By: Tony Traficante, ISDA Contributing Editor
A population of about 5,000 residents explodes ten-fold during peak seasons. The scenery is breathtaking, “una vista spettacolare,” with majestic snow-covered peaks, bursting through the sky to reach the heavens.
It is, without a doubt, one of the most awesome areas in Italy, with its powerful peaks soaring skyward.
Nestled in a valley of the impressive Dolomites mountains of the Southern Alps sits the picturesque village of Cortina D’Ampezzo. Often referred to as the Queen of the Dolomites, Cortina is best known as a world famous ski resort, attracting thousands of visitors year-round.
Being a mecca for the rich and famous, one never knows with whom they may be rubbing elbows. But it doesn’t seem to matter to the residents; they serve all equally.
Having been recently married, my wife Monica convinced me to take a trip to this awesome mountainous village. Of course, she had been there many times with her parents, who worked there as seasonal employees. Their hometown of Grizzo, Pordenone, wasn’t far from Cortina; about an hour.
Monica was a fair to middling skier, compared to me who was barely a neophyte. The first time I rode up to the top of a ski lift, I looked back and right there and then made a U-turn back down the slope. Why, I asked, would anyone want to jet down a steep mountainside on two thin boards, and without a parachute! No, sir! I prefer chasing a little white ball around a level green.
After a couple of attempts down the baby slopes, wearing away the backside of my trousers, I hung it up and ventured up to one of the coffee bars to await Monica. Starting with a small cup of espresso, I graduated to a large glass of hot wine with a cinnamon stick and lemon. Delicious! The barman said it would warm me up! Well, after a couple of them, it did and more! Good thing we were staying overnight at one of the boutique hotels.
The fact that I wasn’t a skier didn’t stop me from enjoying and returning to Cortina. I loved sitting out on the hotel plaza “catching some rays,” from the blazing sun, and sipping hot wine. Even in the winter, one could get a real sunburn sitting outside, if not protected.
Cortina is often referred to as the “Snow Disneyland,” but offers much in the summer, There is history, good food, shopping and tours to surrounding areas. Treviso, Conegliano, the Prosecco wine area, the Lido di Jesolo and Venice are with an hour or two of Cortina. You don’t have to be a skier to enjoy the beauty and wonder of Cortina. Monica and I would take strolls to visit some of the galleries or museums, or relax at one of their coffee shops. I enjoyed hopping a ride on a cable car to view the spectacular scenery in and around the slopes.
History buffs would enjoy the vast outdoor museum dedicated to the tragic battles between Italians and Austrians during the First World War. Also, one can go through the tunnels and experience first-hand the trenches of the Valparola Fort which are all part of the outdoor Museum of the Great War in the Dolomites.
Writer Ernest Hemingway, a frequent visitor, loved sipping away on Belinis at his favorite hotel and bar–the De La Poste. It’s a wonder he ever got any writing done. The James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only, as well as Sly Stallone’s Cliffhangerwere both filmed in Cortina.
With all its wonder, beauty, wealth, posh and fame, Cortina is marked by one of its medieval policies. To the chagrin of its resident women, it is one of the last places in Europe operating a collective property real estate system known as Regole Ampezzane.
About 60 square miles of land areas and pastures around the city provide firewood supplies or rent out as ski slopes. Twelve-hundred historical families collectively own these areas and family bosses, meet periodically to discuss investments, approve new projects, and manage the real estate. Some justify this vestige of a feudal real estate system as a means to preserve Cortina’s naturalresources, maintainits natural beauty and prevent corporations from gobbling up the land.
However, the system discriminates against women by denying them from inheriting and controlling territory. For years, the Cortina women have battled, unsuccessfully, to repeal these real estate laws. Unfortunately, the courts, as well as the central government, don’t seem to want to be concerned.
C’est la vie, or as the locals say, Èla vita.