December 2016: new lights for St Peters, snow-shoeing in the Dolomites, a new Hidden Italy long-dist

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Hidden Italy in December

Hidden Italy in December

In 1209, St Francis and handful of bare-footed disciples walked from Assisi to Rome to confront the not-so-innocent Pope Innocent III.  The Camino of St Francis, the new Hidden self-guided walk follows this route – a marvellous 260 km hike through the ‘green heart of Italy’ following well-marked pilgrim trails all the way to the steps of St Peters in Rome.  Walking the whole route takes 20 days but it can be broken up into three distinct week-long walks:  Assisi to Spoleto (7 days); Spoleto to Rieti (7 days) and Rieti to Rome (8 days).

We would like to thank you for all your support and interest throughout 2016.  We hope you have a safe and prosperous 2017 and wish you a buona passeggiata!

Events in Italy in December:

Events in Italy in December:

Snow-shoeing, Val di Non, Bolzano, Trentino, January 6,  Started in 1973, this annual event only gets bigger and bigger: a seven kilometre running race across the snows of the Dolomites wearing ‘ciaspole’, snow-shoes, that attracts thousands of participants and teams from all over Europe and beyond.  Fitted snow-shoes can be booked and hired on site.  What are you waiting for?

Christmas Forest, Forst Brewery, Lagundo, Trentino, until 8 January,  What better way to recover from a 7 kilometre run in the snow than a couple of beers and a snack prepared under the auspices of a Michelin-starred chef?  Hosted in the Forst Brewery (nearby the Val di Non) and set in timber huts in the snow, this event presents the finest of local produce accompanied by a special Christmas beer.

Mirabilia Maris, Treasures of the Sicilian Seas, Palazzo Reale, Palermo, until 6 March,  Greek amphorae, Phoenician statues, remains of Carthaginian ships, Norman ceramics and artillery from the 14th century are just some of the 200 treasures on display in this fascinating exhibition, all retrieved from the seas around Sicily.

St Peter’s Square, Vatican City, Rome,  More beautiful and suggestive than ever but also more economical and more ecological: 132 latest generation LED lights now uniformly illuminate the vast spaces and magnificent architecture of the basilica and square of St Peters at the same time saving over 70% of the energy required previously.  The project was realised by Osram, who also renovated the lighting of the Sistine Chapel two years ago.

Exhibitions in Italy in December

Exhibitions in Italy in December

Tutti in Moto!  Speed in 100 Years of Italian Art, Palazzo Pretorio, Pontedera (Tuscany), until 8 March,  As anyone who has driven on Italian roads will know, speed holds enormous allure for the Italian people and has been a central theme in Italian art since the Futurist movement in the early 20th century.  This exhibition looks at the myth of speed in Italian art and way of life over the last 100 years.

Lorenzo Lotto Tour (LLT), Accademia Carrara, Bergamo, until 23 February,  Sitting at the foot of the Alps a short drive north of Milan, Bergamo is one of the most beautiful small cities in northern Italy, probably because it was under Venetian control for several cities and hosted the great Venetian artist Lorenzo Lotto (1480 – 1556) for many years.  The discovery of two new works by the master has inspired this fascinating exhibition: a walking tour threw the old city that links the sites of his major works (enhanced by masterpieces from other collections, national and intyernational).

Tancredi:  My Weapon against the Atomic is a Blade of Grass, Peggy Guggenhiem Collection, Venice, until 13 March,  Tancredi Parmeggiani (1927 – 1969) was a painter/colourist much loved by Peggy Guggenheim who held a number of his exhibitions in her spectacular home on the Grand Canal.  Now a museum, the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, once again hosts works by the artists – this time a this retrospective of 90 paintings.

Hidden Italy Winter - a weekend at the Matterhorn

Hidden Italy Winter - a weekend at 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 ( - 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 (; 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 ( 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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