Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy
I’ve been coming to Cortina since I was a teenager, and it’s definitely changed quite a bit over the years. Surely not as much as those who have been traveling there since the 60s might be able to say, but it’s still fascinating to watch the changes of a town first-hand over a 20 year time frame.
I first traveled to Cortina d’Ampezzo at the age of 16, when I was living in northern Italy with a wealthy host family who owned a prosciutto company. They owned two vacation homes: one in Grado (by the beach) and another in Cortina (in the mountains). So we traveled to Cortina for the Christmas holiday to enjoy the snow and some skiing. I remember being truly in awe of how stunning the mountains were, but also how cold it was (-15°C, or about 5°F). There was also a 50s era skating rink that we went ice skating in, which ended up being a fun and Hallmark-card-like way to celebrate the Christmas holiday.
I returned to Cortina a few years back, over 15 years later. I was still of course in awe of the mountains but was surprised by the fact that the place hadn’t changed much. This is, in most cases, a good thing, with the exception of the fact that most of the hotels could use a facelift. Although still beautiful and still encompassing its glamorous and high-society aura, Cortina is a bit of a “once was” since it’s heyday was back when they hosted the winter Olympics in 1956. This is the same era where the James Bond film was shot here, and when all of Europe’s elite came here to ski in the summer and play golf and tennis in the summer.
Now, don’t let those comments deter you. It’s honestly part of the charm of Cortina. It really does feel like a world away, untouched and frozen in time. Its beauty makes it one of my favorite places in the world.
The closest international airport to Cortina d’Ampezzo is Milano Malpensa Airport (MXP). From here, your most comfortable way to get to Cortina is to rent a car or hire a car service. For car rentals in Europe, I prefer using Hertz, because of their ease of rental and assortment of vehicles.
Another great option is to take the train. This is a great way to also kick back and enjoy the scenery along the way, as the views on the drive up are stunning year round. Note, however, that the train doesn’t go all the way there: you’ll need to take a train and then a bus (or take a bus the whole way). This option is also the cheapest of those that I’ve mentioned.
Where to Stay
There is no question that the best place to stay in Cortina is the Cristallo, which is a Luxury Collection Hotel (now a Marriott property thanks to the Starwood merger). Rates are rather expensive, but trust me when I say it’s worth it. It’s got just about every amenity you could ask for (an incredible spa, ski services, several restaurants, and even a golf course open in the summer time) and the service is like no other. Travelers in winter should obviously take advantage of world class skiing, but the summer is just as good: guests of the Cristallo can enjoy hiking, climbing, biking, tennis, water rafting, the “Adrenaline Center” and golf.
For a mid-level place to stay, choose Grand Hotel Savoia Cortina d’Ampezzo, a Radisson Collection Hotel, Hotel Europa, Hotel Bellevue Suites, which is right in town, or Faloria Mountain Resort and Spa for a wonderful ski in, ski out option. For budget-friendly options, try Hotel Campannina or Hotel Serena.
Where to Eat
It should come as no surprise that the Cristallo has some of Cortina’s best restaurants. The Gazebo offers stunning views of the valley, while guests wanting an über-luxurious experience can book the Chef’s Private Table. In the wintertime, La Stube 1872 offers an authentic, traditional dining experience that features dishes with local ingredients and wild game. For other fine dining options, choose SanBrite or Ristorante Al Camin, which are both tremendously rated and recognized my Michelin Guide.
For casual dining spots in the town center, opt for Il Vizietto di Cortina or Pizzeria La Perla. On the north end of town is Birreria Hacker Pschorr, which serves up Bavarian food if you’re sick of eating Italian (though… how could you?). There’s also a super cute little wine bar that serves the best cheese and charcuterie plates, though the name escapes me. I do know it was right in town and we had to go down some steps to get there, and it only had three or four tables.
For incredible dining on the slopes, choose Ristorante El Camineto or Tivoli. If you’re skiing Faloria, don’t skip out on a long lunch at Rifugio Capanna Tondi at the top of the mountain. One of the most memorable lunches I’ve ever had was when we nearly got stuck her after eating lunch. My business partner and I had enjoyed a lovely morning of skiing, then had a long lunch at Rifugio Capanna Tondi—complete with some of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever had in a setting like that, with some equally incredible wine of course—and then when the weather changed to nearly white-out conditions over the course of our two hour lunch we were a little fearful of how we were going to get down. Slow and steady turned out to be our best bet though, and we managed to get down just fine.
What to Do
What to do obviously depends on what time of year you travel to Cortina. Guests in the winter should take advantage of their incredible ski resorts: the Cortina d’Ampezzo ski resort right in town, Faloria, Dolomiti Super Ski, or Tre Valli. You can also go snowshoeing or snowmobiling. In the summertime, Cortina has absolutely incredible hiking trails, and for those who crave more adrenaline, there’s also climbing and white water rafting. There are tons of guided hikes on TripAdvisor that will take you to hidden lakes the color of turquoise. You can even play golf at the Cristallo’s golf course! While some trails might be difficult to navigate in the shoulder season (Mar-May and Sept-Nov), Cortina is still equally beautiful, with plenty to do.
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