A ski resort called Lemon? Perhaps the name is why it has been kept a secret. Limone, translated as Lemon in English, is neither to the north or west of Turin where all the big ski resorts are. We headed south towards the Mediterranean after leaving Turin behind us which seemed a little counter intuitive.
As we headed south I could make out the dark shadowy peaks of the Maritime Alps through the breaks in the gloom. At least there were still snow-capped mountains close to our route. Eventually we turned west up one of the valleys and the rain turned to snow. So much snow in fact that as we entered the romantic little village of Limone, without snow chains, we became stuck. Sliding back into a wall of snow well over the height of our minivan transport.
It might be further south than Sestriere and other resorts but Limone receives a lot of snow. 80cm had fallen in one day just before our arrival followed by two days with 15cm each. Great for skiing but not for vehicles without snow chains.
A group of cheery locals pushed, shovelled and advised while tut-tutting at our lack of snow chains and we soon arrived at the plush welcoming Grand Palais Excelsior.
Limone is the closest ski resort to Monaco. As such it is the playground of those making or losing money in the Principality who, with the help of a tunnel, can reach the resort in about an hour and a half. It is also a resort popular with Italian and British school groups. This had me wondering what was it about Limone that attracted these two disparate groups of skiers?
Limone is really three connected resorts Limone, Limone 1400, and Limoncetto. All three are also confusingly referred to as Riserva Bianca which sounds more like a wine than a ski area. Limone is the main resort were most of the hotels are based and was the original resort developed at the turn of the last century. Limone 1400 is a satellite village mostly built around the base of ski lifts and Limoncetto, which sounds like an ice-cream or a liqueur, is a village in its own right. All three have there own ski area and are all linked.
It is only in recent years that the slopes and lifts have been modernised to compete with the larger resorts to the north. There are 80km of pistes served by one cable car and 11 chairlifts. The runs are mostly intermediate (red) runs with a few blues and blacks for the beginners and advanced skiers. However Italian grading of difficulty level tends to be on the friendly side compared to France, Austria and Switzerland. I found that many of the blue runs were little more than tracks through the forest with nothing to challenge the skier. The intermediate runs encompass a wide range of difficulty levels.
I had not clipped on a pair of skis since the Turin Winter Olympics eight years ago when I visited Sestriere to the north. I was a little concerned about how rusty I had become in those intervening years but needn’t have worried. The slopes above Limone were benign, wide and forgiving. By the end of the day I’d found my “ski legs” despite a couple of tumbles and was enjoying the fabulous snow conditions and the terrific mountain views.
The Italian approach to skiing includes a long leisurely lunch and there are plenty of mountain restaurants providing great food. It is hard to find a mountain restaurant serving bad food on the slopes here. Usually the staples are pasta or gnocchi based and desserts are de rigueur.
Back in Limone our apres ski consisted of treatments in the Grand Palais Excelsior’s spa, and dinner at the restaurant Il San Pietro also part of the hotel. The desserts were pure works of art and tasted as good.
Limone might have been a secret known only to the Italians, the jet-setters of Monaco and a few schools parties but the secret is out. Now is the best time to go.