many highlights but the top for me would have to be crossing the Alps into Switzerland with my son Peter at the end of the inaugural Trails to Freedom hike in August.  We would like to thank you for all your support and interest throughout 2015.  We hope you have a safe and prosperous 2016.  Buona passeggiata!

Events, December 2015

Events, December 2015

Christmas Markets, Bolzano, until 6 January,  Known as the Gateway to the Dolomites, the lovely city of Bolzano is surrounded by soaring snow-capped mountains.  A short drive from the Brenner Pass and the Austrian border, Bolzano is German-speaking and proud of its Tyrolean heritage.  No better, or more beautiful, manifestation of this than its famous Christmas Markets, illuminated stalls crowding the narrow lanes of it Baroque centre of the town.

Florence, the Uffizi and the Renaissance in 3D, Sky Arte,   Following the great success of the 3D movie produced by Sky Arte on the Vatican Museum (shown in over 60 countries to 228,000 spectators) it’s the turn of Florence and its most famous museums to undergo the 4K treatment, offering cinema-goers the experience of getting up close to some of the world’s greatest works of art.  Lorenzo de Medici (the voice of English actor Simon Merrells) takes you on a personal journey touching ten of the city’s iconic locations and over 150 masterpieces (click the link above to see a trailer).

The Oil of the Future, Olio Officina Festival, Milano, Palazzo delle Stellina, Corso Magenta 61, 21 to 23 January,  Italy is the second largest producer of olive oil in the world (after Spain) and over two thirds of its production is extra-virgin, and yet knowledge of this fabulous product is infinitely less than that of oil.  For this reason, events like this are so important.  Three days of tastings, slow-cooking demonstrations and workshops in one of Milan’s most beautiful palaces.

Exhibitions, December 2015:

Exhibitions, December 2015:

Berengo Gardin: Venice and the Big Ships, Negozio Olivetti, Piazza San Marco 101, until 6 January.  By trying to close this exhibition (originally destined for the Ducal Palace) the mayor of Venice did Berengo Gardin a big favour, casting this important exhibition into the international spotlight and highlighting the enormous environmental and visual damage that the big cruise ships (aka the monsters of Venice) inflict on one of the world’s most beautiful and fragile cities. 

The Brueghels:  Masterpieces of Flemish Art, Palazzo Albergati, Bologna, until 28 February,  More than exhibition, this is a voyage through the history of one family, the Brueghels, five generations of painters who domination of the golden era of Flemish art spanned nearly 150 years during the 16th and 17th centuries.  The dynasty started with Pieter Brueghel the Elder, whose extraordinary paintings investigated in pitiless detail the foibles and failings of daily life that surrounded him.  This extensive exhibition includes works by their contemporaries such as Frans de Momper and Hieronymous Bosch.

The Passions of Pablo Picasso, Palazzo Vistarino, Pavia, until 18 March,  Theatre, circus, bull-fighting, women and politics.  The passions of Pablo Picasso always animated his art.  This extraordinary exhibition offers a unique opportunity to explore these with over 150 works on display, including painting, ceramics and drawings.

The Hidden Italy Winter Weekend in San Candido: cross country skiing in the upper Dolomites

The Hidden Italy Winter Weekend in San Candido:  cross country skiing in the upper Dolomites

If it wasn’t for the baroque Tyrolean churches and onion-domed bell-towers peeping over the snow fields, you could almost imagine yourself in Canada rather than in the Dolomites, a snowball’s throw from the Austrian border: wide open spaces smothered in snow, forests without end, frozen lakes...   In the upper Pusteria Valley, particularly in the section which runs from Villabassa to the border between Italy and Austria, passing the towns of Dobbiaco, San Candido and Versciaco, the scenery is surprising for its openness and vastness, not what ones expects in the heart of the Dolomites.  Rather than ski lifts and black runs, this area lends itself to reflection and a slower pace of activity, perfect for cross country skiing.  In fact  ‘skinny skis’ are the ideal way to move between the towns and villages, with the opportunity of exploring further afield into the valleys that lead to Cortina d’Ampezzo, Belluno and Lienz in Austria.

How to get there:

By car:  take the A22 autostrada that heads north from Verona to the Brennero pass and Innsbruck.  Before arriving at the pass, take the exit for Bressanone and then take the state highway # 49 that heads east into the Pusteria Valley.  By train:  probably the most convenient way to get there is to take the train north from Verona towards the Brennero pass, changing at Fortezza for the Pusteria Valley line (  Investigate the Mobil Card, which enables you to move freely on both bus and rail in the Alto Adige (  By air:  Fly to Venice, Treviso or Verona airports and then use the rail/bus links via the Mobil Card.

Where to stay:

The Romantik Hotel Santer is a warm and welcoming four-star hotel in Dobbiaco, with a standard room with half board for 83 euro per person per day.  Hotel Orso Grigio is a recently renovated historic four-star hotel in the pedestrian precinct in the heart of San Candido – its Bar dell’Orso is one of the most popular après spots in town – room with half-board is from 72 euro per person per day.  Zin Senfter Residence is a new addition, also in the centre of San Candido, with 21 elegantly fitted out, self-contained but serviced apartments, with access to hotel services, including the spa – from 82 euro for two people per night.

What to do:

Ski (but you can also snow-shoe, if you prefer)!  There are over 200 kilometres of cross country skiing trails in the upper Pusteria Valley, of which 120 kilometres are linked to pounded paths that are suitable for walking (take your poles to be sure). 

The best place to start is from the Nordic Arena in Dobbiaco, whose trails are useable also at night (from 6.00 to 8.00pm).  From here you can take some of the neighbouring loop trails or head out along the classic route through the Landro Valley towards the Cimabanche and Cortina d’Ampezzo.  Otherwise, you can go east towards San Candido and, beyond this into the Austrian end of the Pusteria Valley and from here into the Sesto and Fiscalina Valleys.  If you go west from Dobbiaco, you follow trails towards Villabassa and Monguelfo and the Braies Valley. 

For something easy, you could leave the Nordic Arena and do the simple four kilometres loop around Dobbiaco lake.  Villabassa, Dobbiaco and San Candido all have train stations, which thanks to recent developments which allow cross country skiers to start directly from the stations, meaning you can explore the valleys as far as you wish, knowing that you can get the train back to your base.  If you are really gung-ho, you can go even further afield as the upper Pusteria Valley ski trails are also part of Dolomiti Nordiski, a 1300 kilometre network that takes you virtually all over the Dolomites from the Val Gardena and Val Badia in the west to Cortina and then to Forni di Sopra near Udine in the east. 

All the trails are available on GPS (  The cost of a weekly pass is 25 euro (!) and the Dolomiti Nordiski Mobile Card is highly recommended, giving you a week’s access to ski runs as well as the use of bus and trains for a cost from 29 to 34 euro(!).

You can also do guided ski safaris run by Fun Active ( or La Scuola Azzurra in Dobbiaco ( one of the few such schools in Italy staffed exclusively by registered cross country instructors.

Of course, being high season in the Dolomites, there are also numerous associated activites and festivals to keep you busy in the upper Pusteria Valley:  the World Cup ( is on from 8 to 17 January;  the San Candido Ice Sculpture Festival from 13 to 15January;  as well as various cross country skiing competitions including a World Cup competition (21 to 24 January) and the classic Pustertaler Ski Marathon, a 42 kilometres race, also open to amateurs (off you go!) on 9 January.

What are you waiting for?  Skis on (I’m tempted myself!).

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