Winter Holidays in San Martino
We spent December in Iceland, which was wonderful, but for our desert-born twins, it has to be said that it lacked snow. They needed more cold, clear air to satisfy their expectations on emerging from the Middle East into European winter. What better than a skiing holiday in the Alps? Read on for everything you need to know about taking a winter holiday in the Dolomites.
San Martino di Castrozza
San Martino is a tiny town of 500 residents in the Dolomites. It is in Trentino province at the northeastern corner of Italy. Spruce and pine forests surround the town. Beyond these are open pastures in summer and ski slopes in winter. It is a ridiculously picturesque location. The vertiginous cliffs of the Pale di San Martino create a skyline to the east and rounded mountain meadows to the north and west.
Why we loved San Martino for our ski holiday
- It has a variety of skiing areas with different characters and a good proportion of easy pistes.
- There are plenty of child-friendly facilities for both winter sports and childminding.
- It has excellent food – and they cater for food intolerances which is essential for us.
- With 60km of ski-runs, there is space for everyone. We went mid-season (mid-January), and we had tons of elbow room.
Skiing Places in San Martino
The San Martino-Passo Rolle area offers 60 kilometres of ski runs, 23 lifts and two snow parks. It is a family-oriented resort. About half the slopes are classified as easy (blue) and beginner (green). The rest are intermediate (red) and with a few km at expert (black) level. There are snow machines on the popular pistes. These ensure continuous availability during the season.
We (Ania and Nick) are at the easy (blue) level of snowboarding and skiing. The girls went in with no experience (almost never having seen snow) and came out as true blue.
If you are regular skiers, you will know how to find out about resorts and pistes, but if you are family-orientated and looking for an awesome holiday in the snow, then this blog is the place for you. Read on.
There are four ski areas around San Martino town, each with different characters.
Tognola cablecar station is 1km south of the town centre. At the top of the gondola ride, you find a lovely restaurant. There is a kids club with childminding, a sun lounge, two nursery slopes and access to the pistes.
Our first impression from the top was one of wonder at the view across the valley to the east. With all facilities and nursery slopes on the top, Tognola is the perfect place to start the holiday. It was ideal for the girls, new to snowsports, and for us oldies to brush the rust out of our joints.
We also had a delicious lunch there at the Rifugio Tognola. It has both self-service and table service restaurants. The blue Rododendro piste running down from here was Ania’s favourite for snowboarding. If you are much much better than us, then perhaps the Tognola 1 “expert” piste is your route home. We took the gondola back down!
The “way in” here is a brand new cable car Colbricon Express . The station is located about 1 km west of the town centre. The Valbonetta-Bellaria run from the top station back to the bottom was just the right level of challenge for us. Some parts are a bit steep and scary, others are perfect for zooming along straight. Then we rushed into the gondola and back up again to re-try those turns which didn’t quite come right last time.
Ski > gondola ride > repeat. A perfect day.
Again there is a restaurant, this time it’s half-way down called the Malga Ces. It is picturesque and serves tasty food (this will be rather a standard observation . . .)
On this group of slopes, the more difficult pistes are farther up the mountain, accessible by a network of lifts above our playground. Those slopes connect with the Tognola high up to form the Carosello delle Malghe.
On the road from the town up to the restaurant, there is a little park right by the road with nursery slopes. There are two button lifts and a wide field on each side. We had great fun there – whizzing down with our new-found confidence. Nick challenged his aching joints as he tried to limbo under the hoops on the baby slalom.
Follow the Via Passo Rolle to the north, and you soon leave San Martino behind a succession of hairpin bends. You rise first into the forests and then through them and onto the summer grazing pastures. In twenty minutes you reach the Rolle Pass itself. At a shade under 2,000m it lies in the shadow of the astonishing spire of the Cimon della Pala peak – 3,000m plus.
Up here on the pass, there is a small settlement with restaurants and bars. We dined a bit farther down beyond the pass to the west at the Agritur Malga Rolle. This lovely restaurant also specialises in selling local cheese. No regrets for this choice. There is a beautiful dining room with huge open fire and great food.
Here at Passo Rolle, there is a collection of ski runs ranging from easy to expert. The easy “Cimon” piste was perhaps a bit too easy – in places it was pretty flat – but there are plenty of others around here for variety and fun. The views and scenery here are simply awesome.
