In the fall, I received a text from my great friend Kat in New York City. She just started a new job and did not have many travel days, although she found an amazing airfare ($676) to Milan. “I can’t turn this down. When are you available this January?”
Many friends don’t like to travel to Italy when it’s not peak season, especially in the dreary days of winter, when even the Italian Rivieria can get soggy and cool. Yet such a great friend, Kat was only interested in seeing me and catching up, knowing we will always find great adventures.
Kat arrived last March and got lucky with great, warm, blue-skied weather for her visit as I posted here: Whirlwind Weekend
Again, this year–although I know Kat just wanted to see me–I was determined to find something wonderful to do during that short time. Why not take advantage of the winter weather and the proximity to the mountains? “Kat, do you want to ski the alps?”
“Why not?” she said. “I’ve always wanted to.”
This was extra special because for the second year in a row, I had to sadly miss our annual ski retreat in New Hampshire with great friends. Every President’s Day weekend in February, we would drive up to the cozy hilltop farmhouse where my friend’s mother lives, arriving after midnight on a Friday, waking to sunshine and mountain panoramas on Saturday, bacon and eggs for breakfast while someone prepared our sandwiches, then we’d drive to Mount Sunapee for a day on the slopes, chatting on the ski lift, laughing over our crazy antics, and convening for lunch and hot chocolate in the cafe. As the day grew to a close, legs weary and ice on the slopes, we’d call “last run” and meet in the lodge for the best moment of the day– the orgasmic crying out of “Ski Boots!” as they are removed. After, we’d indulge in craft brews and live music for Apres Ski, then eventually a winding car ride home with a stop at the grocery store to prepare dinner. Taking turns for showers, we’d gather around the dining room table, rosy cheeked and vino filled, for philosophical conversation, great laughs, and the kind of moments that can only happen on a retreat like this with special friends. The following day, we’d sleep in then depending on the weather, we’d head out to the slopes for a half day, go tubing, or find other random activities in sleepy New Hampshire, followed by another great dinner.
Since I’ve been gone, the crew always calls me from the slopes or Apres ski shouting “Ski Boots!” Kat and I have had many great conversations on chairlifts, and we were eager to do the same in the Alps. I chose Cervinia, the Italian side of the Matterhorn, with an easy bus connection from Milan. (The Swiss side is Zermatt). I told Kat to enjoy Milan when she arrived, then I would meet her after work.
Kat now works for a luxury travel company in New York. For work, she was able to get us two free nights in luxury hotels. Kat told me to cancel the bookings I made at budget hotels by the train station because on Friday night, we were staying at The Four Seasons. Saturday, we kept our cozy hotel suite in Cervinia. Then on Sunday night, we were treated to a room at the Park Hyatt right next to the Duomo. Ahh, luxury!
At 3:35pm on Friday, I made my usual mad dash to the train station, arriving just in time to take the 4:10 train to Milan. Although, the 4:10 was not on time. It was 2 hours delayed due to heavy rain. Only in Italy would there be train delays because of rain. Meanwhile in Switzerland, the train goes up snowy mountains. Anyways, despite Trenitalia’s frequent success in aggravating me on my departure, I eventually arrived in Milan. After enjoying a bit of of the city and a few winks, Kat gave me a big hug at the station, then escorted me to The Four Seasons. This budget traveler–who often grabs rooms in hostels, sometimes even sharing a dorm–was absolutely mesmerized for the treat. This room can cost almost 500 euros. A snack, fruit and prosecco were waiting for us along with some delicious truffles. After indulging, Kat and I were exhausted yet made it out for dinner in a local restaurant. With good wine and conversation, we strolled back in the misty evening, enjoying living how the others live. (It’s not really the other half . . .)
The next morning, we awoke for a very early departure, but first Kat ordered the American breakfast to the room, where we indulged in French toast and bacon!
Next, we dragged our gear to the metro and then hopped on the bus that wound its way up into the alps. It was snowing when we arrived in cozy Cervinia, an idyllic welcome to a quaint town. We dropped our bags at the hotel, suited up in ski gear, and grabbed skis and passes to get on the slopes as soon as possible. The heavy snow meant an abundance of fresh powder. Yet it also meant almost zero visibility at times. I was sure there were beautiful views of the Matterhorn and nearby mountains. We just couldn’t see them.
After playing on the slopes for a while, enjoying the fresh powder experience, we decided to go up as high as we could. We originally anticipated skiing to Switzerland, but sadly, those lifts were closed–so we would be stuck there with no real transfer back. Instead, we went up as far as we could to the high lifts on the Italian side of the Matterhorn. The altitude was very high, and as we emerged into the horizontal icy conditions, I felt lightheaded and lost my side vision. Skiers struggled, falling because apparently it was so steep. If I had the views, I might have been very intimidated, but for me, that worked to my advantage as I struggled just to focus in front of me. I was also so dizzy that I was extra cautious, and somehow made it down the steepest part, hair soaking wet er rather, frozen . . .along with my eyelashes.
We found our way to a mountain lodge. In many American ski resorts I’ve visited, such a lodge would have overpriced hot dogs, hamburgers and other processed, greasy foods with little flavor. Here, we had real Alpine meals. We indulged in bresaola (cured beef), salad, cheeses, and realized our restaurant was featured in Bon Appetit magazine. We just had to pose for a picture with the owners, who were so sweet and proud of their work.
How did they even get supplies there? So high up. So delightful. after navigating the not so delightful squat toilet in ski boots and pants, we enjoyed the slopes for the rest of the day, although never got any views.
That evening, after a glorious “Ski Boots!” experience and a warm shower, we strolled through town, finding a quaint restaurant for fondue and great conversation.
We were not interested in staying out late for dancing, although even sleepy Cervinia had that option.
The next morning, we awoke for a quaint breakfast, then decided to ski again! Why not!?
We checked out of the hotel, back into our ski gear and up the slopes, and again . . .it was snowing. We enjoyed another amazing meal on another part of the mountain, although sadly . . . we still couldn’t ski to Switzerland.
We hopped off the slopes just in time to grab the bus back to Milan where we checked into the Park Hyatt before an amazing dinner. They recommended a restaurant in the museum Nove Cento, which had panoramic views of the Duomo along with absolutely amazing cuisine. The prices were very high, but the flavor, ambience and service were wonderful!
The Park Hyatt was right by the Duomo, so we had a relaxing walk through quaint neighborhoods, and tried to get some sleep before my very early wakeup call. Kat ordered us breakfast!
Then I grabbed the 6:10am train back to Genoa and work, napping along the way with sweet dreams and great memories of another fabulous whirlwind weekend!