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A Rough Guide to the Brembana Valley in Italy : Things to do in Foppolo
A Rough Guide to the Brembana Valley in Italy : Things to do in Foppolo
High up in the Upper Brembana Valley region of Northern Italy you will find Foppolo.
It is open for business all year round and is a wonderful location on a pleasant summer day amongst the spectacular mountain scenery.
But Foppolo is best known as a ski resort and the social and economic life of the town revolves around winter sports and adventure.
But it has been around long before the invasion of the ski enthusiast and the off-piste party set. Plus it has more to offer than sliding in the snow flakes.
The origins of the town are uncertain although the Romans were present in many places of the Upper Brembana. They were there for the excavation of mineral resources in the local mines but they never built permanent settlements.
Another theory states that the shepherds of the valley created Foppolo. Since the medieval age they have herded their livestock towards the excellent pasture land in the summer.
The lofty location of Foppolo
The town of Foppolo lies 50km north of Bergamo high up in Northern Italy. Therefore Orio airport is handy and budget flights are available. But check winter availability as many flghts, such as Ryanair, are suspended in the cold season.
Milan is around 100 km away with Linate airport lying on the edge of the city. Malpensa airport is further out of the city but also served by budget airlines as is Verona airport too.
If you're going by car in the region then drive along the A4 road towards Venice and then take the exit at Dalmine. Follow the signs for 'Valle Brembana' and then the main town of Branzi in particular.
From Branzi you only have another 8km upwards to reach Foppolo. But during the cold season make sure you have those snow tyres which are a must in winter and also chains to wrap around them.
Foppolo in the summertime
But what about the history of the town? Well, it's claimed that the name 'Foppolo' comes from the word 'Foppa', a local dialect which refers to the 'basins' of land within the narrow valley.
The first documented record dates from a statute in the year 1331 when it was mentioned as a village. It is much bigger now as it has grown through the ages and is now a real hub for winter sports and leisure.
TOP 5 THINGS TO DO IN FOPPOLO
1 Take part in winter sports of skiing, snowboarding or Nordic walking.
2. Take the kids to ski school and other activities for the youngsters.
3. Have fun and party in the off-piste social whirl of bars and discos.
4. Go climbing in the high mountains and peaks of the Upper Brembana.
5. In the summer take a walk along the paths and enjoy the scenery.
The town isn't the biggest ski resort in Italy but is certainly the largest in the Brembana Valley.
But it was quite a surreal experience to visit what seemed like a city on a hill.
In fact it is more like a large settlement on the mountainside and mostly a ghost town in the summer.
When we were there it was virtually empty with not many visitors around and not much activity taking place.
Closed shops, quiet bars and empty apartments characterise Foppolo in the summer. Even in August when we were there.
Normally in that month Italian people leave the overheated cities in droves to escape to the cooler altitudes in the mountains. Cool breezes and fresh air are the perfect antidote to the oppressive ordeal of high summers in the lowland areas of Italy.
Today most of the action was happening in a construction site where a huge crane lifted materials up to the top floor of another high-rise apartment block.
As I come from Scotland it was a strange thought to realise that this construction site, or 'cantiere' as it's called in Italy was over 1,650 metres above sea level.
Therefore it was actually higher than Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK at only 1,344m. This urbanised emplacement appeared out of place amongst the natural mountainscape of Northern Italy.
Equally incongruous was the sight of the chair lifts moving up and down along a dry green slope. In the summer the town continues to operate the lifts.
This allows people to go further up to the higher ridges. Many chose to walk down and on a dry warm day it's a pleasant stroll.
Climbing the Fairway to Heaven
In winter the slope is obviously covered with snow and lined with ski tracks but in the dry seasons hillwalkers walk along it's manicured and slightly undulating grassy incline.
It looks more like part of a particularly difficult and infuriating golf course.
A veritable 'Fairway to Heaven' if you like with an easy Par 3 hole on the way down but perhaps a Par 20 on the way up to challenge even the most fanatical golfer.
More strange but understandable sights are the avalanche protection fences. Placed at an angle and stretching along the slopes they are a reminder of how dangerous the mountains can be in winter
For example in January 1977 a huge avalanche fell from the summit of Mount Arete causing extensive destruction and loss of life.
Apparently there are also trenches in the area that were dug in World War 1 as a secondary defensive line against Austrian invasion.
Food and drink at Foppolo, black slates and white beer
We stopped for some food at lunch-time in the famous K2 restaurant and hotel. The more informed of you will know that the K2 mountain is actually on the Chinese border with Pakistan. But I doubt there will be any confusion even amongst the most naïve of tourists.
The food in K2 was excellent and served on a plate with a large piece of warm black slate placed underneath to conserve the heat.
The service was good but unfortunately the slate was warmer. The staff lacked the friendliness and cosy familiarity which makes a good experience great.
Later we had a drink outside a nearby bar in the main building of the complex. A cool and tasty white beer evoking memories of rowdy kellars and German folk songs. You'll find a lot of German beer in Northern Italy alongside the local wines.
