Monday, August 25, 2014

Lunch in Italy: Bella Italia

Ah the beauty of living in Switzerland – one is never far from a border. Usually it’s my quick trip to France for groceries (10 minutes at the most); sometimes it’s through France to get to my mountain flat (under an hour driving at 60 km/h – not strenuous and the scenery is gorgeous). But yesterday was special!

I was in my mountains and a friend who has a chalet in another mountain village not far proposed that we re-connect (mind you we do cross paths at the village bakery usually at least a couple of mornings a week). So we met on a parking lot just outside Martigny where I left my car and then drove up the side valley towards Italy.

It is still summer (well the season is still summer and the pass is not yet closed due to snow – still a fresh 6°C at the top) so we were able to drive on the mountain roads and didn’t have to take the tunnel. 

mountain hut

one of the air chimneys for the tunnel underneath

Looking back on the road up

morning clouds in the the valleys between peaks

A glorious, sunny-with-clouds, morning.  

At the Grand Saint Bernard pass (and yes that is where the dogs were trained and raised – still present every summer although they also now have a museum and home in Martigny) we stopped to take in the views in both directions as well as for a short visit to the inside chapel, the canon’s dining room etc. Founded by Saint Bernard, the Archdeacon of Aoste, as a way station on the pilgrimage route to Rome to the aid of travelers, the hospice has maintained this spirit of aid to one’s fellows and hospitality for over a thousand years. The buildings are now divided with one side of the road being more for the canons, “oblate” sisters and pilgrims; the other for visitors – both connected by a passageway over the road, which is in the process of being renovated (this is the only portion that hasn't yet been started, elsewhere they have done a great job). Besides the chapel, which far surpasses my idea of a mountain chapel, there is a collection of "treasures" and various other historically important artifacts. The hospice’s history goes back over a 1’000 years, but the pass at 2’500 meters is also a border crossing and the Swiss and the Italian custom’s houses are still present although no longer guarded.

signs along the way - all with Napoleon's hat mark the path that he took over the alps in May of 1800

the corridor in between buildings - not yet renovated

The Italian border across the lake

The Swiss custom's house on the far right. Seen from the Hospice.
 Beautiful doesn’t quite do it justice, but that’s the word I have at my command.

same mountains that were covered in clouds - an hour later

Then it was down the Italian side and on to Aoste for a walk around the ruins: ruins, which I might add are being well renovated so that the tourist can easily learn some history. Here it was 28°C so it was a day of put on the sweater and windbreaker, then take off same, before re-adding them yet again later.
One of the galleries on the Italian side: notice the rock fall on the left, this is why they are needed.

part of the ruins in Aoste

A leisurely stroll: some gelato (ah the Italian gelati) followed by a leisurely lunch (in a restaurant where the decor would have passed for any similar one in lower Germany: one forgets that the baroque style was in many places) and then the reverse trip back up the mountain and over the other side.

On the way home stopped to take in more of the Napoleonic history in particular at Bourg St. Pierre: imagine Napoleon marching 46’000 soldiers up the mountain and on to Marengo – the battle that consolidated his hold on French politics. In this small village the number of transparent plaques describing various houses, types of furnishings etc. makes it a tourist’s dream. The Swiss have done well.

Napoleon brought 46'000 men will him over the alps in 1800!

A last coffee and the day had come to an end: have rarely enjoyed such a beautiful day – love those mountains, love the air, had a knowledgeable guide to explore a history and a region that I had not yet discovered. Every Sunday should be as entertaining.

For my sister - just because I found cows!