Skiing Holidays in Italy : Things to Do in Carona in the Brembana Valley
The Alpine region of Northern Italy is a fascinating part of the country in which to tour or spend a holiday.
Among the different areas is the Brembana Valley which is full of attractions for visitors.
Whether you are there in summer or winter there is plenty to do. If you enjoy sports, hill-walking, mountaineering or simply if you want to escape the hectic whirl of urban life.
There are also ski resorts on the Upper Brembana Valley and tourist spots along the lower-lying land.
One ski resort is based at the small village of Carona. But you can also enjoy it in the summer months as there is much to do and see.
The first site you come across as you drive in from the south is the local cemetery. Unusually for Italy this is not towering over the village hanging like the proverbial sword of Damocles.
That is the norm in these parts but in Carona it's at street level, although street level is about 1,200 meters above sea level of course. The climb by road is imperceptible.
And of course there is a special monument just outside the gate to the fallen of the Second World War.
The mountain campaign of 1943-44 being particularly bloody and arduous for the Allies against Nazi Germany.
Nearby there is a nice church at the entrance to the village and which has a large bell tower.
It's called the church of San Giovanni and was consecrated as far back as 1450.
Then the main street takes you through the centre of Carona. We saw a small dog wandering about aimlessly at will along the street. In fact we noticed this several times on our visits around the valley in different villages. So take care how you go with the car and be more responsible than the dog owners
Another more sensible dog just accepted his own responsibility and sat at his open front door looking at the traffic pass by. There was no pavement so he was taking no chances. He was happy just watching the world go by from the safety of the threshold.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN CARONA
1. Relax by the lake in summer for picnicking, sunbathing or fishing.
2. Take walks around the area and enjoy the charms of nature.
3. In winter visit the nearby slopes and snow trails of the ski resort .
The Pro Loco and the History of Carona
If you want more information about the town and specialised advice from the locals then there is a small tourist office in the dead centre of town. It's called a 'Pro Loco' in Italian and a friendly member of staff gave us lots of tips about local paths and places of interest.
You can also find out more historical information from the evidence of the Etruscan and the Roman presence in times long ago. However permanent settlements were only created from the 4th century A.D. to escape the Barbarian invasions after the fall of the Roman Empire.
However the first recording about Carona only actually dates from the year 926.
Even after that there is very little more information about the village until the Middle Ages.
Before the imposition of Austrian rule in the 19th century there had been a local mining industry.
Quarrying did and still does take place, especially for the 'piodere' which is the black slate that you see covering the roofs of the town.
Cafes and shops in the area
Near to the 'Pro Loco' a large cafe offers fresh ice-cream on a warm day but with plenty of room inside for those cold winter months.
We sat outside with some pistacchio and vanilla with cups of coffee listening to the chatter of fellow patrons.
Hard working country men in hard-wearing denim, boots and cotton shirts would park up their jeeps or small trucks here and share a beer, a cigarette and conversation.
The summer that we visited was very unsettled, especially in the north and my old waterproof wasn't up to the task. So I checked the outdoor shop next to the cafe.
Looking at the prices of even light jackets I thought that I didn't want to get that dry. An expensive selection and even the handy ATM across the road didn't tempt me to splash out.
There was a small charity shop next to the general store but it was severely lacking in rainwear. It offered more of a lottery anyway as you paid, picked a number and discovered what mystery nick-nack you had just bought.
The buildings of Carona
Nearby on the west side is the main parish church of Carona, sitting beautifully above the road with the backdrop of the hills and houses behind.
It's dedicated to St John the Baptist and like San Giovanni it also dates from the 15th century. Inside there are 3 splendid altars and also attractive frescoes designed by local artists
The surrounding houses are mostly very attractive, well-preserved and maintained for the most part.
An added decoration is during the August festival period.
Then blue and white streamers bedeck the village fences, balconies or wherever else you can hang them.
The 'Festa della Madonna' is celebrated all around the valley in that month.
Religious processions and fireworks being the culmination of the celebrations.
On the other side of the mountains across from the village there is even more to do. The two lines of very small cable cars tell you that the ski slopes are not far away. But not for the claustrophobic cramming yourself into these small boxes or for vertigo sufferers dangling in the air.
Walking by the lakeside
Below is a small lake which is popular with locals and visitors alike. The bank at the side of the village is quiet and a pleasant spot for a picnic or a short walk.
Benches and tables are available if you want to rest and relax with some lunch or just to enjoy the scenery. In summer people will happily sunbathe in the heat.
Colourful and bountiful gardens on steep slopes line the path and halfway along there is what looks like a charming little cottage.
