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11 of the best winter adventures in Lombardy, Italy

Whether you’re looking for adrenalin-packed action or simply want to unwind in renowned thermal baths, consider the Lombard mountains for a future trip. 

Published 10 Jan 2021, 08:00 GMT
Lombardy offers some of Europe's best-value ski resorts.

Lombardy offers some of Europe's best-value ski resorts. 

Photograph by Alamy

With mountain resorts that enjoy more hours of winter sunshine than almost anywhere else in Europe, and some of the region’s best-value ski holidays, Lombardy’s peaks should be on your radar.

And there are plenty of them. The region has more than 70 ski areas, with over 100 mountains rising 3,000 metres above sea level, producing excellent snow conditions for Lombardy’s 7,650 miles of ski slopes.

And it’s not all about whizzing downhill at breakneck speed. Winter hiking and biking trails, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snow-kiting, dog-sledding, tubing and thermal spas mean even those new to winter sports can immerse themselves in the region’s lively mountain culture.

The winter sports season has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. For the latest on safe travel and accessible destinations, visit gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice

1. Skiing

In the heart of the Italian Alps, the Alta Valtellina Ski Area includes several of Lombardy’s stellar ski resorts, with around 250 miles of linked pistes all covered by one ski pass. Set to host the 2026 Winter Olympics, Valtellina is home to resorts such as Livigno and Bormio that are no stranger to international competitions, with challenging peaks for boarders and skiers. Meanwhile, smaller mountain towns like Aprica are a family favourite, with accessible, tree-lined runs, plus good-value tuition, accommodation and affordable local ski passes.

In the Brescia region, the ski-linked resorts of Passo Tonale and Ponte di Legno are beloved of beginners and intermediates for their dedicated snowboard and ski schools, along with high-altitude (snow-sure) sunny, south-facing slopes. You can ski into summer on the Presena Glacier, and additional activities such as cross-country-skiing and dog-sledding, along with excellent-value accommodation, make this a favourite with families and school trips.

Within an hour’s drive of Bergamo Airport, the resorts of the Bergamasque Prealps are great for a weekend ski break. Here, in the upper Brembana Valley, you’ll find the Foppolo Carona Ski area, combining the linked resorts of Foppolo and Carona, offering two dedicated snow parks, beginner’s areas, over 30 miles of runs, and some stunning mountain vistas along the challenging Monte Valgussera and Montebello runs.    

Skiers skiing at the Carosello 3000 ski resort in Livigno. 

Photograph by Alamy

2. Snowkiting

This high-octane hybrid of skiing and kitesurfing is something kids as young as 12 can tackle, as long as they have basic downhill ski or snowboard skills. Try it at Montespluga, a hamlet in the Madesimo resort, in Valchiavenna, or in Passo Tonale, with everything from one-day to week-long courses offered.

3. Ice climbing

Ascending a frozen waterfall wearing crampons and a harness, ice axe in hand, is the stuff Bond films are made of, but Lombardy has climbs to suit all abilities, not just special agents. Try a taster session in the Valtellina region, where purpose-built ice towers are open even after the slopes close.

4. Cross-country

An alternative to downhill, ski at slower speeds through trees and wild backcountry, with the chance to work up a real sweat. Most ski resorts in Lombardy have cross-country, or Nordic, trails, including over 30 miles of prepared tracks criss crossing the largely flat hinterland of the vast Adamello Ski area.

A hiker photographed in front of the Cima di Pietra Rossa. 

Photograph by Getty

5. Trekking

The options for two-footed adventure in Lombardy is virtually limitless, ranging from gentle walks through the rural villages and rolling countryside of Oltrepo to strolls along the rivers and through the hills near Lake Garda, in Mincio Park. Challenging ascents are possible in the Stelvio National Park, where trekkers are treated to panoramic Alpine views from high-altitude meadowland, and sightings of ibex, roe deer, marmots and foxes. Families and casual walkers love the Sentiero delle Orobie trail, between Bergamo and Lecco — it’s laced with rivers and streams and home to Italy’s highest waterfall, the Cascata del Serio in Valbondione. For wildlife enthusiasts, the Parco delle Orobie Bergamasche is renowned for its biodiversity, with the Sentiero dei Fiori e delle Farfalle (Path of the Birds and Butterflies) among its natural treasures.

For more experienced hikers, the Alta Via dell’Adamello (or Sentiero n.1) is a Lombardy badge of honour. This 52-mile route is one for tackling in stages, with trails running 1,240-1,865ft above sea level — it’s a panoramic way to take in the dramatic landscapes of the Adamello Natural Park. The Sentiero Roma is one of the Alps’ classic trekking trails between Val Codera and Val Masino, topping out at 1,833ft on the Cameraccio Pass, with age-old mountain refuges to refuel at en route.

And for lovers of Lombardy’s excellent cuisine, there are plenty of walks to suit. The pre-Alpine hills around the region’s lakes, such as Iseo and Garda, are carpeted in vineyards, where medal-winning wineries and pretty villages lend themselves perfectly to indulgent point-to-point walking.

