2006 Winter Olympics Preview
Shaun Botterill  /  Getty Images
A view of Sestriere venue for the Mens Downhill at the 2006 Winter Olympics on December 13, 2004 in Sestriere, Italy.
By ReidsGuides.com
Special to msnbc.com
updated 12/3/2005 1:59:14 PM ET 2005-12-03T18:59:14

"Rooms available during the Olympics? Are you kidding?" Frederica Pontone's eyes widened and her eyebrows shot up. "We've been booked ever since they announced Torino would be the host." The receptionist at Turin's Hotel Dogana Vecchia gestured across the hotel's 18th-century courtyard. "My father—he runs the Hotel Residence San Domenico, just behind here?—he's full, too. They got the whole French delegation. We've got the Canadians." She shook her head and smiled sadly. "I don't think there's a room left in all of Torino."

No Room at the Inn

She's right. Every last hotel room in the host city has already been reserved for the February 10–26 2006 Winter Games. That doesn't mean you can't find a place to stay in Turin, or find a hotel in the surrounding Piemonte region. Just that finding a bed will require a little creativity. (Getting tickets to Olympic events is far more straightforward; we'll cover that at the end of this article.)

First of all, there are plenty of hotel rooms to be had in the region, so long as you don't insist on staying in Turin itself, where they will hold most stadium events (skating, ice hockey, and all ceremonies), or in the Val di Susa/Sestriere mountain resorts two hours west of Turin where all the Alpine events will take place (skiing, snowboarding, bobsled, luge, etc.).

The official portal for booking hotel rooms during the Games is Jumbo Grandi Eventi — which translates as "Big Huge Events" — but its pickings are pretty meager. When I checked on November 6, it was offering stays in 39 largely mid-range hotels throughout the region, costing on average $105 to $335 per night for a double room. Most were in towns in the industrial Po plains of eastern Piemonte, amidst the vineyards southeast of Turin, or in the northern lakelands around Lakes Orta and Maggiore — all area lying roughly one to three hours away from Turin and the other Olympic venues.

Slideshow: Italian dreams But Jumbo falls far short of listing all the hotels in Piemonte. I leafed through a travel guidebook packed with hotels that did not appear on Jumbo's list. A few phone calls revealed that, although many are already booked, there are still plenty of rooms available in such intriguing tourist towns as Alba (of truffle fame) and Asti (of the sparking wine). There are also as-yet-unbooked B&Bs in the town of Stresa on Lake Maggiore, and available agriturismi (farm stays) tucked in the wine hills of Le Langhe.

Obviously, the hotels on Jumbo are not the only options. In fact, I count four major alternative strategies for securing lodging during the Games.

1) Buy a package

This is the easiest but most expensive option. A lot of those already-booked rooms (not to mention the already-sold tickets) were snapped up by tour companies and travel agencies for the express purpose of reselling the rooms and tickets bundled together as an Olympic package but at a highly inflated price. Said one Turin hotelier whose inn was block-booked by a US tour company, "I think they're selling packages including a room here for a few nights and tickets to one Olympic event for $5,000 or something. Ridiculous."

I'd steer clear of such profiteers and instead go directly to CoSport — if only because it's the firm handling official ticket sales in North America, so its ticket markup is already figured into the price. However, even at that, its "Olympic Hospitality" packages don't come cheaply, starting at $2,329.75 per person in a double room, and all that buys you is four nights in a Turin hotel and a pair of tickets to a single event. Packages including admission to three or four events run $4,025 to $5,340.75 — not including transportation (neither airfare to Italy, nor shuttle buses and trains to get to the events).

With any package you're paying a whopping premium for the convenience of one-stop shopping. You can attend the Games for easily half as much by buying individual tickets (see below) and tracking down alternative accommodations beyond Turin.

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2) Get out of town

Turin itself may be rapidly running out of rooms, but not the surrounding area. Even the limited pickings at Jumbo list nearly 40 hotels around the Piemonte region, and as my quick glance through the guidebook revealed, there are many, many more.

Guidebooks are one way to find other hotels, or you can peruse the listings provided on the Web sites of local tourism offices (there's a clickable map providing direct links to Piemonte's 11 provincial offices). If you don't mind sifting through mountains of information (often only in Italian), the best place to point your mouse is the vast accommodations database at the Piemonte regional site . In addition to a staggering 1,294 alberghi (hotels), it compiles lists of many of the alternatives discussed in the next section, including bed and breakfasts, rental rooms, farm stays, and campgrounds.

Slideshow: U.S. Olympic hopefuls Also, look beyond Piemonte. The neighboring region of Valle d'Aosta—a wide Alpine valley about 90 minutes by car (2 to 3 hours by train) north of Torino—is no farther away than many of the farther-flung corners of Piemonte, and rooms are far easier to come by.

"We've had a lot of bookings, yes," said the manager of Hotel Bus in the region's capital, Aosta. "But we're not full yet on any of the Olympics dates." However, between school holidays and the ski season, February is already a popular month in the region, so don't expect those rooms to be around forever. You can search lodging databases at the Valle d'Asota's official tourism Web site.

