Tag Archives: alps

Postcard from Gran Bosco di Salbertrand: a human landscape in the Alps

(Click on any of the photos to enlarge.)

I’d only been back in Turin a few days before I realized I needed to get out and walk… again. So last Saturday, a few of us took the train up to Parco Naturale del Gran Bosco di Salbertrand in Susa Valley.

This was the first time I’d organized a hike myself, and I’d been careful about choosing a nice route for the group: it featured a rifugio near the top, and several options so we could take the less steep path on the way down to save our knees and ankles. Unfortunately my map didn’t have full topographic information and it turns out that just because a path is twice as long, it doesn’t have to be half as steep a descent. It can be gently uphill for a substantial distance and then drop precipitously into the valley on a track covered in pine cones that act as rollers under your feet. (Sorry guys!!!)

When we weren’t slipping and sliding and cursing our way down the side of Susa Valley, we had a walk through a pine forest in the morning light, past old stone walls and ruins of buildings that we debated about (were they houses, or cow sheds, or..?). We picked lavender and mint that was growing beside the path. We saw cows — and a marmot, who was sadly uninterested in B’s offer of lifelong friendship. It was a very human landscape, with all its signs of human history — apparently, timber from these woods was used in the construction of the Superga Basilica in Turin. It was also a very modern human landscape, with the constant hum of the highway below us.

We got back to Turin that evening tired and hungry and coated with a fine layer of dust.

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Practical information for future reference: You can get to Gran Bosco di Salbertrand without a car — take the train from Turin to Salbertrand (altitude 1000m) on the Bardonecchia line, it runs hourly, takes about an hour and costs 5.75 euro each way. From there, there are all sorts of walks you can take. I used this map, be warned that although it gives altitudes of landmarks it doesn’t have contour lines. We took the GTA route up to Rifugio Daniel Arlaud (altitude 1770m) and then on to Le Selle (altitude 2000m), which is a cluster of agricultural buildings, but also a great viewpoint for the valley. We followed the (closed to cars) road down and then took route 2, which was very steep and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you enjoy that sort of thing.

It was quite dry in late August, and if I did this walk again I’d do it earlier in the summer with the hope of seeing green meadows rather than brown. (It was also quite warm, but much of the route is shaded.)

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Postcard from Conca del Pra: enjoying the foothills of the Alps

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Went hiking with some friends and their kids yesterday in the foothills of the Alps. It was a sunny day and it was hot work following a narrow valley up, until we came over the ridge and found ourselves in the open space of Conca del Pra, a basin surrounded by jagged hills. On our walk we saw waterfalls, and wild roses, and cows, and raspberry patches, and flowers growing from the rocks that were reminiscent of hattifatteners, and entrances to mysterious caves where the air was cool and underground streams emerged. Our 4-year-old guide would probably want to add that we saw plenty of cool rocks and sticks and also he found an old shoe lace.

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Practical information for future reference: We parked at Villanova, which is near Bobbio Pellice, which is a bit past Pinerolo as you head into the Alps in that direction from Turin. It was a popular spot — the tables at Rifugio Willy Jervis in Conca del Pra were full of people having lunch — which is not surprising considering it’s a beautiful place only 50 km from central Turin. There are 2 trails from Villanova to Conca del Pra, one that is a dirt road with a few shortcuts to save on tedious switchbacks, and the other that follows the other side of the stream and is much steeper and rockier (but definitely rewarding). We took the gentler route up and the steep route down, my knees today feel like that was maybe not the best order to do things… It’s also possible to drive up to Conca del Pra and use that as a starting point for hikes further into the hills.

Postcard from vallée Étroite: How is this even possible.

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Earlier this week, a friend sent out a group message that she and her family were going on a hike on Saturday, anyone was welcome to join them, adding “it’s one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever seen”.

She wasn’t wrong.

“How is this even possible?” we asked ourselves, repeatedly, as we walked through alpine meadows with walls of dramatic jagged rock formations above us and a clear cold mountain stream running next to us. We saw a herd of cows, an enchanted lake with a million shades of green algae growing on the bottom, half a dozen marmots, a pond with tadpoles, wildflowers in pink and yellow and purple and orange, and new views opening out to us every time we climbed a hill.

At one of our many pauses for photos, I asked one of the guys if he wanted a photo “with that stuff over there.”

“Stuff?” he laughed.

“I’ve run out of words.”