When's the best time to trek? 
Best tackled spring-autumn, some of Lombardy’s trails remain open for Nordic walking, snowshoeing and treks with an Alpine guide. Either gentle or challenging, as preferred, winter itineraries might include guided daytime or moonlit snow walks from the Zoia Refuge, in Valmalenco with local snacks, dinners of pizzoccheri pasta, and wine-tasting, or aerobic hikes around Lake Como with the Nordic Walking School. Or try serious winter trekking with local outfit, Zaino in Spalla, tackling such peaks as Monte Spino, Sasso di Malscarpa, or Zucco Sileggio. 

“Did you know? Lombardy is home to a 75-mile leg of the Via Francigena, the ancient pilgrimage road from Canterbury, in the UK, to Rome; a route flanked with medieval abbeys, Renaissance churches, and grand palazzi.”

6. Snow tubing

Do you want to race down a piste as fast as a pro skier but haven’t quite got the know-how? Try snow tubing. All you need is the nerve to insert yourself into the inflatable inner tube of a car tyre — sitting or laying down — and launch it downhill over slopes sculpted with curves and jumps. You’ll find snow tubing on offer at Livigno and Bormio, in Valtellina, on the Passo Tonale and in the Valcamonica Valley, where uphill conveyor belts transport tubers to the summit start point, and from there it’s down to guts and gravity. 

7. Ice-skating

If you’re seeking the hard stuff, many of the region’s ski resorts are also home to indoor and outdoor ice rinks. Skate under the stars at the Aprica Centre, in the eponymous family resort in Valtellina, open long after the ski slopes close in the evenings. Livigno’s Fun Park offers skating, blade sports and games on ice for youngsters, while the outdoor rink at Montecampione, in the Valle Camonica Valley offers views to Lake Iseo on clear days. In Carona, the skating rink — set on a sparkling frozen lake — borders the cross-country ski circuit.

8. Snowshoeing

This low-impact aerobic activity gets participants out into silent, snow-shrouded mountain backcountry. Snowshoeing in Stelvio National Park brings soul-stilling landscapes and near-guaranteed sightings of shy deer and chamois. Or for a uniquely magical moonlight walk, take part in the Caspolada al Chiaro di Luna, an annual event around Vezza d’Ogli, in the Adamello ski area that represents one of the largest gatherings of snowshoers in Europe. 

Snowshoeing in Stelvio National Park brings soul-stilling landscapes and near-guaranteed sightings of shy deer and chamois.

Photograph by Alamy

9. Thermal bathing

Centuries before wellness became a well-oiled term, Italy’s complex geology was producing sulphuric, mineral rich waters that are said to cure everything from respiratory diseases to rheumatism.

Many of Lombardy’s modern spas have grown up around ancient therapeutic sites; some focus around springs that have only recently been discovered.

A relatively modern marvel, President Terme in Salice Terme is a luxury hotel set up in the 1970s, using its thermal waters for everything from vascular hydrotherapy sessions to hydromassage, with the chance to enjoy the surrounding countryside with such additions as golfing and horse riding across the Oltrepò hills.

In Valle Camonica, the magnesium springs of Boario have attracted travellers since the early 19th century, today offering numerous modern spa and wellness treatments, outdoors heated swimming pools, sauna, Turkish bath, Kneipp pool, waterfalls and tranquil gardens.

The spa star of Lake Garda, Sirmione’s thermal baths are spread across two spa centres: Terme di Catullo, with its lakefront thermal swimming pool, and Terme di Virgilio, a modern centre for mud therapy, massages and the treatment of vascular and dermatologic disorders.

Terme di Rivanazzano, meanwhile, is set on Northern Italy’s historic salt trading route, a hub for hikers and walkers, who come to soothe aching legs in the thermal pools, steam baths and saunas of this contemporary reimaging of an early 20th century spa.

The town of San Pellegrino has seen a rebirth of its long-languishing thermal tourism, with the 2014 opening of the plush QC Terme San Pellegrino, where you can soak under restored frescos and art nouveau colonnades in waters naturally enriched with bicarbonate sulphate, calcium and magnesium.  

The town of San Pellegrino has seen a rebirth of its long-languishing thermal tourism, with the 2014 opening of the plush QC Terme San Pellegrino, seen here at night. 

Photograph by Getty

Three of the best boarding and freestyle resorts in Lombardy, Italy
 

Bormio
The crown of the upper Valtellina valley, the medieval mountain town of Bormio has a snowpark packed with boxes, flat rails, benches and kickers. Included in the generous Alta Valtellina ski pass, hop between Bormio and such bigger resorts as Livigno.

Madesimo
The locals’ favourite just north of Lake Como is the place for nonstop adrenalin-fuelled fun for the initiated, with an ever-changing snowpark, woodland runs, the bucketlist Canalone route — a 3,300ft vertical, ungroomed itinerary run served by a lone cable-car — plus night-access pistes. 

Livigno
Home to the epic Mottolino Snowpark and Carosello 3000, and host to several European snowboarding cup events, Livigno is king of the hill for freestylers and boarders. Its open terrain includes plenty of wide cruisey blue runs, and a dedicated learning area. There’s also an impressive expanse of accessible off-piste, making Livigno the place to get adventurous — even for beginners.

Published in the Lombardy 2020 guide, distributed with the Nov/Dec 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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