Expert guide to Cervinia
These are unusual times, and the state of affairs can change quickly. Please check the latest travel guidance before making your journey. Note that our writer visited pre-pandemic.
Italy’s high-altitude hero
Cervinia is Italy’s most snow-sure resort in the lee of the mountain Italians call Monte Cervino, better known to the rest of the world as the Matterhorn. The resort’s high altitude – 2,050m in the village and 3,480m at the top lift station – means that top to bottom snow is virtually guaranteed throughout a long season that runs from November to the beginning of May. It’s also open for summer glacier skiing and snowboarding, as well as for weekends in October.
When it opened in 1936, the resort was called Breuil. But Il Duce, Benito Mussolini, decreed that the name should be changed to Cervinia to reflect the Italianate glory of the mountain above it.
The easy gradient of the seemingly never-ending slopes allow beginners and wobbly intermediates to gain enormous confidence in an extensive high-mountain area.
Inside the resort . . .
Cervinia and the linked village of Valtournenche provide a wonderful snow-sports playground – boy and girl racers will enjoy the length of the perfectly groomed runs.
While this is far from being the prettiest resort in the Alps, more modern buildings are, style-wise, sympathetic to their beautiful surroundings. However, Cervinia’s nucleus of pre-World War Two buildings reflects the austere imperial style of the time and the hotchpotch of hotels and apartment blocks that followed, mostly built in the 50s and 60s, does nothing to enhance it.
The most convenient mountain access from the resort is by the six-person Cretaz chairlift from the nursery slopes. This avoids a stiff uphill walk through town, climbing up lots of steps, to the alternative – the gondola and cable car base for the ascent to the mid-mountain base, Plan Maison.
Anyone bored by the benign gradient of Cervinia’s local slopes can climb the lift system and cross the frontier into Switzerland for the more demanding linked slopes of Zermatt, reached from the far side of the Klein Matterhorn mountain (known as Little Matterhorn, in reference to its larger neighbour 7km away) up on the glacier at the top of the lifts in Zermatt.
New for 21/22 visitors can cross from Cervinia to Zermatt with or without skis, with the opening of a cable car, Alpine X, connecting Plateau Rosà directly with Klein Matterhorn. Cabins accommodate 28 people and the journey time is five minutes.
There are exciting long-term intentions to create a lift-link with Cervinia’s neighbouring resort of Champoluc, part of the three-valley Monterosa ski area, which would create one of the world’s largest ski areas. However, these are very much in the planning stage.
Cervinia isn’t the most rock’n’roll of villages, but there are some decent bars, and the party scene livens up considerably at weekends.
On the slopes . . .
Navigate Cervinia’s ski area with our insider’s knowledge of the local slopes and beyond, on and off piste, ski schools and terrain parks.
There are few better places to be a beginner or an intermediate than Cervinia on a sunny day; 160km of long cruising pistes provide a spectacular playground. There’s not even much need to worry about the colour of the runs – the majority of the red pistes are gentle enough to be classified as blue elsewhere, and the ski area extends all the way down to Valtournenche at 1,525m, providing almost 2,000m of vertical.
On the other hand, experts in search of a serious challenge would be better off in a different resort since there’s nothing here in terms of a gradient to quicken the pulse. However it is possible to commute across the frontier to the challenges of Zermatt, and this is one way of doing Switzerland on the cheap.
Anyone planning to make the journey a few times should consider buying the International lift pass covering both resorts, which gives access to a total of 360km of pistes served by 53 lifts. Bear in mind though that the more demanding slopes on the Swiss side are a long way from the top of the Klein Matterhorn interchange between the two resorts.
It’s also important to keep an eye on the clock – and the weather. When the clouds roll in and the wind gets up, the link between the resorts can close, and it’s also a long journey home on lifts and pistes from the far corners of the Swiss resort. Anyone getting stuck in Zermatt is better off staying in a B&B for the night than paying for a taxi home – it takes around six hours to get back to Cervinia by road.
While Cervinia’s biggest asset is its altitude – long runs and guaranteed snow cover are an enticing combination –the downside is that the pistes far above the tree line can be a nightmarish place in a whiteout. In bad weather conditions, the higher slopes on the Cervinia side close along with the link to Zermatt, limiting options on the slopes.
The resort’s highlight is the 11km Ventina red run, which descends all the way down to the resort and, if taken without a stop, is guaranteed to turn even the strongest legs to spaghetti.
For beginners, there are good nursery slopes at resort level and a choice of two Italian ski schools – and tackling the Ventina should be the goal for the final day of the holiday. For even the most progressive first-weeker, the task will take most of the day to complete, but the result will be a happy holidaymaker hooked on snow sports for life. An absence of t-bars also makes Cervinia a particularly good place for novice and lower intermediate snowboarders looking to clock up some mileage.
For freestylers, the Indian terrain park, accessed by the Plan Maison or Pancheron chairlifts, is one of the best in Italy. It is more than 1.2km long and 200m wide with more than 11 features, including rails, boxes and kickers, designed for all levels. Valtournenche also has its own park geared towards beginners.
Who should go?
Cervinia’s long cruising pistes are an excellent playground for beginners and intermediates, with fabulous long runs. But by far Cervinia’s biggest draw is its reliable snow cover, thanks to its high altitude. Even in the driest Italian winter top-to-bottom snow conditions are virtually guaranteed from December to the end of April, and the glacier is also open for winter sports from June to September. Those looking to ski in Switzerland but without paying the eye-watering prices will enjoy the chance to explore from Cervinia. Discover more of the best ski resorts for guaranteed snow or the best ski resorts for Easter.
Know before you go . . .
British Embassy/Consulate: Via 20 Settembre, 80a, 00187 Roma; 0039 06 4220 0001; gov.uk
Police: dial 113
Fire: dial 118
Emergency services from mobile phone: dial 112
Tourist office: See cervinia.it, the website for the Cervinia Tourist Board, for piste maps, weather reports, lift status, webcams, traffic details and local event listings. Pick up maps, leaflets and other information from the office in the centre of the resort.
Telephone code: from abroad, dial 00 39, then leave off the zero at the start of the 10-figure number.
Time difference: +1 hour
Local laws & etiquette
- A simple ‘buon giorno’ in the morning or ‘buona sera’ in the afternoon or evening goes a long way. ‘Ciao’ is for friends, family or young people. If somebody thanks you by saying ‘grazie’, it’s polite to say ‘prego’ (you’re welcome) in return.
- Italians tip very little; 5% is ample, and it’s often enough just to round the bill up to the nearest 5 or 10 euros