When my daughters and I rode the chairlift to the top of the Passo Tonale resort this summer, it was easy to see that this would be a great place to ski. On the edge of the Dolomites in the Italian Alps, the area around Ponte di Legno is a dramatic series of limestone mountains, river valleys, pine forests and mountain meadows. It has ski resorts at the pass and right on the edge of town. That’s fine for winter activities, but this mountain terrain is also perfect for summer fun.
It wouldn’t be Italy if there wasn’t a town square where everyone congregates in the mornings and evenings. Ponte di Legno’s is known as September 27 Square (Piazza 27 Settembre) to commemorate a battle with the Austrians in 1917. The piazza straddles the River Oglio, literally. The river runs under the stone piazza, which joins both riverbanks in a seamless merger of cobbled lanes and shops. Outdoor cafes edge the central fountain and look out to the mountains dominating the horizon. We started all of our mornings there, being served every day (and in the evenings too) by the same reliable waiter. (He was always there. When did he sleep?)
Hiking’s easy when you take a lift to the top of the mountain and walk down. We did this in Ponte di Legno with three generations of the family, from age 13 to 80. The hike started near the Rifugio Corno d’Aola and wound through deep forest back to the Valsozzine-Corno d’Aola chairlift for a swift ride back to town.
The next day we rented bicycles from the same area and followed the River Oglio toward the sea. The freshly paved bike path veered away from the road and meandered through horse and cow pastures, crossing and recrossing the river and keeping its distance from the road. The valley cut through forested ridges that rose to limestone peaks, a setting so beautiful it was hard to keep our eyes on the path ahead. An hour or two down the trail we pulled over for our rendezvous with the shuttle to drive us back to where we started, making it easy for everyone.
Despite living in Northern California, with some of the world’s best river rafting, my girls had never been through the rapids, so we drove over Passo Tonale to Cusiano di Ossana to raft on the Noce River. I’ve rafted many times in many places and always the put-in point is in an eddy, but here we climbed aboard with our paddles in choppy waters threatening to drag the raft away before we got settled. The first few minutes of the Class III-IV river gave us a chance to get acclimated, and then we were into the thick of it.
It’s November now and winter is coming. Soon the snowy slopes will be full of skiers and boarders. I’d like to join them, but for now I’ll have to be content with my Ponte di Legno summer experience. The area’s a four-season place, and next time, with any luck, I’ll be able to ski. When I return, the first place I’ll go is Piazza 27 Settembre for a caffe macchiato. And maybe I’ll be served by our same reliable waiter. Hope so.