 

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Practical information for future reference: vallée Étroite (valle Stretta in Italian) is just over the French-Italian border from Bardonecchia. We drove from Turin, which takes 1.5-2 hours on the highway; parking near our start point of Rifugio i Re Magi (website in Italian) was 2 euro for the day. We walked from 1780m  above sea level at Rifugio i Re Magi to 2500m above sea level at Refuge du Thabor (website in French), a distance of about 7km each way on well-marked trails — just make sure you follow the signs to Refuge du Thabor and not Mont Thabor itself. You can buy lunch at Refuge du Thabor or even sleep the night. I was glad of my waterproof shoes for the stream crossings but everyone else got on fine in running shoes.

 

Postcard from Monte Galero

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Went on another hike this weekend, this time in Tanaro Valley near the border between Piedmont and Liguria. A hot morning, followed by an afternoon of dramatic skies, rain showers, and thunderclaps in the distance (disconcerting when you’re on the top of a hill!), followed by an evening on the Mediterranean coast eating takeaway pizza while standing around a concrete block used as a makeshift table. In between all of this we also read the gospel of Matthew start-to-finish — I’ve been going to church all my life but somehow the Bible becomes new and unfamiliar when you read it in long sections while sitting on a picnic blanket in a beech forest rather than a paragraph at a time in a church service. Highly recommended.

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Postcard from Valle Varaita

I’ve come down with a rather tedious and inconvenient head cold, so no writing from me this week — I started trying to write this post and got bogged down in Uggggh what even are words. But enjoy some photos from a day spent in Valle Varaita recently with friends from church.

(Not to make you jealous or anything, but it was basically a perfect summer’s day.)

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Ten things you should know about hiking

A post about something recent! Some friends and I went hiking last weekend.

  1. Everything feels like more of an adventure if you get up early for it. Even if you’re only up early because you woke up an hour before your alarm, and you decided to get out of bed and clean your apartment.
  2. If your plans involve Italian trains running on time, they will be delayed, pushing everything back until your hike is an after-lunch hike.
  3. Which isn’t a problem, because a picnic lunch in a village in the Alps is pretty great in its own right. Especially with fresh bread and cheese and sausage and fruit.
  4. It turns out the haze you always thought was air pollution must be partly just humidity, because even in this valley, it’s there. You won’t get the crystal-clear mountain air you’d been daydreaming of during the week, but the haze does make the landscape rather painterly.
  5. When the trail mostly follows the road, you can go fast, even when the clouds come in and visibility is low. This will seem like a good idea at the time. Your stiff muscles and awkward-baby-giraffe gait 3 days after the hike will disagree.
  6. Cows and calves are almost as cute as sheep and lambs; cowbells are useful for warning you there are cows on the road when walking through clouds; it is impossible to resist mooing loudly as you pass a herd of cows, even if you’ve passed 4 already.
  7. A woman with grey hair and wellies will pass you as you pause for a drink, and wish you a pleasant hike. One minute later, she will be nowhere to be seen on the road, even though there are no side paths. Probably she is a farmer and has gone into a field. Maybe she is a witch.
  8. In the end, even going fast, you won’t reach the lake the signposts were vague about the location of. You will however witness the clouds lifting and the sun coming out over a meadow of wildflowers, complete with a mountain stream and views to higher hills beyond.
  9. Nettles are real, and they do look just like on the box of nettle tea you used to drink in Australia. You’re only going to realize this after you walk through a patch of them.
  10. Homemade fruit cake you weren’t convinced about while in the city will taste amazing when you’ve just walked from 1400 to 2000 metres above sea level. (You need to go hiking again – you’ve got nearly a quarter of the fruitcake still in your fridge.)

Notes from a week in the mountains

  • Probably it’s for the best that the american lady on the bus through the Mont Blanc tunnel who was loudly discussing how she finds australian accents “sooooo sexy” didn’t hear me turn to my colleague sitting next to me and dramatically sigh “why does no-one take us seriously?”
  • Until now, when people said they quite like snow, I always thought they were a bit funny in the head. It’s wet! It’s cold! There’s mud everywhere! But having finally seen thick, fluffy, pretty snow, I start to understand:

    No slush in sight!

    No slush in sight!

  • Skiing: ahahahahahahaha. Not my forte at all. As predicted, hilarious. Picture a 76-year-old french winter-ski-instructor-summer-mountain-guide who’s just come off his cigarette break yelling “snowplow! wider!” and me yelling “I’m so sorry!” as I nearly mow down a row of small children who at age 4 are better skiers than me. Speaking of which, the small children body count from a 2 hour ski lesson: 1 collision, 1 accidentally closing the chairlift barrier onto a kid’s leg.
  • Apparently, there is a St Bernard dog museum near Les Houches, which we didn’t get a chance to see. This must be rectified. (A museum about dogs!)