Col Verde – and Night Skiing
Col Verde, the fourth area, is a single piste immediately to the east of San Martino, in the shadow of the Pale di San Martino rocks. The ski-run winds down through the forest. There is a gondola ascent and a popular restaurant (Rifugio Colverde) at the top. We took our ski passes and went up for a delicious evening meal. Nick and the girls went without ski-gear. Ania and her snowboard took off into the forest alongside the other night-hawks.
The piste arrives together with the cable car at a carpark just behind the Grand Hotel Des Alpes. This is within easy walking distance of the town centre. It is an intermediate grade with an easy variant. The run is broad and winding with a 500m drop. For night skiing, pretty light balloons illuminate the run.
Evening opening times for the Christmas holidays are 7:30 – 11:30 pm every day. In the new year, it is open only on Wednesday and Saturday evenings. The same day pass works evenings too.
Ski Rental in San Martino
Ski rental shops are everywhere around the town. We were renting from Skisport.
Checking other online sites, you pay about € 20/day for ski hire with ski boots and around € 25-27/day for snowboard hire with boots. Of course, if you pack well for a skiing trip and don’t forget your boots, you will save on ski hire.
Consider also renting helmets (mandatory for children), and goggles. For the full joy of skiing, pick up a few hand warmers and/or foot warmers too, to tuck into your gloves – it will be very useful even with best waterproof gloves.
A variety of options are available for Skipass. For example € 47/43 (high season/mid-season) a day for adults and € 33/31 a day for children. This pass gives access to all the lifts in San Martino and Passo Rolle – a total of 60 km of slopes and 23 lifts.
Alternatively, the Dolomiti Superski Pass gives you access to 1,220 km of slopes (450 lifts) in the whole region for about 15-20% more.
You can buy ski passes online, so you are ready to go the moment you arrive. But before you rush out and do that, note that some hotels offer packages with ski passes included.
How to Get About San Martino and Transport to the Pistes:
Col Verde is within walking distance of the town centre. The other two skiing areas, Tognola and Ces are more of a trek. You don’t really want to do it unless your hotel is adjacent. Passo Rolle is 20 minutes by car.
Alternatively, there is a public transport system and a dedicated Skibus.
The Skibus service connects all hotels, San Martino, Primiero, Mezzano, and villages in the Valle del Vanoi with the lifts. – You can even use the bus to go sightseeing or shopping in the villages. One advantage of the bus is that the carparks can get full. You can get off the bus right next to the lift and save a trek from the car park in your ski boots.
If you book accommodation through the Azienda per il Turismo, you get a free ski bus pass, (Called an S.MART card!) otherwise, it will cost € 10 a week (€ 5 for kids) or € 3 a day.
San Martino Ski Resorts with Children
The slopes around San Martino are all family friendly. There are runs of all grades. There is a nursery slope with two button lifts in the valley bottom on the road to the Malga Ces restaurant. And there is a complete child-dedicated mini-resort on the top at Tognola, combining a kids club and two nursery slopes – one with a magic carpet and the other with a button lift.
What is your idea of the perfect ski holiday with kids?
If it is is to set them doing what they want to do while you escape doing what you want to do, then here is information for you.
There is a child-minding service for kids from 4 to 12 called Dolomiti Family Fun in San Martino. They will collect your Kids from your accommodation and take them for morning ski school and winter sports. The day continues with afternoon activities run by dedicated entertainers. Dolomiti Family Fun also organises family events and shows in the evenings.
The staff on top of Tognola will look after your children aged 3 – 10 keeping them entertained all day. This includes lunch in the kid’s club “Martino il Lupo Birichino” and supervised activities on the adjacent nursery slopes. Meanwhile, you can dedicate yourself to practising your technique on the steeper runs. Or just sunbathe on the loungers with a drink and a bite to eat outside Rifugio Tognola while your kids play on the adjacent nursery slopes.
We (all of us) spent the first half-day of our holiday on the nursery slopes at the top of Tognola. Both girls were brand new novices. In the afternoon, we went with our instructor down the adjacent blue piste, Rododendro. This was a bit of a stretch for our skills at the time.
After we had spent the rest of the day back in the comfort zone of the nursery slopes, we were eager to try something more challenging in the morning. We went for the blue Valbonetta and Bellaria runs at Ces which we voted “awesome best fun ever.” We found that our ideal was to be all together. We had one coach to keep our kids safe, and to offer help and a bit of coaching to us when we needed it.
All the restaurants we went to offered gluten free and dairy free options, a crucial issue for us. They were all very child-friendly. Most of the hotels also have entertainment for kids. Our hotel (Grand Hotel des Alpes) had a free evening kids club which the girls loved.