3) Look beyond hotels

Hotels aren't the only places where you can spend the night. Two of the obvious alternatives are hostels (where beds in shared dorms cost $15 to $18) and bed and breakfasts.

While B&Bs in Turin are going fast, there are still plenty as-yet-empty ones to be had—even in the historic center. "I still have some dates open during the Olympics," said Angela Rampone, who rents two double rooms for $95 each just a block from the Po River at Via Napione 15 (011-39-011-817-4739). "Both rooms share one bathroom, so I'd prefer to rent them to four people who know each other."

You can get information on both B&Bs and hostels in the "Accommodation" section of Turin's officialtourism Web site—the tourist office will even book B&Bs on your behalf (011-39-011-535-181), but only two weeks in advance. You should also check availability at the private firm Bed and Breakfast Service(011-39-011-812-3675 or 800-984-892), which represents not only B&Bs throughout a Turin and Piemonte, but also other accommodations options such as farm stays, religious guesthouses, short-term residence hotels, apartments, and castles.

The Turin tour agency Somewhere is handling apartment rentals (and B&Bs) in the city. Their rates are pretty steep: from $130 per person per night, plus they impose a five-night minimum. However, they can put you up in downtown Turin, which is well worth any price.

Tourist offices of the mountain communities where the bulk of the Games will take place have banded together to form Montagnedoc, which is handling 8,000 private homes and apartments and more than 32,000 non-hotel beds throughout the area. For now, its apartments are only available for those staying the full 17 nights of the Olympics; only in the last few weeks prior to the Games will they open the field to shorter stays of just a few nights. For that 17-night stay, most apartments range from roughly $3,500 to $6,000 ($206 to $353 per night)—though keep in mind that apartments usually have multiple bedrooms, so they can be a downright bargain if a family or small group splits the cost.

In addition to apartments, Montagnedoc also represents B&Bs, agriturismi, vacation homes, and affittacamere (the opportunity to lodge with a private family) for as little as $60 per night for a double room, though $120 to $170 or so is more common. And, unlike apartments, you can book most for just three or four nights if you want.

Those aren't the only non-hotel lodging options, nor do you have to go through one of those agencies set up specifically for the Games. There are also such alternative accommodations as villa rentals, hospitality networks, and Alpine huts—and there are scores of other resources to help track down those as well as agriturismi, rental rooms, B&Bs, and hotels. There's no room to list them all here, but oddball lodging options have always been a personal favorite of mine, and I have an entire Web site devoted to them: BeyondHotels.net. (The site, which includes dozens more links and leads to help find lodging, is in no way connected to MSNBC.com.)

4) Trust in the gods of underbooking

By no means do I recommend that you wing it, but the fact remains that most recent Olympics were underbooked. All available hotel rooms in Turin may technically have been reserved, but between overly optimistic tour agencies that book early and outright cancellations, there just may be empty beds available.

The strategy here is to book your airfare and buy tickets to your favorite Olympic events and then, as game time approaches, start bugging the tourism office and booking agencies mentioned throughout this article (as well as hotels directly) to see if any vacancies open up. The scuttlebutt from past Olympic attendees is that plenty of fans showed up in Salt Lake City the day before an event with nothing but that coveted figure skating ticket in hand and were still able to find a room for the night.

Still, I wouldn't recommend it.

Getting into the Games

While you might arrive in Turin without a hotel reservation, you absolutely shouldn't show up without admission to the Olympics Games themselves. This isn't a baseball game, where you can expect to score $20 tickets off some shifty-eyed guy in the parking lot. To get into the Games—especially such popular events as figure skating, men's downhill, and ski jumping—you need to snatch up some seats pronto. Here's how.

EU residents can purchase tickets directly from the main www.torino2006.org site. Residents of the United States and Canada have to turn to CoSport, 800-457-4647, which has an exclusive contract with the USOC to handle North American ticket sales.

Sure, tickets for women's figure skating were snapped up long ago, but you can still get seats for the pairs or men's figure skating (as well as ice dancing) starting at $286. And figure skating is the darling of the Winter Olympics. For other sports, tickets are relatively easier to come by—though many finals and medal games are, as you might expect, rapidly selling out. Speaking of cost, most Category C tickets (the cheap seats) start around $42 for the Biathlon, and range up through $134.50 (ice hockey) and $143 (speed skating) to $185 (Alpine skiing and ski jumping). If you want to attend the opening ceremony, though, it'll run you a cool $1,260.

Incidentally: Don't bother with the "Ticket Packages" offered by CoSports. Those simply bundle together admission to three or four events at random—but at absolutely no cost savings. Far better to pick your own event combo and witness the Olympics of your dreams.

Bio: Reid Bramblett is a guidebook author and the creator of the travel planning site ReidsGuides.com. He is currently working on sections of the new Pauline Frommer's Guide to Italy, including the Turin and Piemonte chapter.

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