With all travel literature out there, it is hard to understand why it is difficult to get good information about ski resorts. Even basic facts on travel, prices of ski lift tickets and weather conditions are sometimes only a result of a lot of research, not to mention being able to compare facilities, restaurants and “the feel” between resorts. Our ski trip to Monte Rosa was also chosen a little blind eyed. We had never skied in Italy before but thought it would be a good alternative to the French and Swiss Alps. My preconceptions included thoughts of Italian fashion parade, slightly dubious ski facilities but all crowned with the best food you can find anywhere in the slopes. Apart from that I wasn’t so sure what to expect.
As the holiday got closer, I started to feel more and more nervous. Nobody I spoke to had heard of Monte Rosa or Aosta Valley. The resort had also suspiciously few TripAdvisor mentions. Oh well, I thought, how wrong could it go. After all Monte Rosa promised beautiful snowy slopes, which would be just what we needed to recharge our batteries for the New Year and Italy would give us a chance to use our fledgling Italian skills.
So, I set off with my boyfriend on the Christmas Eve from London Heathrow to Milan Linate. Milan is only 2h 30 minute drive from the Monte Rosa ski area, however, as we didn’t hire a car, our journey was a lot more troublesome: First a 30 minute airport bus from Linate to Milan Central Station, a tube to Lampugnano, 1h 40 minute Savda Bus to Pont-Saint-Martin and finally 1h Vita bus along the valley to our hotel. On a plus side all this cost only about 30 euros per person.
During the final stretch on the Vita bus my nerves came back on. I could see mountains but no snow and the houses along the way looked more shabby than ski-chick. However, passing Gressoney-Saint-Jean, the scenery started to change. Wooden Alpine chalets, and finally, snow!
We had booked to stay eight nights in Hotel Ellex based on good reviews we found on the internet. Shame nobody had mentioned that the address of the hotel is a little misleading. Instead of being in Gressoney la Trinite, Ellex is actually in Staffal, about 10 minute drive from the main Gressoney la Trinite. It took a stop at Gressoney la Trinite for us to find out.
Staffal is the highest residential part of the valley and is formed around the main gondolas, ski chalets, hotels and a few bars and shops. Despite the proximity to the gondolas, Staffal, tucked between mountains, has picturesque scenery, particularly after a snowfall. It also has several ski rental places, ski schools and a ski lift ticket office, so perfect if skiing is the main reason for the holiday and unbeatable if you don’t have a car. Local buses between the towns and villages (Vita bus and Navetta service) are not free and as regular as we had been used to in France.
We were greeted by Daniela and Daniel at Hotel Ellex who are a couple owning and running this hotel with 21 rooms. The hotel was exactly what we needed. Comfortable, nicely decorated, clean and a few minutes away from the slopes. Although our room was rather small, we had a nice private balcony and a pleasant downstairs area with a fire place and armchairs for sitting around, chatting or reading. A beautiful spa was also a major plus. Jacuzzi, hammam and the best of all – a proper Finnish sauna to warm us up after a day in the slopes.
The hotel has its own restaurant where we had Christmas dinner both on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Five courses of wonderful Italian home cooking at very affordable prices. It was New Year’s Eve where Daniela and Daniel had put their best efforts. This time we didn’t have five but eight courses and the dinner lasted for four hours, finishing off to fireworks and prosecco at midnight. Different, but very enjoyable way to welcome the New Year.
Staffal is in the central, Gressoney valley, therefore, a great spot for venturing to the two other two valleys of Monte Rosa, Ayas and Valsesia. Monte Rosa covers 180 km of slopes with 37 lifts and about 90 per cent of the pistes are red category. Slope categorisation has been quite generous and many slopes are in fact suitable for blue slope skiers. None of the blacks are particularly difficult either.
Our first day included covering Gabiet and Jolanda sides which had beautiful tree lined, well groomed pistes. The area was perfect for reviving our rusty ski techniques as the slopes weren’t too steep, mogully or icy. We decided to leave an ungroomed, off-piste black from the end of Passo dei Salati ski lift for a later occasion. The next two days were spent on Champoluc and Sant Anna sides which had beautiful long runs with plenty of sunshine in the morning on the Sant Anna side and in the Champoluc side in the afternoon. My favourite run was the long and varied Sarezza slope back to the Alpe Mandria chair lift.
This side also had plenty of off-piste opportunities to cater for the advanced or adventurous skiers. We settled for practicing with our ski instructor Feruccio who also became handy in smelling the approaching “danger”. All of a sudden strong wind had started to form and we were instructured to return to our home valley immediately. First this required an incruciating chair lift through the blitz on top of Colle Bettaforca. The lift kept on switching off making our journey very long and painful. My skin must have aged 10 years during the process! However, nothing compared to our experience when we reached the top. The wind had cleaned off the slopes from snow, exposing bare ice. I honestly thought that we would be blown off the mountain as I slode down despite trying desperately to grip onto the surface with my ski poles. Miraculously we made it down in one piece and the wind was replaced with a snowy weather the next day.