San Martino Ski Schools and Ski Coaches
San Martino Ski school for young kids 4-6
Its a one week course, Monday to Friday from 11.00 to 15.00. Course programme includes 10 hours of ski lesson – every day between 11.00 – 13.00. From 1pm kids have lunch and activities with the entertainers in Kidnderland club.
The price of the Baby group course is € 260,00 per kid, including 10 hours of ski lessons, 5 meals and early afternoon entertainment at the Kinderland miniclub (till 15.00), ski rental and ski storage service from Monday to Frida
San Martino Ski school for kids
There are Ski Schools for kids from 6-12 Junior lasting a 5 day week (11am to 3pm) and including 20 hours of lessons. Children are assessed at the beginning to ensure they learn in groups of their own abilities. The cost is € 290.00 per child including ski gear and lunches.
Private ski lesson in San Martino
The cost of personal coaching depends on high/low season and time of day. A ski instructor for one person costs from € 35 – € 50 per hour. There is a sliding scale up to a group of 4 per instructor at € 65 – € 80 per hour.
What to Do in San Martino Beside Skiing
The Violin Forest
Over the Passo Rolle beyond the Pistes is the visitor centre of the Paneveggio Natural Park.
The visitor centre gives insight to the forest ecosystem. For example, it shows how forests create fertile soil from rocks, and what that means for our planet.
Then we went for a guided walk through the forest itself. The majority of trees here are Norway Spruce (Picea Abies) which we call Christmas Trees in the UK. In this close-packed forest with cold winters, these trees grow slow and straight. This produces some of the best wood in the world for stringed instruments. Stradivari himself used to come here to select his materials.
The forest is beautiful because of the snow and the quiet. It is made even more so by the enthusiasm and knowledge of our guide. She pointed out so many aspects of the flora, fauna and ecosystem. The twins had enormous fun finding animal prints in the snow. Then they ran ahead to make their own versions of yeti and bear tracks for us to discover as we came forward. Surprisingly, it appears that there are also elephants roaming these woods! There is a nearby deer park in case you didn’t spot a live deer in the forest.
Snowmobile and Mulled Wine
One evening, we gathered behind the Cable Car station at the bottom of Tognola with a dozen or more other tourists. We were ferried half a kilometre up the mountain by a snowmobile with a trailer to find a vast table bar made of ice. On this, our hosts served us with mulled wine, tea, hot sausages, and “chocolate salami.”
There was a heap of snow and ice cleared from the piste next to this area. The girls immediately named this the Hill-Malayas. So while we were socialising, they spent a happy half hour climbing sliding and tumbling. Then there was another fun ride down again on the snowmobile.
Perhaps the best way to appreciate the scenery and skyscapes is neither from a vehicle nor on skis but on foot. You can hire snowshoes from any of the ski hire places in town and take advantage of guided walks or follow other routes unaccompanied if your mountain skills are sufficient.
Important thing when you want to enjoy yourself in the snow is proper clothes. Read here how to dress for winter weather.
The town is full of cafes, restaurants and bars, both independent and associated with hotels. Posters advertise Après Ski parties. And the town is small and easily navigated so you can just wander along to the main street and see what is going on.
How to get to San Martino
We hired a car at Verona airport and drove up to San Martino. The drive was all easy, and Google Maps navigated us faultlessly offline. We always download the relevant map onto our phones before we go abroad. This saves on international data charges and protects against poor reception.
What to do When Hiring a Car for Getting to Ski Resorts
First: make sure it’s big enough to take your gear. To give you an idea, we hired a Citroen Megane Sport Tourer known in the UK as an estate car.
This was fine for three pairs of skis and a snowboard when we folded one-third of the back seat forward. We could fit two mifold child seats in the centre and right-hand places for the twins.
Having said that, you do see small cars with roof racks and skis on top. But for hiring it’s safer to get a larger estate-type car.
Remember to tell the car rental company in advance that you will be going into the mountains. This allows them to provide snow tyres (or chains) and ensure that the vehicle has antifreeze in the tank if diesel fuelled.
When hiring cars internationally, we always use Easyrentcars to find us the cheapest deal. Easyrentcars are a broker, but they give you the name and contact details of the hire company branch. This makes it possible to discuss the winter tyres and fuel.
Closest Airports to San Martino
International Italian and Austrian Airports in order of proximity
- Treviso – TSF (100km/1:50hr) – Treviso is an international airport near Venice but not the main Venice airport.
- Venice Marco Polo – VCE (130km/2:15hr) The nearest large airport.
