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CORTINA D'AMPREZZO, ITALY
By Stacy Hickman

Cortina is often called the Queen of the Dolomites. Centrally located in the Dolomites, Cortina is a winter paradise. It is easy to get either via Venice or Munich by car, bus and train. If you are staying at hotel in town, a car is not necessary because of the extensive bus system. There are a full range of accommodations from 5 star hotels, small ski lodges and apartments.

The history of Cortina dates back to the 11th century when it was under control of the Counts da Camino. It passed on to the control of Venice and after a long bloody war came under the control of Austria until 1915. After WWII it became part of Italy. Cortina was on the front lines of World War I and there are various reminders of that time through out the valley. Cortina became a world famous resort after hosting the 1956 Winter Olympics.

Cortina is a winter paradise. It has over 40 different ski lifts, cable cars and more than 110 kilometers of ski runs. Cortina features three main mountain ski areas; The Tofane Group, Critallo and Falarego. They are interconnected by various lifts and trams and can be skied with one pass-The Cortina Ski Pass. If you are planning to ski outside of Cortina purchase the Ski Dolomites Super Pass. This allows you free passage on any Dolomite ski bus to any resort in the Dolomites.


SKIING
The first thing you need to remember about skiing in Italy is the colors they use for marking the trails mean different things than they do in the U.S. First, green does not mean the easiest! Green means uncontrolled ski trails meaning not groomed, not easy and maybe a road with cars on it. Blue is used to mark the easiest ski runs. Red means intermediate runs and black is still black, the expert area. Both Skiers and snowboarders are welcome at Cortina. Cortina holds an annual snowboarding tournament in early February and is home to the Cortina Ski Club.

Your entirety to the Cristallo-Faloria begins with an impressive cable way made up of two parts built in the 30's to the top of Mont Faloria where you can take in a splendid view of the Ampezzan Valley. This is a starting point to get to Mont Cristallo.

Mont Cristallo is one of the most famous peaks of Cortina. A series of lifts will get up to the Lorenzi Mountain Hut which offers great views and a giant cross in memory of World War I plus other Reminder, the skiing off Cristallo is expert, the lower areas towards Rio Gere offer some intermediate Skiing. You can ski back to downtown Cortina off Mont Cristallo.

The Tofane Group is the perfect area for beginner skiers and offers many challenges for experts. The Tofane Group is the highest and biggest group of mountains that surround Cortina. You can either ski the Ra Valles or you can ski the Pocol. You create your own Olympic downhill on the Olympic run starting at the Ponedes Mountain Hut where athletes made records during the 1956 Winter Olympics. Do stop an enjoy lunch Italian style at the Duca D'aosta hut. Italians enjoy long leisurely lunches with wine or coffee and talking.

Falzaego Pass is the most important and famous of the Cortina Passes. It links Cortina to the eastern part of the Dolomites. The lower slopes are easy and can be used by beginners. The slopes off the top of Monte Lagazoui are much more difficult, because they are steep and narrow. Because of the height of this peak, you can ski off this mountain until late April.

A modern cable-way goes from Falzaego Pass to the top of Lagazoui where there a mountain hut with a view of the valley and mountains that is one of the most beautiful in the Dolomities. This is a starting point to reach the Sella Rounda group and is the beginning of a World War I ski tour you can take which points out various barracks, markers and gun turrets left over from World War I.

You can ski down to the Cirque Torre which is a famous area for rock climbing during warmer months. Cortina does have modern snow making at lower elevations but the height of the peaks ensures good skiing until April at the higher elevations.

OTHER OUTDOOR SPORTS

If skiing or riding isn't your thing. You have many options. Cortina is a pedestrian village with plenty of shopping, galleries, museums and a beautiful church. There are over 20 miles of cross-country trails. You can hike through the woods and valleys, trek with snowshoes or spend a morning or afternoon ice skating at the Olympic Ice Stadium, which was built in 1956 and is considered an architectural jewel. If you're lucky, you can catch a hockey game or curling match at the stadium.

