Before they broke up for their Christmas break, Rayburn Tours’ very own Mike, Ben, Andy and Gemma were lucky enough to venture out to stunning Italy. As a fantastic location for school groups to hit the slopes, the trio were tasked with familiarising themselves with the area and checking out what was on offer, all to ensure we offer you the very best experiences on your tour.

Follow their adventure in Ben’s words…

Day 1 – Triumph & Disaster
After snow across Europe, fortunately, Birmingham airport had reopened, but that did not mean that we wouldn’t spend a good hour stood on a bus – outside the plane – before we could take off and head for Milan Malpensa airport. Conditions in the air over Europe led us to the quick realisation that there would be snow on them there mountains. We were greeted by the familiar grey environment of Malpensa, but were quickly on our way to more exciting places: the Maritime Alps.

Snow was falling, all around us – we fitted the snow chains, and carried on. Having just made it off the snow-covered Autopista in the nick of time, we made it into Bardonecchia and proceeded to get the car stuck, along with several other Fiats and Alfas, in a huge snow drift at the bottom of the pistes… We quickly gave up on our Bardonecchia visit and drove, pushed and shunted our way to the Hotel Olimpic in Sestriere. Here, they fed us like kings and sent us to bed in our ample and comfortable 4 star rooms for the night. I hope to return to Bardonecchia in the future, since, with that much snow, there must surely be some excellent skiing to be had.

Day 2 – Too much snow? Never
We woke to blue skies, powder and the sun shining on the vertiginous Olympic standard pistes of the region’s most famous resort, Sestriere. This did not, however, mean that the day would begin in different fashion to the previous and, after an excellent breakfast in the Hotel Olimpic, Mike handed me the shovel and I got to work digging the car out. This was followed by a series of visits to the ski school, hire shop and hotels that we offer in the resort (the Biancaneve, Villaggio Olimpico and Ski Jumping Hotel), all the while looking up longingly at the empty and snow-laden pistes. From Sestriere we headed to Sauze d’Oulx, another of the fantastic options that we offer in the 400km ski area known as the Milky Way, where we visited Mauro who offers fantastic group accommodation at the Hotel des Amis and the plush 4 star Hotel Etoile des Neiges at the bottom of the Jovenceaux chair lift. The day would finish with a scenic drive ‘around the corner’ to our new Artesina based piste-side option, the Hotel Marguareis, where were greeted with the usual Italian hospitality and huge portions of excellent pasta and mountain fare.

Day 3 – Sun, Hotels and Lunch Offers
It’s hard to do business in Italy without being offered lunch by every associate you meet, so, flying around our piste-side accommodation options in Prato Nevoso, we had to turn down more than one of these offers. The stunning and recently renovated Laghetto (at the bottom of the main lift and surrounded by snow) was a sight to behold in the December sunshine, whilst the Stalle Lunghe offers excellent apartment style accommodation with stunning panoramas from its balconies. After our mad dash around the resort, it was off to Milan once more to pick up Andy and Gemma before heading off to the charming Santa Caterina Valfurva for the night.

Day 4 – Paradise Found
I often think that I’d like to take my Derbyshire village home and park it in the Italian Alps at the bottom of a ski lift. Well, Santa Caterina in the valley of Valfurva may be just the solution I’ve coveted for so long. A beautiful little village at the bottom of the Passo Gavia – a familiar name to lovers of the Giro d’Italia cycling race like myself – the village has everything you would need for a comfortable, safe and enjoyable ski trip with the kids. The local pizzeria, a handful of bars and the friendliest ski school and ski hire around make it the perfect location for a village feel in what can be a busy ski area. We stayed the night at our four star piste-side option, the Hotel Tre Signori, I only got to meet two of the three Signori, but hope to return soon to meet the third. The hotel is an excellent facility, replete with a spa, pool and bar to relax in after a hard day’s skiing. There are plenty of communal areas for the kids to meet up and a crèche for the youngest with an animation team on hand to keep them occupied all day long.

Day 5 – I Can Still Ski!
After a three hour drive ‘around the corner’, we arrived in Madesimo (the Italian province furthest from the sea) to tonnes of snow and blue skies – the perfect conditions for me to find out whether I could still ski after a ten year lay-off from the sport. After some nervous minutes in the ski shop trying to decide whether I was still an intermediate or had reverted to beginner status due to such a long time out, we headed up the main lift to the top of the blue that leads back into town. After a few anxious turns coming out of the lift area, I quickly remembered that speed is my friend and pointed both skis downhill… I soon realised that I could in fact still ski and my croissant sized smile spread from ear to ear. With all but empty slopes and perfect conditions we tackled the blues and reds of Madesimo’s expansive and fun ski area, with a black run thrown in for good measure too, this was undoubtedly the highlight of the trip. The day finished with trips to our Madesimo accommodation options at the fine 4* Hotel Boscone and its 3* piste-side sister hotel – where we stayed the night – the Arlecchino. Our inspection visit came to a close in perfect Italian fashion with a delicious pizza at Mauro’s place, close to the Arlecchino, in the charming village of Madesimo.