The better weather and holiday season bought along the second problem – masses of Italians. As we were visiting Monte Rosa during the Italian school holiday season, it wasn’t a surprise to see families visiting the pistes but the queues this formed to lifts and crowds on the slopes, weren’t always pleasant. As the area was lacking really challenging slopes, all skiers were on the same slopes despite their level. The Italian style seemed to be as fast as possible with as little control and style as one can get away with. If you have ever seen Italians driving cars, you get the idea.
Overall, skiing in Monte Rosa is good for intermediate skiers and includes enought playground for at least three to four days. However, next time we we would definitely avoid the national holiday seasons (Christmas and February carnival time) to make sure not to get stuck between too many Italian bambinis.
Monte Rosa doesn’t disappoint with its on-the-slope restaurants which there are in abundance. One of my favourites was Alpenhutte Lys on top of the Gabiet lifts. This tiny restaurant with only four tables was like a warm sauna with wood covered walls, informal service and mouthwatering antipasti and tiramisu. Another favourite was Campo Base at the top, next to the Alpe Mandria chair lift. Situated high up on the mountains it has a glorious view and served beautiful plates of gnocchi and creme brulee.
Rifugio Gabiet close to the Gabiet lift, served the best piping hot lasagne and was terrific on a sunny day for sitting outside and admiring gorgeous views. Finally, a design Hotel Che Forne had the most stylish sun decking and interiors. Even though I loved our stay in Hotel Ellex, seeing Hotel Che Forne caused a little hotel-envy.
Off the mountain, Monte Rosa restaurants and apres-ski scene are in infancy. Many skiers live in the area, making only day trips to the slopes. The second majority are families that prefer self-catering or easy dinners at the hotel. Nevertheless, it wasn’t difficult to indulge in delicious Italian food. Simple pizzas were served in Bar Favre in Gressoney la Trinite. Bar Giovanna was a lively small restaurant in Staffal just under Nordend hotel and had an apres-ski menu and some good Italian stables like bruschetta and beef tagliata. Lounge Bar Castore in Gressoney la Trinite was perhaps the most fashionable bar that we came across with.
The best restaurants were found in Gressoney-Saint-Jean. Osteria del Pane served the most delicious beef fillet with porcini mushrooms that I have ever eaten and had the most friendly service. Nordkapp was menu-wise the closest we got to fine dining in the Aosta Valley, however, I’m afraid the service was too rushed. In fact the waiter tried to take off my plate twice before I had finished. In addition, the restaurant hadn’t informed us in advance about a second sitting that followed us but demanded our table back all of a sudden before we had finished our dinner.
I think it is hard to beat Italian ski resorts with food and that’s certainly an advantage of choosing the Italian side of the Alps. However, be aware of adhering to the strict notion of dinner time only after 7.30pm. A lack of car also made venturing out to restaurants harder, as the local busses stopped running at 9pm.
As many of the French ski resorts have become more and more stocked with luxury boutiques, health spas and even Rolex stores, Monte Rosa stays still very much a place of natural beauty. We visited Gressoney la Trinite and Gresssoney-Saint-Jean during our trip and found both towns very beautiful and picturesque but with very little to do. Apart from pharmacies, grocery stores, ski boutiques and souvenir shops, there are not many shopping opportunities or sight seeing. Rather the towns are good for wandering around, stopping for a beverage and perhaps ice-skating or hiring cross-country skis.
Having set off to our holiday in Monte Rosa with little expectations, the week in the valley was in many ways a pleasant surprise. Our time in the cosy Hotel Ellex, beautiful, snowy slopes in Gabiet and Champoluc sides, fantastic Italian food. All of this was a perfect recipe for a perfect end of year holiday. Even with busy weekend and holiday pistes, lack of apres-ski and difficulty to move around without own car.
As our taxi back to the Linate airport passed Gressoney-Saint-Jean and the scenery started to lose the snowy mountain tops and wooden chalets, I couldn’t stop thinking about when my next chance to experience it all again would be.
Loc Tschaval, Gressoney la Trinite (Staffal)
Tel: +39 0125 366 637
Hotel Che Forne
11020 Champoluc (Ao)
Tel: +39 0125 307197
Next to Alpe Mandria chair lift in Champoluc
Tel: +39 -347 3780565
Lounge Bar Castore
Loc Tache, Gressoney la Trinite
Tel: +39 0125 366 809
Loc Edelboden Sup 20, Gressoney-La-Trinité
Tel: +39 0347 2500 802
Pizza Umberto I 11, 11025 Gressoney-Saint-Jean
Tel: +39 0125 355 096
Loc Tschaval, Gressoney la Trinite (Staffal)
Osteria del Pane
Piazza Umberto I 1, 11025 Gressoney-Saint-Jean
Tel: +39 0125 356 200
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