MOUNT AMIATA CALLING: VOLCANO SKIING IN TUSCANY


Mount Amiata - Tuscany's extinct volcano. Worth a detour even for non skiers



2 chairlifts, 6 ski lifts, 10 km of slopes, and depending on amount of snowfall 5 to 10 km of cross-country skiing... only the first time skier could possibly be impressed by these numbers. In fact, people visit Tuscany for its Renaissance heritage and wine making fame, and NOT for its winter resorts. Which is wrong. At least for people who like to travel adventurously. Skiing in Southern Tuscany is as surreal and off-the-beaten-path as it gets. 

In regard to winter sport Mont'Amiata's content may be basic, but ambiance is king. Never would I have thought, that I'd be wearing my skiing boots (and not my bikini) whilst making out Corsica's mountain peaks on the other side of the Mediterranean. The two chairlifts on the mountain are not the most recent or fastest models, but a ride on them opens up fabulous views over the hills of Maremma and Val d'Orcia stretching all the way to Umbria's lake Trasimeno. Once at the top apart of food and wine, there's Lazio's lake Bolsena to the south and the Tuscan coastline waiting for you in the west. 

One of the many chalets on mount Amiata
Tuscany chalet style - who would have thought so!


Mount Amiata used to be a regular stop on the European female skiing championship until 1986. Being one of the closest skiing options from Rome, Tuscany's extinct volcano was very popular with the population of the eternal city during the 70s and 80s. Some Romans keep coming up even today, but things have become a lot more quiet since snow fall is no longer as generous as it used to be.

Which is just fine with me. Tuscany gets enough tourists through the rest of the year. Let's keep that fine mountain peak just to ourselves!

Not just skiing: snowboarder on mount Amiata
Go baby, go! Snowboarding on mount Amiata


MOUNT AMIATA DURING WINTER


  • HOW TO GET THERE: Check my Southern Tuscany map for the exact position of mount Amiata. Cantore and Prato delle Macinaie are the two main parking areas. Cantore is the first stop when you arrive from Abbadia San Salvatore, whereas Prato delle Macinaie is on the road when driving up from Castel del Piano. Make sure your car has winter tires. Otherwise drive up with snow chains on board (catene a bordo as the Italians say). The roads are being regularly cleaned, but service can be slow during snow fall.  
  • WHEN TO GO: If you're just after a bit of sledding, you should be able to find enough of the white fluff all through winter (from Christmas to Easter). However, if you're looking for full on snowboarding and skiing, make sure you check the weather forecast and the update on the Amiata Neve website, which gives a daily report about the open lifts and pistes. Sundays can get very busy, so preferably come during the week. Best deals are Tuesday and Thursday when the skiing pass cost only 14€. Also bring enough warm clothes. The notorious Tramontana north wind can turn a sunny day into a freezing experience, and the pistes into an icy affair.  
  • SKI RENTAL and SKI PASS: skis, boots, snowboards and sleds can be rented at Cantore and Prato delle Macinaie (it seems to me that there's more selection at Macinaie). This is also where you'll get your ski passes. In the 2012/13 season a weekend daily skiing pass costs 25€. Kids up to the age of 11 years can accompany a paying adult for the whole day for a mere 1€. Both locations also have an information booth of the local ski schools, but best book your lessons in advance. Also, remember that not just ski passes, but also equipment rental are a lot cheaper during the week. 
  • HOTELS: There are several hotels on the mountain if you plan to stay overnight. Most of them with interior design stuck some when between the 60s and 80s (just the price lists have truly made it into the 21st century). I've never stayed over night (the mountain is in easy reach from the provinces of Siena and Grosseto), but have eaten very well at Hotel LE MACINAIE. The owners of Le Macinaie are also promoting a lot of activities on Amiata, from guided snow shoe walking during full moon nights to mountain climbing, quad tours and outdoor sleeping in a tree tent in the sky park right next door. 

snowy beech tree woods on monte Amiata in southern Tuscany
Up the mountain into mount Amiata's beech tree jungle

  • KIDSIf you're traveling with small kids or on a shoestring budget, rent a sled or bob at Le Macinaie (or bring a plastic bag) and then drive on to La Contessa where an ex - skiing slope makes for a fun sledding hill, which attracts pleasantly few visitors even on Sundays when the rest of the mountain is packed (for other sledding options see the grey tracks on the map below). Also check out the sky park at Prato delle Macinaie, which offers fantastic tree climbing for kids and adults alike. It's open all year round, but be sure to call beforehand if you're planning some tree hugging during the week.  
  • DON'T MISS OUT: A ride up and down Amiata's chairlift is worth the money even if you don't ski. Nowadays, the mountain peak isn't just home to an Eiffel tower like iron cross, but also to a lot of satellite dishes. However, remember the amazing view and... the food. I'm a vegetarian, but once a year I'll forego my innate meat aversion for a grilled sandwich with Pecorino cheese and salsiccia (Tuscan sausage) in the bar right up on top of the mountain (where you'll find a lovely old man doing the grilling outside whatever the temperature). Add a glass of muelled wine and you know you'll keep coming back. 
If you're based in Florence or Northern Tuscany, Abetone will be a closer option for your skiing or snowboarding adventure (Arttrav just put up a great review of the area). Abetone is part of Pistoia's Apennin mountains and has much more downhill skiing options (54km of pistes) than Amiata. Abetone too offers some great views towards the Mediterranean sea. But hey - it ain't no extinct volcano!



Mount Amiata skiing trail map
For a bigger map of Amiata's lifts and slopes see www.amiataneve.it 



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