Wednesday, 14 September 2016

A Brief Tour of the Italian Alps

We loved the Italian Alps.

We started this part of our trip by overnighting at the Great St. Bernard Pass, where someone turns up every day to walk a couple of St. Bernard dogs for photo opportunities. We arrived in mist, but the next day turned out beautiful and spent some time clambering around the Roman ruins behind the hotel.

Great St. Bernard Pass

From the Great St. Bernard Pass we wound our way down into the Valle d'Aosta, stopping half way at Etroubles for lunch at one of the many restaurants there.

Aosta looked like an interesting city, though we did the quickest whistle stop tour of the Roman gates, theatre and forum. We managed to park in the very centre, behind the town hall, but we're a panel van, so I'm not sure some of the big beasts out there in motorhome land would find the narrow streets much fun. We've always worked on the basis that if an Italian delivery van can get there, so can we. The aire, or area di sosta, at Aosta didn't look inviting to us. A large screened off parking lot on the side of a main road wasn't our thing, but if all you want to do is sleep and see the sites then it'd be fine, and close enough for walking into town.

Aosta Roman gate

We decided to push on a bit and headed up one of the nearby Alpine valleys, the Valle de Cogne. After not a long drive we reached the town of Cogne, which has a huge area di attrezzata (like a sosta but with water, dumping & electrics) nestled below the town (€10.50 without electric). Very damned convenient of the local council, they had put in a lift up to the town, which was gearing up to the start of an Alpine endurance running race which was to go over the next six days, so the place was full of fit looking maniacs! We had a great night in Cogne - a very pretty place with an interesting lace making exhibition, lovely easy walking in the surrounding meadows and some nice bars/restaurants. There are some good local shops and we bought some very purple softish salami style sausage - budin di berbataiola - which has beetroot in it and was delicious.
Cogne meadows
Cogne area attrezzata
Our next stop was 3km up the same Alpine valley to the village of Lillaz and another area attrezzata (€10.50 + €2.50 for electrics), in a lovely position overlooking the river. There's a large picnic park at Lillaz, directly across the river, and there are both easy and tougher hikes all around the village, which has bars, restaurants, a little shop and very nice gelato (ice-cream). There were several cats out and about in the village, which didn't make for easy walking with two hounds, Pommie being particularly obsessed with the chase concept (Betty's a bit dimmer about most things). Unfortunately, the new tap which we'd had fitted at home to our waste pipe, and felt was a bit of a shoddy repair, has come off, as our Italian neighbours pointed out when our "stinky" water fouled their pitch - guess we take a bowl from here on.

Lillaz area attrezzata



Our final bit of this area was to continue to drive along the Aosta valley on the Turin road, but heading all the time out of the Alps. We passed places not in our guide book, but which looked interesting, such as the fortress at Bard, which was massive, built up a craggy hillside and served by a triple staged funicular. They have lots of different exhibitions there, such as a Chagall one, so if you are in need of some culture it might be a place to go. 

After Bard we left the Turin road and headed into the smaller hills above and between Ivrea and Biella, and ended up at Graglia, because our camper book said there was an area di sosta there. I made it more difficult to find because I'd somehow looked up the address for a different one, but in the end we found it right up the hill at the Sanctuary of Graglia. There are quite a few of these sanctuaries on hilltops, and many have campervanable parking. This one had good roads up to it suitable for large trucks, as the local water has, in the last 20 years, begun to be bottled and sold in a hugely profitable business - fill up your tank for free at the sosta! It was a beautiful little area di sosta (free, water & dumping), overlooking wooded hills and long, sloping meadows, and the sanctuary is worth taking a little peak at.

Graglia sosta

That was our mini-Alpine tour. We have now come down, trundled through the very flat valleys and are camped beside Lake Orta for the next stage, a brief tour of the Italian Lakes!

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