After last season, Kevin and I promised ourselves that if we returned to northwestern Italy, we would take advantage of the hiking afforded to us by our location. Just a couple hours away, there are mountain ranges that rival some of the most beautiful in the world. Mont Blanc, or Monte Bianco from our side of the mountain, sits eloquently on the border of France and Italy. Briuel-Cervinia, a town two hours north houses trailheads to some of the most beautiful excursions through the Swiss Alps. Given the plethora of trekking opportunities available, it is somewhat embarrassing to admit at the end of last season that we had not taken a proper hike during our stay. But, in our defense, the weather in the region only permits hiking for a few weeks at the start of hockey season. October is a warm and pleasant autumn month in Valpellice, but it’s a snowy and unpredictable one in the higher altitude regions of the north. Before we knew what was out there, the small window of opportunity had closed. We weren’t going to let that happen again.
This time around, we were determined to make our way through a couple stages of Via Alta Una, a Valle De’Aosta trail with worthwhile views of glacier lakes, Monte Rosa, and several mountainside villages. So as soon as I arrived in Italy, I plotted for our adventure. I read about the rifugios that offer shelter and a warm Italian meal at the end of each day-long stage. I learned the meaning of trail signs and, just to be safe, studied the rescue signals of hikers in distress. On Kevin’s next day off, the family was heading north for a dose of the Great Outdoors. At least that was the plan. But, as it goes with even the best laid plans, there was one tiny problem. The weather.
It had been a particularly beautiful September here in Peimonte. The sun blanketed the region in a clear and bright warmth every day… until, of course, that day off we were waiting for. The next week, weather in Valpellice was fine. But, in Valle D’Aosta where we were headed, they were predicting clouds and, sniffle sniffle, snow. We were looking straight in the face of a “fool me twice” scenario. And it was a ugly sight! But, you know what they say: when one window closes… a balcony door opens. And, in this case, our balcony door revealed a skyline of mountains that we had been underestimating all along in our quest to reach Valle D’Aosta. Instead of Monte Rosa, we had Monte Viso and handful of other hike-worthy ranges all accessible from good ole’ Valpellice. Rather than mope about how we couldn’t make it to the mountains up north, we hit the trails in our own backyard.
Since arriving and accepting that Valle D’Aosta’s season had passed us by, Dylan and I have had the privelege of hiking on two separate occasions, first in the company of my butcher shop friend from last season and later with Kevin. Both times, we were in the very mountains that we see from our balconies. According to my Italian pal, this mountain range is considered Alpi Cozie while other segments of the Alps bear different names.
The first hike led us from Villanova to Pra. My friendly Italian guide drove the dog and I up the first portion of the mountain. I was grateful not to be traversing the narrow, pot-hole ridden “road” in our Valpe mobile, as I cannot attest that it would have made it to where we parked. Having driven around switchbacks through puddles more like streams and over scattered rocks that more like boulders, the half hour journey ended with three nearly carsick passengers grateful to take the rest of the trip on foot.
Throughout the two-hour hike, I practiced my Italian, pausing my friend whenever she said something I couldn’t understand. She knows as much English as I do Italian, and so the hike doubled as a tutoring session. She told me about the special blue stone that is indigenous to these mountains and taught me past-tense conjugations of some irregular verbs. I explained the meaning of such phrases as “catching your breath” and, when she pointed to goat droppings and asked the English word for them, I happily provided several synonyms. The last and most explicit, I explained, also doubled as a single syllable of frustration. To this anecdote, she seemed thoroughly enlightened, having heard but never having understood the expression before.
The trail passed beside a river and the sight of waterfalls landing in pools of turquoise water offered a pleasant peripheral for our trek. Once at the top, it opened up into valley with splendid 360 degree views. We stopped for lunch at the rifugio before beginning our descent. And by the time I made it back to the apartment, I had fallen in love with Alpi Cozie.
The next weekend, Kevin came along on a second trail nearby. This time, we were just passed the neighboring village of Villar Pellice. We drove up a smoother road than the one leading to Pra, and parked up at Rifugio Barbara. We had taken a trip up this road in November of last year, but our hiking was limited because snow had already covered the majority of the trail. We got there in the early morning this time, and spent several hours exploring the trails in that section of the mountains. We were much higher than I’d been on the previous trek, and I could feel the difference in my lungs. While this path was less decorated with lush greens and cold mountain waters than the last, it offered more magnificent views of the valleys for the entirety of the walk.
Throughout our hike, I marveled at how quiet the mountains really are. As we stopped for lunch on a trailside boulder, I thought about how I was hearing silence for the first time. Unlike Pra’s trail which was speckled with hikers, this stretch of trail was virtually empty. Just me, Kevin, and the pup. We did spot a few eagles on the way, and there was no shortage of grazing cattle on the angular slopes. But thankfully, we didn’t run into any wild boar. (The thought of encountering any animal with tusks in the wild is not particularly comforting).
When I returned to the car, I was once again throroughly content (not to mention considerably tired). We didn’t make it through two stages of Via Alta Una, but I did get to experience two days worth of hiking in Alpi Cozie. And those served as an excellent substitute to our planned trekking adventures in Valle D’Aosta.