- Verona – VRN (200km/2:40hr) – that was the airport we landed arriving by Ryanair from Birmingham
- Trieste – TRS (210km/3:00hr) On the coast near the Slovenian Border
- Milan Orio al Serio – BGY (280km/3:30hr)
- Milan Linate – LIN (320km/3:50hr)
- Milan Malpensa – MXP (360/4:20hr)
- Innsbruck – INN (Austria) (190km/3:00hr) If you fancy the scenic route!
Small domestic airports
- Bolzano – BZO (85km/1:45hr) is a domestic airport only. Following the withdrawal of public finance a year or two ago, it may close soon.
- Brescia aka Montichiari – VBS (230km/3:00hr) This is another small airport with no public flights listed presently.
Shuttle Bus Services to San Martino
If you prefer not to drive yourself, there are Shuttle Bus Services to the Italian Ski Resorts. Check the following links of Fly Ski Shuttles because some of the buses do not run from some of the airports or Shuttle Direct
Food in San Martino
All our meals out of our hotel were on or near the pistes, and these are mentioned above in that section. Here they are again for convenient reference only. They were all popular with Italians (a good omen). The food was excellent – a mixture of local and national dishes and they were all licensed for alcohol.
Most importantly for us, they were all family friendly; they were ski-gear friendly, and they were sympathetic to our diets. They all provided us with both gluten-free and dairy-free meals for the girls.
Rifugio Tognola – On the top of Tognola. It has both self-service and table service. It also has external terraces and a sun terrace, close to the Kids Club and nursery slopes and magnificent views across the valley.
Malga Ces – Half way up (down) the main blue run and also accessible by car. Table service. Delicious food
Agritur Malga Rolle
Agritur Malga Rolle – just beyond the Rolle Pass, and a km or two away from the pistes. It also specialises in selling local cheese. Excellent food in a lovely dining room with an enormous open fire in a beautiful location.
Rifugio Colverde is at the top of the Col Verde ski run. It is accessible by gondola, so you don’t need ski gear to get there, though you do need a ski pass for the cable car.
Ristorante La Canisela
We also ate delicious evening meals at our hotel – the Grand Hotel des Alpes. (Ristorante La Canisela)
Holiday Offers and Accommodation in San Martino di Castrozza
The local Azienda per il Turismo (tourist board) site has lists of accommodation of all types and has a booking portal. Packages are available including accommodation and ski passes, and discounts are available for stays of more than a few days. These incentives appear especially at the end of the season.
Accommodation affiliated with the Azienda per il Turismo includes a free pass to the ski bus (S.MART card)
More about San Martino and Passo Rolle – Its Location and History
The Pale di San Martino is a magnificent outcrop of rocks, and it forms the eastern skyline. It glows orange at sunset. Perhaps this is because the Dolomitic limestone is rich in pink coral, or maybe it is because of the way the clear mountain air transmits the light. Anyway, the effect is equally stunning. We never tired of another natural colour effect: sparkling white snow in contrast against deep blue crystal mountain skies.
Booking.com lists 50 hotels in the town, and there are holiday-let apartments and chalets too. The guest population easily outnumbers the residents. The town is well set up with restaurants, cafes, bars and shops to cater to the incoming trade. Some of the roads are pedestrianised at night. A very friendly policeman explained this to us when we narrowly avoided driving over his toes on our way home one evening.
San Martino sits at an elevation of 1,500m. It has a resident population of only 500.
The townscape is picturesque – there are no sprawling suburbs. A dense huddle of buildings in a pretty balconied-chalet aesthetic form a cosy townscape of streets and squares. It all makes for a comfortable holiday lifestyle with views of the mountains along every vista and above the rooftops.
The road over the Passo Rolle was built 150 years ago when the area was within the Austro-Hungarian empire. Shortly afterwards the first commercial hotel was built in San Martino. Until that time, it had been home only to the monks who welcomed the occasional travellers over the mountain pass. The Great War devastated the town, by which time it had already established itself as a mountain resort for the wealthy. Pretty much everything there today dated after about 1920.
Winter Holiday in San Martino – Conclusion
We all voted this as a fantastic holiday. For the kids, snow is magical emotive stuff anyway. But more than this, they went in with no skiing experience and within three days they were telling stories about the long lost time when they were just learning. It was a great thing for their self-confidence and their worldwide experience.
For us, it was a dynamic adventure to share with each other and the girls in a beautiful romantic place. A place with friendly people and excellent food. We felt as if we had landed in a truly ideal spot, and we shall carry these happy memories with us forever