Easy Escapes: La Thuile, Aosta Valley, Italy

Caroline Garland enjoys exhilarating skiing and a new design hotel on the borders of Italy and France

Caroline Garland enjoys exhilarating skiing and a new design hotel on the borders of Italy and France

Why go: Set at 1440m, La Thuile is linked to the French resort of La Rosière by the Espace San Bernardo (espacesanbernardo.com), offering a choice of 80 pistes and the novelty of cross-border skiing. The Italian side feels pretty undiscovered with crowd-free slopes that are particularly welcoming to beginners and intermediate skiers. That means no queuing at lifts and less danger of being mowed down by someone still learning – like me… The mountain scenery is thrilling with clouds hanging between famous peaks such as Mont Blanc, Monte Rosa and Gran Paradiso, plus there’s all the joys of Italian food, wine and stylish living.

When: Now! The euro rate is at a record low, the ski season is in full swing, and there should be snow till April. Temperatures generally sit around zero C° with lots of bright, sunny days making for perfect conditions.  

What to wear: We’ve put together a gallery of the best skiwear available right now. I couldn’t resist this geometric-patterned Sweaty Betty Uphill Ski Jacket.

Snow queen: Caroline is let loose on the crowd-free slopes at La Thuile

You really must: An international ski pass provides access to 38 lifts, from £30 a day until 6 April, and you also can buy one for just a few hours. Skis, poles and boots start from £18 for a day from Berthod Sport (berthodsport.it). La Thuile doesn’t have the wild après-ski scene found in better-known resorts, and there’s not that much to keep non-skiers entertained. Walking around the town there are the usual high street shops, plus hidden gems like the charming artisan chocolatier Chocolat (chocolat-collomb.it) in the town centre. Try the fondue, which arrives with a pot of milk and dark chocolate to dip your strawberries, banana, nuts, biscuits and other treats into.

Further afield, Aosta is a 45-minute drive away or you can travel by train and admire the beautiful countryside. The journey is impressive and reveals the history of the area with medieval castles along the route. This is the bi-lingual main town of the Aosta Valley and was founded by the Romans in 25BC. The walls and ruins of the ancient city are its pride and joy and you can still see the towering façade of a theatre and a cryptoporticus, a monument next to the cathedral with passages used for walking along out of the sun or cold with art decorating the walls.

Into the woods: a bedroom at the new Nira Montana hotel

Stay at: Opened in December 2014, Nira Montana (niramontana.com) is La Thuile’s first five-star hotel and is a luxe minimalist alpine heaven. There is a sister property in St Moritz, Nira Alpina (niraalpina.com). As befits a member of Design Hotels, the lobby is coolly comfortable with an open fireplace, low coffee tables and a mix of mid-century and modern furniture with stylish books scattered about. The 55 rooms are just as welcoming with exposed wood contrasting with contemporary furniture, lots of space and incredible views of mountains. A key reason to stay is the Nira SPA which is very welcome after several days of hard skiing. After a massage here your legs feel re-born, and there’s also a pool, steam room and sauna with an ice bucket challenge for the brave. Double rooms cost from £144 per night with breakfast, based on a three-night stay and including a daily international ski pass for both guests.

Ski and swim: the spa at Nira Montana

Dine at: The restaurant at Nira Montana, Stars, is a night out in itself. The menu offers a great selection of Italian dishes, such as trout with horseradish sauce, homemade ravioli stuffed with ricotta cheese in a lemon and mint sauce, braised veal cheek served with mash potato flavoured with black truffle, and hot chocolate fondant with mandarin sorbet. Another treat worth booking is Rifugio Lo Riondet (loriondet.it). It’s an experience just getting out to this chalet restaurant as the only way there is by snowplough. On arrival have a welcome glass of mulled white wine (yes, white and it’s lovely) then tuck into the raclette – a huge half-moon of Fontina cheese which is heated up at the table for the waiter to drizzle over what ever you choose – potatoes, pickles, bread, ham… It’s a big, guilty pleasure and hard to leave space for the main courses, such as a deliciously rich beef mince dish served with baked apple and amaretto biscuit, and veal in a wine sauce. In Aosta, Ristorante Giuliani (giulianiristorante.com) is set in a converted stables, which sounds very biblical but is actually modern and contemporary. The food is excellent, including pork cooked in beer with cardamom and served with purple cabbage tatin, and a dessert of pear in wine sauce with homemade walnut, honey and vanilla ice cream.

Bring home: Wines from La Vineria Di Gregorini (121 Via S. Anselmo) and cheese from La Maison du Fromage Di Angelina Malizia (10 Via Marcello Collomb).

Book now: SWISS International Airlines (swiss.com) flies direct from London to Geneva from £58 return, and also from Birmingham and Manchester via Zurich. Transfers to La Thuile take two hours.

Info: See lovevda.it and aosta-valley.co.uk. Other useful websites are firsttimeskier.co.uk, skiclub.co.uk and wheretoskiandsnowboard.com.

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