If you need activities with a little more adrenaline, Cortina has the answer. You can start with snow rafting. Participants ride a rubber raft down the snow-covered hill located below the Olympic ski jump. Each raft holds 8 people. The raft can reach speeds up to 90 km/per hr. Helmets are provided. From experience I can tell you it's a blast.

The best adventure is the Taxi Bob. You to take a ride down the Olympic Bobsled run in a four-man sled with a professional pilot and brakeman. You are issued a suit, helmet and belt. You reach speeds up to 125 km/per hr and it's like nothing else you'll experience. It's better than any roller coaster and makes The bobsled ride at Vail seem like a kiddie ride. It was awesome. There is a bar at the bottom for your to celebrate your ride.

You can experience the felling of a luge racer by doing the crazy sledge. You use the lower part of the bobsled track and you get to runs and times. A chart at the bottom shows everyone how they did and what their ranking is on the course.

A mellower evening sledding can be enjoyed on the moonlight sled ride. First, you enjoy a nice dinner with a birds eye view of Cortina at night. After dinner, wearing your protective helmet with it's illuminated front piece. You take a thrilling ride down to the valley on a one-man sled. You can do the Sled ride only.

APRES SKI

Cortina has a very good apres ski scene. You can start on the mountain at one of the many mountain huts or stroll into town and pick a place to enjoy a pizza or pastry and mix with the locals. There is something for everyone in Cortina. The dinner hour starts late at 7:30pm and goes until well into the night. Because of the Barvarian and Italian influences you can enjoy a variety of cuisine. From bratwurst to pizza to strudel and tarmiusi your choices are endless. I recommend the Embassy Pasterrie for a strudel and Irish coffee. The party doesn't get started until after 11pm. So take a siesta before or after dinner and enjoy the nightlife. There are bars full of single young people, quiet little places popular with the locals and spots to flaunt your jewelry and fur coats. The Clipper Club offers the single social scene with loud dance music and people dancing on the tables. The Blue Room is an all night disco. The American bar is a casual place with good music and fluffy couches to hang out on with friends. If beer halls are your thing, check out the Hocken Schore.

TOURIST ATTRACTIONS

There is a museum and a modern art gallery plus several private galleries that exhibit the work of well known local artists. The town centre, closed to traffic, is a promenade dominated by the parish church of St. Philip and St. James. This church was built in 1775 to replace the original building that had become to small. The church features a main altar with two altars and four smaller altars. It features artwork and murals from local Ampezzan artists. It's a must see. The resort has fantastic shopping with over 200 boutiques. Cortina has a daycare facilities which is rare at an Italian resort and free skiing for kids up to 8 years old. Visitors receive a Cortina card which gives discounts to many of the facilities available off the slopes.

VENICE

Cortina is located only 98 miles from Venice about a 2 hour drive. Many trips to Cortina begin or end in Venice. I highly recommend a visit to Venice. Venice is unique and is a pedestrian city, no cars are allowed. You can stay either in Venice or in Venice Mestre . Venice is built on 117 small islands and is linked to the main land by train service. You can take a train to Venice, board the #82 water taxi for the long ride around Venice to the Piazza San Marco. This is the most famous spot in Venice. You can visit St. Mark's Bascilica and observe the famous bronze horses brought to Venice by Costanine. Watch the various artists and musicians in the pigeon filled piazza. Tour the Doges' Palace crossing the Bridge of Sighs down into the gloomy prisons.

It's only a half hour walk back to the train station from San Marcos or you can board the #1 water taxi outside Harry's Bar(where Hemmingway use to drink) and take a water tour of the Grand Canal. Enjoy the views of the fine palaces along the canal. You can visit the Galleria dell'Accademia, with its collection of Venetian masters or tour the nearby Peggy Guggenheim Gallery with it's fine collection of early 20th century works. Visit one of many glass factories, stroll the canals, shop and pick one of many fabulous restaurants to enjoy an Italian meal. The atmosphere is magical and festive in Venice.

To make a long story short, Cortina is great place to relax and experience whatever kind of alpine activity you desire. Everyone is friendly and will help you with your Italian. It's truly the Queen of the Dolomities.
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