In fact it's actually a hen-house where the poultry can live in splendour and luxury. Probably the most magnificent chicken coop I've ever seen. The Italian poultry certainly live well.
In the water there were ducks are on the look-out for some bread while anglers stood patiently waiting for a bite from the fish. The path leads you to a bridge which traverses the lake.
You have to walk all the way to the end as there are no access paths back into the village. The little stretch of land is given up for those private gardens. But short cuts are not necessary as the walk is pleasant. Unless you're in a hurry after too much lunch-time wine.
The bridge is an excellent place to take photos as you get a fantastic view up along the valley to the mountain tops beyond.
For the less poetic and more pragmatic the opposite side has a small interesting dam with a fine example of hydro engineering. Flood defences and control of the water are important in the Brembana.
There is actually a danger sign that warns of potential flash floods on the lake. Both natural and artificial as sometimes the authorities have to release water from higher up the valley to ease the pressure.
This creates a formidable torrent haemorrhaging all the way down to places like San Pellegrino in the lower valley. At least it keeps those bottles filled on the production line of the famous bottling plant.
In total there are 10 hydro-electric dams in the region and waterfalls can suddenly appear in the valley as a controlled release of pent-up reservoirs takes place.
Activities for adults and children
The far side of the lake offers more activity and amusement than the more sedate western side. A cafe is available to provide food and drink.
There are also activities for children to enjoy and their voices can be heard in the still silence. Many join with family and take part in fishing on the lake too.
We saw kids lining up to go down a dry slide which is handy practice for when the snow eventually comes. Although they had it easy as they were aided by a moving path to get them up the small slope.
It was only about 20 yards long so perhaps better to make them walk back up and exercise those little legs.
There was also loud music to shatter the peace and the narrow valley afforded the perfect acoustics to echo the tunes.
To be fair from the village it wasn't very intrusive so you could still enjoy a relaxing stroll through the streets. And of the young ones are having fun so much the better.
If you want to relax even more then there is a small beautician's parlour offering all sorts of holistic therapies. It's best to book as it is only run by the owner, a woman who actually comes from Spain.
Hotel accommodation in Carona
The most notable places for accommodation are the Hotel Carona and the
'Locanda dei Cantu' Inn. The former is a family-run hotel with a garden and a handy car park.
The latter has a fine restaurant with international cuisine as well as traditional fare including pizzas of course. In the Brembana you also have to sample the local Branzi cheese and polenta tartagna.
Information on the ski resort at Carona
1. There are 12 individual pistes, served by a total of 6 ski lifts.
2. Of these 8 are red level, 2 are blue and 2 are black slopes.
3. Vertical drop 970m, base elevation 1160m, summit elevation 2130m.
4. There are also 12 km of trails for cross-country skiers.
Winter sports in the Upper Brembana Valley
During the winter Carona is much busier with the influx of the skiing enthusiasts. It has developed in recent years through the work of the local sports society Bremboski. This organisation integrated the ski resorts in the upper valley.
From the town the 2 aformentioned small cable cars rise up above the valley. A chairlift can take skiers up to 1,700 m into the Carisole Valley which connects with the ski resort of Foppollo. The local group 'Bremboski 'have developed and organised the skiing industry in the valley.
Up among the peaks you have direct access to 12 individual pistes, served by a total of 6 ski lifts. Many Italians from places like Bergamo and Milan love to head for the mountains of Brembana to enjoy the winter sports.
With skiing above 2000 metres, snow cover is generally reliable but there are cannons for artificial snow if there is a need to supplement the natural flakes. For the purists the resort of San Simone further up the mountains can guarantee the real stuff all winter.
Carona is more suited to intermediate skiers and snowboarders with some slopes for beginners too. Of the 12 pistes 8 are red and 2 are blue. So if you are not used to the life on the pistes you can still enjoy the resort.
However there are also 2 black pistes for more advanced skiers. Plus 12 km of Cross Country trails. The total vertical drop is 970m that stretches from a base elevation of 1160m up to a summit elevation of 2130m feet.
The Brembana Valley is well served by international link as there are four Airports two hours drive away. Therefore ski weekends, snowboard breaks and short ski holidays are all possible.
Orio Airport at Bergamo is one hour drive away. Of course this is all weather permitting and the state of the roads. But certainly in summer the upper valley is easily accessible in a short time.
Carona may be a small village but it has lots to offer the casual visitor. If you are on a tour of the mountain region it's worth a short visit.
The scenery is spectacular and the streets area a pleasant area to walk. Plus the lakeside provides activities for both adults and children
In the winter, of course, it may be worth staying longer to enjoy the integrated network of the ski slopes between Carona and Foppolo.