By Joseph T. Cannavo
It’s that time of year when Italians head to the mountains in northern Italy for what they refer to “La Settimana Bianca” or “The White Week” referring to week-long ski trips during the winter months. So, once again an excuse to put their jobs on the back burner in favor of “La Dolce Vita.” Their biggest dilemma is trying to decide between the Italian Alps … or Dolomites? Bottom line, one can’t go wrong with either one. Both Italian mountain ranges technically belong to the Alps. But most locals call the range in Italy’s northeast corner the Dolomites, while those in the northwest, in the Valle d’Aosta, are the Alps.
Still, the Valle d’Aosta and the Dolomites are fairly different. Both Valle d’Aosta and the Dolomites are excellent for skiing, but the Dolomites boast a larger variety of slopes.
Lots of ski resorts are scattered across both the Valle d’Aosta and the Dolomites. For those who prefer cross-country, downhill skiing, or snowboarding, the Dolomites, especially, have something for everyone.
Their downhill slopes often are more varied, as well, while those in the Valle d’Aosta resorts often tend to be more intermediate.
Highlights in the Dolomites include the chic ski resort Cortina d’Ampezzo, Madonna di Campiglio, Val Pusteria, Val di Fassa, Val Gardena, and Sasso Lungo and Bolzano.
Both Valle d’Aosta and the Dolomites have panoramic hiking trails, but the Valle d’Aosta offers more breathtaking views. Gran Paradiso National Park is famous for panoramas of endless green parks and mountains, with glimpses of local wildlife and rare flowers in bloom. Hiking trails are open all summer at every level, from those who want to take in the view at a leisurely pace to the more adventurous hikers and mountain bikers. Plus, the area is less crowded than the Dolomites during the warmer weather, meaning trails are more tranquil, and accommodation more affordable, too.
Both Valle d’Aosta and the Dolomites are easily reached in northern Italy, but the Alps are closer to Milan or Torino, and the Dolomites are closer to Verona and Venice. Valle d’Aosta is located in northwestern Italy, very close to the French and Swiss borders, and can be easily reached in a 2-hour drive from Milan or Torino. Meanwhile, the Dolomites, near the Austrian border, are a 2-hour drive from Venice or Verona. Unfortunately, either area is equally difficult to reach by public transport: Although there are a few train stations, and lots of local buses, getting to the ski resorts or smaller towns can be difficult and time-consuming.
Both Valle d’Aosta and the Dolomites have popular resorts, but the Valle d’Aosta has fewer tourists and a better deal. The Valle d’Aosta’s most popular destinations, including Gran Paradiso National Park, Courmayeur, La Thuile, Cervinia, Cogne, Gressoney and Aosta, the ancient Roman city, tend to be less crowded and less expensive than the main attractions in the Dolomites. Visitors of Valle d’Aosta can also find more off-the- beaten-path towns to explore, both in terms of accessibility and prices, than their counterparts in the Dolomites.
Both Valle d’Aosta and the Dolomites serve up some delicious comfort food, but the Dolomites offer more characteristic regional specialties. Specialties from the mountains are synonymous with comfort food: a piping hot plate of hearty food to keep warm, even in the summer! The Dolomites are famous for local delicacies like canederli (savory dumplings with a texture similar to stuffing) and apple strudel. Many dishes include ingredients like speck, a smoky cured meat similar to prosciutto, as well as deer, cabbage, chestnuts, yogurt and berries. Wines and spirits of the area like Müller Thurgau white wine, vin santo dessert wine and grappa digestives can be found on most menus. Valle d’Aosta also has characteristic food, often mistaken as Swiss, like polenta, fontina cheese and fondue.
One thing is for certain that whether it be for “La Settimana Bianca” or just a simple visit and tour, visitors will see yet another of Italy’s sub-cultures that has made Italy renowned for the extraordinary diversity of its music, cuisine, and folk culture.