This is not a cliché.

October 2013

07 October 2013

Corvara as seen by an Englishman

I am a Liverpool man, University educated in Manchester, and early working life in London. Big cities all. I want to tell you about my love affair with Corvara. My first memories of Corvara were not the most favourable. Trudging across a treacherous bridge in painful boots and manhandling awkward non responsive skis was not the stuff of champions, but so it was in the early days of the Sellaronda – the classic Dolomiti Superski tour of 4 majestic passes – for if I wanted to reach my beloved Val Badia ski area it was the route to take.
“Love is many a splendid thing even if at first you do not realise it!”
I dreaded it at times and if I were to make my way back in the evening the prospect of passing Corvara again was a thought worthy of doom, for it precluded the often freezing ski lift pull up to Passo Gardena – only the thought of a grappa at the mountain hut immediately prior to the Pass itself kept us intrepid skiers going.
So, what a sense of pleasure it is to reflect on those tough days and now appreciate the Corvara which has become a cherished part of my Dolomite life. Certainly fortune and the whims of Nature and the origin of the indigenous mountain folk have contributed to it being the real heart of the Dolomites and as we shall discover a real pearl of a place. Not for this mountain village the restrictions of a ribbon formation and steep imposing mountain sides shooting up far too steeply and nor is it beset by the practical dangers as other places are of being a mere throughway for holiday traffic.
Corvara has a heart and enjoys a flat valley position with streams passing through and the modern chalet and hotel development tastefully blends with the flower decorated balconies of homes of ages past. And there is space. Space on the pavements and space in the immediate vicinities, and space to stroll along the streams and through the side alleys where a boutique or two and a specialist delicatessen or three boost one’s pleasure. And this is Ladin land. I will leave you to look up and discover more about these pride mountain folk but suffice it to say that they often grow up with a 4 language education, a natural inclination to the hospitality trade, and a grace and ready smile which one can only envy.
At times you could be forgiven for thinking that this was not an important interconnecting point between valleys but some idyllic oasis of a place dropped down from the heavens above. It is not as if there are 99 lift systems and steel constructions every direction you turn. In fact the valley connecting lifts are in the extreme quarters of the village and any steel to speak of is confined to the area of the ice hockey stadium, which of course is a must indeed for the Alpine way of life. The result is a blend of tourism essentials which are neither nasty nor sore on the eye. Take for example the Tourism Information Office. Strange to say of such a place but it is a pleasure to visit – space and design and a Ladin service philosophy which leaves you with the feel good factor. And the attractions on offer to supplement both your winter and summer holiday days are special – mountain excursions for all levels; entertainment in town; events celebrating local traditions; gastronomic opportunities galore; day markets and shopping extravagances. Be you a single traveller, a group of friends, or a family you will feel excited by what is on offer. Casting an eye around you see the cosy cluster settlements on the sloping meadow areas and higher above the Dolomite walls and peaks and you realise the opportunities you have for hikes and excursions generally. And you need not be a modern day intrepid explorer to take advantage of the mountain pleasures for the extent and relative flatness of the valley floor allows you to stroll through woods to the waterfall beyond Colfosco, to follow the forest trail which hugs the stream flowing in the direction of La Villa, and essentially to really enjoy and explore the place where you are staying. Of course in no time at all you can be up in the mountain heights and explore the trails around, and many a visitor marvels that we are not just talking mountain excursions and frightening peaks but leisurely walks fit for families and the older alike which wind their way along to reveal splendid views at times of 360 degrees around.
As you make your way up through the main street you can sense that development of the tourism trade has been planned so as not to offer lots and lots of the same and an oppressive competition between traders but a balanced and attractive offer. The place in general is not as trendy as Cortina, as international as Selva, as packed as Ortisei, nor as ski focused as S. Cristina, but it has struck that happy balance which more than anything gives off a sense of calm – and notwithstanding the sporting opportunities all around, times in the mountains should be of calm and reflection and not just frenzied activity.
Sure there is an Emporio Armani, a jeweller’s outlet and other trappings of the affluent set but they do not offend as they sit comfortably alongside trendy outlets, Alpine sport specialists, and for the more foody amongst us, the cheese and ham delis are a little piece of heaven on earth. Of course the early evening aperitif needs to be catered for and places such as Ladin named ’L’got’ are a joy.
As we approach the upper limits of the village there is a sharp incline which if at first we might decline there is a certain temptation to explore and which is well rewarded for in this square immaculately celebrated by the original village church are shops of note and the real pearl of them all is the area dominated by Hotel La Perla and its gardens and stylish buildings. A Leading Hotel of the World at the furthest corner of the village is a real treat, and, again as if Nature favoured the Ladin instincts, the whole picture is finished off with a group of 18th century homes which give you a sense of the peace and of those long gone times.
As you have gathered my thoughts on Corvara have been transformed from those times when with head down I merely saw it as a point of inconvenience to be crossed and dealt with as quickly and painlessly as possible. Now I love to stroll in all seasons around the village and discover new corners and new insights and I even cross that bridge which caused me so much pain and smile at times gone by and count my blessings for the here and now.

Haig Barclay