Starting at the top: a winter break in the Dolomites
Stunning scenery, relaxed pace, fab food, slopes often less crowded than elsewhere in Europe
Family-friendly resorts, foodie trail from valley to valley, great tobaggon runs, majestic Dolomites
Longer drives from some airports. Thrill seekers may miss sharper slopes. Need to book early
Fly into Venice or Treviso to access the Alta Badia region (EasyJet, BA, Ryanair). Car highly recommended
The ski scene
With some 300 days of sunshine a year, and wide open valleys with stunning scenery, it’s incredible Alta Badia isn’t as well known as its French and Swiss rivals. A highlight of a ski holiday here is the 40-km route around neighbouring ski stations known as the Sella Ronda, with four clear points of access and an itinerary that all skiers, bar beginners, should be able to tackle if you allow enough time.
Where to stay
Corvara, Colfosco, La Villa, Badia, La Val and San Cassiano make up the Alta Badia ski region. Our favourite village is the latter; it also has cross-country ski access, a good mix of accommodation from chic to simple, and some amazing places to eat, including two Michelin-starred restaurants.
Eating and drinking
No sooner have you slid down from the chairlift you’ll want to stop at one of the mountain huts or open-air bars. The tourist board publishes a gourmet ski tour leaflet each year, with a map to get you from one award-winning restaurant to another. Many huts have outside play areas for the kids; one even carves an igloo each winter. La Locia, just at the foot of the Armentarola slope, is handy for families, as it’s close to the ski school; open fires, child-friendly snacks and the odd Fondue night.
Hard to pick one, but the 8.5-km Lagazuoi run is pretty magical, whizzing you from the Falzarego pass down through an enchanting, remote valley with extraordinary ice falls. At the bottom, horses will pull you and your skis back to the Armentarola lift. Foodies will enjoy the hearty restaurant at the Refugio Scotoni on the way down, scotoni.it/
There are plenty of slopes for families to enjoy together, particularly around San Cassiano, and well-run, multi-lingual ski schools operate out of all four villages. We used this one: skidolomites.it.
From blow-the-budget heli-skiing to a ride in a horse-drawn carriage. Our favourite is the toboggan run starting at the top of Piz Sorega. It winds its way down through meadows and forests, covering 3.5km. Your kids will love it, but you’ll be whooping loudest.
Huge variety of runs to suit everyone. The Alta Badia slopes (map courtesy of altabadia.org) are part of the Dolomiti Superski network, the world’s largest.
Sicily and its islands: the perfect tour
One of the biggest islands in the Med, Sicily is as charismatic as it is chaotic – and that’s its charm. Extraoardinary food, amazing ruins and historic towns. Plus a cluster of dramatic volcanic islands offshore
More authentic than many famous parts of the mainland. Prices are more reasonable, too. So much to see and do, whether you’re a culture vulture, foodie or adrenalin seeker. Wine tours also now popular
The roads aren’t the best you’ll drive on… and the driving can be crazy in Catania and Palermo. The motorway between the two is often closed for repairs. Long distances between some sights. Few direct flights
Schedules for direct flights often change. Right now, EasyJet are selling tickets from the UK to Catania and Ryanair to Palermo. You can also catch a ferry from the mainland and regular boats operate to the Aeolian islands
Exploring the island
Catania and the east
The highest active volcano in Europe, Etna dominates the landscape in the east. Its lower slopes are fertile and home to large agricultural and wine estates and small villages that have been trying to hold off the lava over the centuries. Tour guides can take you trekking at the peak in the summer, or skiing in winter. Don’t miss the chi-chi town of Taormina, with some of the best coastal views in the area, and historic Syracuse, once the largest city in the ancient world.
Eating and drinking
You’ll eat some of the best Italian food ever in Sicily, especially away from the resorts. Thanks to the influence of the different nationalities that have invaded over the centuries, a fusion cuisine has evolved, with French, Arabic and North African flavours worked in to many dishes. As for wine, a new generation of producers are putting the island firmly on the map; look out for the sparkling vintages (like Murgo) and read more at: winemag.com/gallery/red-hot-sicilys-top-wine-regions.
Swap traditional hotels for a Sicilian estate
Tenuta San Michele
One of the nicest ways to explore the island is to stay at two or three of Sicily’s wine estates or organic farms. Family-run Tenuta San Michele produces Murgo red, white and award-winning sparkling wine on the slopes of Etna. It offers rooms or simple apartments, welcomes families and has a pool surrounded by lovely gardens. There’s a cantina to taste the wine and a great restaurant, which attracts lots of locals, offering a set menu including wine. In summer, meals are served on a vine-covered terrace.
Puglia: culture, natural beauty and a slower pace of life
Clichéd but true: this really is unspoilt Italy. Incredible coastline, Baroque towns, reliable weather and robust red wine. In June and September: one of nicest spots in southern Europe
Puglia has the greatest variety of beaches on mainland Italy. Inland, visit Lecce, the Florence of the south, and the magical port of Gallipoli. Great farmhouse accommodation
Fewer flights than to most Italian destinations. Gets very hot in the height of summer. Very quiet off season (though this will be the appeal to others). Really need a car to see the region.
Fly into Brindisi or Bari (Ryanair or EasyJet), then rent a car or organise pick-ups. You can also catch the train down from Rome. Ferries operate from Greece to Brindisi
Coastline near Gallipoli
There’s a particularly lovely stretch of coastline between Parco Naturale Regionale Isola di Sant’Andrea and Gallipoli, in western Puglia. Rocky shores, with deep blue water, give way to bays of gently shelving white sand. Lidos (local beach clubs) provide easy access to the former, with steps into the sea, plus a bar, restaurant and sunloungers.
We had a chance to explore the coast leading from Isola Sant’ Andrea to Gallipoli in Setember. The flat terrain, scant traffic on coastal paths and small local roads, plus perfect weather, made for a fabulous cycling experience, as you meander past olive and fruit groves and turn down sandy tracks for refreshing swims.
Lecce and Gallipoli
You’ll be so happy you dragged yourself off the beach when you wander around “Florence of the South” Lecce, a Baroque jewel without the crowds you find in better known Italian towns, or when you watch the sun set over the port of Gallipoli.
What to eat
Typical Puglian dishes
Local chefs turn these fave beans into a delicious puree, topped with sauteed cicoria greens. Also on menus: orecchiette pasta with a Puglian type of broccoli and garlic; crunchy, dry Frisella bread baked in a stone oven, topped with fresh diced tomato. Pasticciotto, a flaky pastry dessert with a creamy custard filling.