Club Valtur Pila, Sestriere, Italy
Author: Kyle McCarthyTags : Adventure Trip, All-Inclusive Resort, Christmas Holiday, Europe, Family-Friendly Hotels, Golf, Italy, Kids Club, Resort, Snowsports, Spa & Wellness, Spring Break, Tennis, Watersports, Winter Getaway
Club Valtur Pila in Valle d'Aosta region of Italy welcomes your family, embraces your children, and provides you with a unique skiing experience.
When it comes to children, there's no nationality more disposed to cheek-pinching and cooing than the Italians. In fact, the Italian notion of family (and we don't mean "The Sopranos") is exactly what makes vacationing there with children so special. One week of skiing and snowplay with the equipe at Club Valtur Pila (877/582-2284) in Italy's Valle d'Aosta region, convinced my family that bambini of all ages are welcomed, even adored. And although some visitors may be taken aback by the casual Italian-style regard (or lack thereof) for schedules, rules and strict safety precautions, we got into a Viva Italia! groove and found the Valtur crew really know what makes kids happy.
Like the chain of French vacation villages called Club Med, the Italian-owned Club Valtur runs all-inclusive resorts around the world staffed by enthusiastic and friendly equipe (Italian for 'crew.') These young people, mostly Italian, serve three feasts daily; spotlessly maintain the attractive, functional property; tenderly care for infants and toddlers; train 5 to16-year-olds in myriad sports; keep an eye on teens; and come together each evening to sing, dance, joke in Italian or otherwise put on a smile on the face of every guest.
Skiing for All Levels
The Pila ski resort is built at the foot of the Italian Alps, with the dark wooden Club Valtur lodge at its base and several small hotels, condos and a tiny town center carved out of the hill below. From Pila's 2,800-meter (9,000-foot) summit, skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers and hikers can see France's Mont Blanc, Switzerland's Matterhorn and other peaks surrounding the historic Valle d'Aosta on sunny, clear days. The large variety of beginner and intermediate terrain make it a wonderful place to learn to ski or snowboard, especially for children who enjoy mini-mogul courses and tree-skiing runs marked by large painted animal cut-outs.
Instructors come from the super-professional Pila Ski School (01 65 52-1114) and handle many nationalities and ages with skill, good humor and an adequate command of several languages. Pila's other family perks include free lift tickets for under-8s, 50% off lift tickets for under-14s, and hotels offering rooms sleeping two adults and two children under 14, at triple room rates.
Snowboarding and skiing ClubValtur guests have a wide selection of top quality gear and helmets for rent. However, families may need to rent equipment from Pila Mountain (see www.skivallee.it for multilingual information) if Valtur runs out of children's sizes; rental equipment is not included in Club Valtur rates because many Europeans own their own gear and bring it on holiday.
For parents concentrating on their own skiing and riding skills, Valtur offers four free hours daily of excellent instruction by the Pila faculty at nine different ability levels, usually grouping six to 10 adults per teacher.
Valtur's Children's Activities
Club Valtur Pila's strongest program is for ages 5-12. In the Miniclub, equipe supervise kids outside the daily four hours of ski or snowboard lessons given by the mountain staff, and again at rest, lunch and dinner too, if parents prefer. Although we found the staff very friendly, language skills are uneven, and the non-Italian kids realized it.
The only complaint voiced by some families, including the Quentin family from Paris (grandparents, parents and 11 and 13-year-old boys), was how little the children of different nationalities mixed. English speakers will find some Americans and Israelis in addition to the pan-European crowd, but if your kids don't speak Italian, you may prefer to visit over a British or American school holiday.
There are dozens of teens safely hanging around, but a much smaller percentage rely on the Junior Club structure, geared for ages 12-16, for fun. However, since Club Valtur's rates include snowsports lessons plus lift tickets and extensive supervised activities, most families do utilize some of the programs.
Bambini = Amore
In the European fashion, children under 5-years are tended most often by parents or grandparents. Multi-generational groups, such as the Rensink Henk family of Winterswyk, Holland, have gathered together three daughters from Italy and Switzerland and four grandchildren, ages 3-12, at Pila for four years. Although an all-inclusive costs more than the condos they have booked before, it's good value for money according to Mr. Henk, because the children's program allows the non-skiing Henks to concentrate on their toddling granddaughter.
At Valtur, little ones can be taken to a small playroom with slides and Playskool fun houses next to the raucous Teens Club, or head outdoors to the fenced-in snow playground for sun or sledding. Valtur Pila also offers several guided daytrips for elders and non-skiers that are suitable with infants, including a bus tour of Aosta town and its Roman-era ruins, snowshoeing with a naturalist, or touring and shopping in the nearby ski resort of Courmayeur at the French border.
Expert skiers (who are also confident parents) backpack their toddlers while skiing, or ski while teaching them to snowplow between their legs. Heroics are not necessary though; there is wonderful daycare at Pila's BiancaNeve (SnowWhite) Nursery (01 65 52-1190), open daily during the winter season. It was reviewed more extensively when Valtur Pila received the 2001 Top 10 Getaways for Tiny Travelers Award.
Party Day and Night
Evenings, the eager young Valtur equipe turn their attention to entertaining guests with well-crafted musical revues, somewhat racy dance routines, and fun, all-Italian productions of easy-to-comprehend shows such as "The Lion King" and "Titanic." The emphasis is so strong on family that most of the evening shows feature guest children in the cast, and most audiences include babies and toddlers. The freedom to include children in all aspects of a vacation makes Italy so special for visiting families.
Dine in Fine Style
Dining well together is another important part of Italian family life, and it is one of the great pleasures at any of Valtur's 42 resorts worldwide. At Pila's slopeside dining room, highchairs are pulled up to tables seating six. Children freely roam the bountiful breakfast buffet, even making eggs and bacon in an electric skillet themselves. At lunch, guests sample the daily pasta or soup served by equipe out on the slopes, or remove ski gear to have lunch indoors at Club Valtur or outside on the sundeck.
At Pila, as at most European mountains where base lodges are uncommon, there are also several independent baita or chalet serving light lunches (several serve free lunch to children under 6 dining with parents.) Lo Baoutson and L'Hermitage near the top of the Grand Grimod funicular lift were our favorites for a velvety hot cocoa break; the Yeti Bar below the Gresson chair is very popular for drinks and aprÃ¨s ski. Each evening, after a full day of ski classes for most, families gather back at Valtur to feast. While the equipe deliver an entree, guests select vegetables, salads, pizzas, homemade breads and, of course, wines from the buffet.
Meet the Valtur Family
Club Valtur has several other family all-inclusives. At some, childcare is more extensive than at Pila, at others, less so. Overall, the Club Valturland children's programs include the Biberoneria for newborns, the Chicco club for ages 2-3 years, Baby club for 3-5 years, Kid Club for 5-7, Mini Club for ages 8-12, and the Junior club for those 12-16. Check their website for which programs operate at each resort and keep in mind that babysitting, for a fee, is available at each.
One favorite is the large snow and summer resort at Marilleva, reputedly busier but somewhat worn compared to Pila. However, it's a very popular summer getaway for hikers interested in Italy's beautiful Trentino region, and on site care extends from infants to teens. Other options for vacationing as the Italians do include the Club Valtur family resorts in Agadir, Morocco; Mauritius, Maldives and Egypt.