Starting at the top: a winter break in the Dolomites
Fly into Venice or Treviso to access the Alta Badia region (EasyJet, BA, Ryanair). Car highly recommended
The ski scene
Alta BadiaWith 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
Alta BadiaCorvara, 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 drinkingNo 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.
ActivitiesFrom blow-the-budget heli-skiing to a ride in a horse-drawn carriage. Our favourite is the tobaggon 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.
Ski mapHuge 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
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 eastThe 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
Etna winesYou’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
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.