Cristallo Cortina d’Ampezzo hotel review: a jewel in the Dolomites

Nestled above the small Italian town of Cortina d’Ampezzo, the Luxury Collection hotel is a true treasure

Hotel cristallo

Even before we reach Cristallo, it isn’t difficult to see why the town of Cortina d’Ampezzo is one of the most sought-after destinations in Italy. The snow-capped Dolomites sparkle in bright sunshine as we drive through the Alpine town and up the hillside to the five-star Art Nouveau hotel.

Cortina d'Ampezzo

Located in the Veneto region of northern Italy, just a few hours’ drive from Venice, the picture-postcard town has long been popular with international travellers searching for world-class skiing and a taste of la dolce vita. More recently, Cortina has attracted wealthy visitors from Rome and Milan, many of whom have second homes in the Ampezzo valley.

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Residents are proud of their small town’s rich history and culture, and may people still speak fluent Ampezzano, a local variant of the regional Ladin language. The heart of Cortina, the cobbled Corso Italia, is filled with an eclectic mix of family-run pasticcerias, Michelin-star restaurants, casual wine bars and high-end fashion boutiques.

The Dolomites, a Unesco World Heritage Site, provide a dramatic backdrop, especially at sunrise and sunset, when the peaks turn a stunning shade of pink, a natural phenomenon known locally as enrosadira.

Cristallo, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, Cortina d'Ampezzo

From serving as a military hospital during the First World War to hosting Hollywood film crews, Cristallo has a long and storied history. Since opening its doors in 1901, the luxury property has attracted members of Italian high society, European royals, as well as celebrities including Frank Sinatra and Brigitte Bardot.

Numerous refurbishments and have taken place in recent years, most recently in 2017, with great care taken to preserve the building’s original features. Pale wood panels, intricate hand-painted flower detailing and delicate cornicing give the expansive rooms a traditional feel, while large pendant chandeliers add an extra touch of luxury.

The hotel, which has 74 rooms, including 20 suites and two presidential suites, many of which boast balconies with panoramic mountain views, is now owned by the Gualandi family and last year became the first ski resort to join Marriott International’s Luxury Collection.

Food and drink

When it comes to dining experiences at Cristallo, guests are spoilt for choice. The hotel has several restaurants for visitors to choose from, all presided over by executive chef Marco Pirelli.

After several glasses of local sparkling wine in the bar, we spent our first evening in La Stube 1872, a small, cosy restaurant with an authentic mountain atmosphere.

With its wood-covered walls and large antique majolica stove, the space provides a unique - and extremely intimate - dining experience. Rustic, comforting fare, such as the chef's signature beetroot and soft cheese ravioli followed by a rich apple strudel, is served alongside local wines.

Breakfast and lunch are served in La Veranda, a large, open space with high ceilings adorned with the hotel's custom flower detailing, and expansive mountain views.

On our final afternoon, we sampled a selection of simple, yet perfectly executed Italian favourites; eggplant parmigiana on tomato and basil coulis followed by risotto with salt cod, powder of black olive and capers. For desert, an indulgent vanilla panna cotta with a tart wild berry compote.

Cristallo's most impressive dining experience is Il Gazebo, a circular room with 360-degree mountain views, offering gourmet dining with a unique twist. The tasting menu that evening included a lightly smoked salmon mousse with caviar on a salad of watercress and lemon and seaweed croutons. Next up, more pasta; this time, ravioli stuffed with local soft cheese and radicchio Treviso, glazed in a red wine Valpolicella.

The main event was roasted deer loin with cocoa cru, red fruit jelly, stewed cabbage and aged port wine jus. To finish, mille-feuille with cream and chocolate drops, paired with a local grappa and espresso. Impeccable service from the waiting staff and sommeliers, as well as a private visit from the chef, helped make it a night to remember.

Skiing and other winter activities

Cortina has been recognised as a world-class winter sports destination for more than half a century. The town was the first Italian mountain resort to host the Olympic Games in 1956 and is currently preparing for the Alpine Ski World Championships in 2021. Though snowfall in this part of Italy is not as reliable as other places in Europe, excellent snow-making facilities mean that the ski season is guaranteed from late November until the end of April.

There are more than 70 miles of marked slopes covered by the local lift pass, and runs are suitable for beginners and experts alike. A number of off-piste opportunities are also available. For less experienced skiers - like this reviewer - snowshoeing excursions are another popular option.

On our second day in Cortina, we strapped on our spiked snowshoes, grabbed our walking poles and headed off to Passo di Giau, a high mountain pass in the heart of the Dolomites. The trip was billed as a gentle meander but conquering one of the more challenging peaks took its toll on even the fittest among us. However, as promised by our local guide, we were rewarded with awe-inspiring views at the summit.

Two hours later, the rewards continued when we descended the valley and reached Ristorante da Aurelio for lunch. It may have looked like an unassuming mountain hut, designed to offer basic food and shelter to skiers, but the rest-stop was something altogether more remarkable. Inside, owner and chef Luigi Dariz treated us to an elaborate 6-course tasting menu, offering his own unique interpretation of traditional recipes from Alto Adige and Veneto.

Health and wellness

Cristallo boasts an enormous 5,200 square foot spa, featuring luxury treatment rooms, an oversized Romanesque indoor swimming pool, sauna, Turkish bath, and fitness centre with panoramic views of the Dolomites.

The Ultimate Spa specialises in exclusive therapeutic treatments using Transvital skincare products from Switzerland. Among the most popular procedures is the Transvital regeneration mask, an infrared mask which stimulates the production of collagen and elastin to combat the signs of ageing.

A range of holistic treatments are also available, including Ayuverdic therapies, designed to bring the mind, body and spirit into alignment. An on-site hair salon, run by an award-winning stylist, is also available to hotel guests.

After our long mountain trek, some pampering was definitely due. We opted for a full-body deep tissue massage to soothe our aching muscles, followed by a leisurely swim. Several hours later, we left feeling relaxed, rejuvenated, and ready for dinner.

But if all of the pasta, strudel and grappa has left guests feeling a little guilty, they can head down to the hotel's cutting-edge fitness centre, equipped with the latest Technogym machines and an innovative Wellness System. Cristallo also has a designated health coach, on hand to offer guests a complementary nutritional and fitness evaluation, as well as a personal exercise and diet plan.

Rooms at Cristallo, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, Cortina d'Ampezzo start at €320 (£280) for a double room with breakfast. The hotel closes today, but will reopen for its summer season on 1 June. To make a booking visit

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