Interesting walking paths in Foppolo
As it was a nice day we went for a walk to stretch our legs after lunch. Over on the eastern side of Foppolo there is an interesting and easy walk. It takes you on a well-kept path through the woods and out onto the side of the mountain.
It's a suitable stroll for children and the elderly too as there are no hazardous sections as long as the weather is good. Periodically we had to step over small streams of water as the summer had been unseasonably wet.
But nothing treacherous or even difficult to negotiate. However you should wear strong footwear and trousers as there may be poisonous snakes around.
But to be honest they usually disappear at the first sight or sound of a human presence.
We were in the Brembana Valley for 4 weeks and never once saw or even had an inkling of a hissing interloper.
But a stout walking stick is always a smart idea just in case.
I heard lots of buzzing along the walk and thought it might be insects in the trees. But a city slicker such as me should have had more common sense. It was actually the hum of electricity emanating from the tall pylons above us.
A superficial scar, perhaps, on the wonders of nature as the pylons stretched back in a long file with lazy cables drooping between them. But that's the necessary compromise if you want to bring modern facilities into the wilds of the mountains. You can't have it both ways.
But, the power lines excepted, the view over the valleys is spectacular and very photogenic. And in the still of a quiet day you can hear the lowing of cattle or the peal of goat bells from across the hills.
There are some benches placed along the path if you want to take a rest and enjoy the panorama. It makes a good picnic area too and you'll find the odd table situated here and there along the way.
At the end of the circular route we came back to the resort and went to another bar on the edge of town. On this occasion there was a little difficulty as there was a large bank of muddy ground to be crossed.
But as I said this is unusual in summer and was probably cause by the excessive rains. Some poor souls had a pushchair with them which wasn't the easiest transportation for a baby on vacation.
For us it was a case of tip-toeing through the dry bits to avoid that ankle-deep plunge into wet socks territory.
Time for another beer
We sat outside the bar as there were plenty of tables.
There I enjoyed another refreshing German white beer.
But I would also recommend a nice Italian Moretti or even a Nastro Azzuro. The native beers are quite good too.
Families gathered around and children played in the surroundings. There was even a rabbit hutch with some of the bunnies inside. I hope they weren't part of a future menu.
Winter season in Foppolo, skiing, snowboarding and Nordic walks
Foppolo is the most important and most popular winter resort in the Brembana. Along with the other resorts of San Simone and Carona it is part of the Bremboski organisation and offers a single ski pass for all of them.
Information on Foppolo ski resort
1. Contains 12 ski lifts with 30 km of piste and 3 km of cross-country..
2. There are 18 slopes of which 9 are red, 5 blue and 4 black.
3. Vertical drop 1,968 feet, base elevation 5,249 ft, summit 7,217 ft.
The activities are suitable for both beginners and experienced skiers and usually the snow is fine and plentiful until the late spring.
Winter is the time when the place comes alive and the cash tills start ringing.
Many people flock to Foppolo when the conditions are perfect for skiing and snowboarding or even trekking across the snow on cross country Nordic Ski walks.
The more adventurous and daring of sensation-seekers will attempt to scale the mountains and reach the top the hard way.
On a clear day the rewards are fantastic views over the peaks and beyond. The highest point is on Mount Valgussera sitting at 2,200m. I'm sure you could see the Alps in Switzerland from there.
Foppolo is directly connected with the Carisole valley slopes of the Carona site. Therefore it offers a large variety of activities combined in the two areas.
Between the two resorts there are 40 ski lifts feeding 26 slopes making a total of 80km in length. At Foppolo itself here is also a cross-country track in the Convento area with a run of 3 km.
The resort also has a ski school therefore it's a great place to take the kids too. They can enjoy expert instruction while having fun at the same time.
And if you're going by car there are plenty of parking spaces available. So you don't need to travel everyday if you're on a longer vacation. Since Foppolo is not so large everything is handy and conveniently placed.
Off-Piste activities at Foppolo
There are also lots of leisure activities directly next to the nearest pistes. There is an ice-rink, a recreation center, clubs, a swimming pool and gym facilities. You can also play basketball, volleyball or bounce on trampolines if that takes your fancy.
For the less energetic pursuits you might prefer a games room for a session of billiards.
For the fun loving there is the Disco Grizzly which is the best in town.
As well as K2 there are also other restaurants, pizzerias and cafes.
And there are plenty of hotel rooms and holiday apartments available.
But if you can't get accommodation during the busy season then there are still options.
The nearby towns and villages also cater for winter tourists.
There you will find more accommodation available than would normally be needed for the size of the location.
Places like Branzi, Valleve, San Simone and Carona have hotels and appartments suitable for the overspill. Of the three Branzi has the most as it is the largest town in the Upper Brembana and is only a short drive away from Foppolo.
Foppolo then is a place to seriously consider for your ski travels. Not far from civilisation and with good international travel connections and local transport links.
On-site facilities at the resort are plentiful and the slopes in the Upper Brembana are varied.
It has lots to offer families as well as extreme sports enthusiasts, party-goers and business parties. So when the flakes start to fall have a mind to Northern Italy and check out the snow forecast at Foppolo.