Another Sunday and another of the walks in the mountains I’ve been enjoying so much! I wasn’t going to write about this walk, but the sheer beauty of the place and its uniqeness compared to my other walks convinced me that it’s worth mentioning and certainly well worth a visit if you’re in the area.
We started off on a paved path in Gressoney St. Jean, which soon became a sandy road. The path runs past these beautiful houses with their resplendent flowers and wooden walls, so typical of this Walzer valley tucked away in the north of Italy. The path rose quite quickly into a larch forest, becoming narrower and more tortuous, the shady trees and light breeze providing a welcome coolness in contrast to patches of bright sun.
Once again, my attention was captured by the flowers… and the butterflies! So many bright jewels flitting by!
This was the day I learnt that my companions weren’t infallible. We took a bit of a detour because no one could remember with certainty which path we had to take. Was it 11A or 11B? We took the 11B path for ten or 15 minutes before deciding that we should go back and take the 11A. We climbed higher and higher with some debate going on and a fair amount of questioning of passers by. When we reached a meadow and stone huts, consensus was reached that we should have stayed on the other path but we would be able to find tbe path and join up with the other one. So we struck out across the meadow, passing the huts and climbing the hill behind them, looking for the path. Fortunately, the path became clear as we neared the top and we were off again, stopping briefly to munch on wild blueberries, exquisite little bursts of flavour such as I’ve never had before.
Nothing could be better than getting a late Saturday night message that says, “Do you want to go walking in the mountains with us tomorrow? ” I will admit, I hesitated before replying because I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It never is, but the feeling of achievement when you get to your destination and the beauty of the walk is well worth the effort.
This was only my second walk with snow shoes and the first was relatively easy, with long, flat stretches and a small climb in altitude. Not so for the second time! We stopped in a parking area of the village and had a short, steep walk to the start of the trail. I was already tired and I hadn’t even put on my snowshoes! When we started walking, the going was relatively flat and open. it was a beautiful, sunny day and though the air was crisp, the sun warmed us as we walked. Around us, the snow lay deep and heavy on the fields, sparkling iln the morning sun. I’m always amazed at how soft and powdery snow can be when it’s fresh, and the snow was about as fresh as you could get.
We started out eagerly, following a narrow trail forged by the early birds. Around us, there was a profound quiet such as you only get when the snow lies thick on the ground. An occasional soft thud signalled the falling snow from an overhead branch. The only other sound was my deep breaths and the chattering of the leaders, who obviously had no problem with shortness of breath.
As I walked, my snow shoes collected the snow underfoot and seemed to get heavier and heavier. I had to stop regularly to tap my feet together and dislodge the snow. Just when I was getting to the end of my tether, we came towards a group of houses where we stopped for a short rest. Grateful for a drink, I admired the view before my friends chivvied me along the path again. Imagine my dismay when someone said, “That was the easy part. Now the hard part starts!”
My heart sank. I briefly considered telling them I would wait at the houses for them. If it weren’t for the fact that someone was sure to volunteer to stay behind with me and I didn’t want to spoil the walk for anyone, I might have done that. As it was, I bit my tongue and slogged on. The gradient increased steeply and we passed through a forested area, zigzagging sharply in order to climb quickly.
A number of times I thought I couldn’t lift my legs another step, but it’s amazing what you can do when you have no other choice. I slogged on slowly with Lino behind me, encouraging me all the way and finally reached the lake where the others were already pulling out sandwhiches and flasks. I loved the applause they gave me! I did it! I grabbed my lunch and sank to the ground for a well-deserved rest.
The break was all too short and before long we were heading down the trail again. Why is it that you seem to move so much faster on the homeward trail? My biggest problem was trying not to slip or fall on the steep slope and my knees and thighs shouted their displeasure at what I was doing. At one point I did slip. I put out a hand to save myself and, plof, my arm sank into the snowdrift up to my elbow. My face came up with snow all over my glasses and my knees were covered in snow too. Pity no one was close enough to take a photo. It made me smile though and when I told the others they said that everyone falls at least a few times.
When I arrived home, I could hardly lift my feet to get up the stairs. Would I do it again? You bet!
Last Sunday I learnt some important lessons about living here and experiencing the beauty and diversity of my adopted country. First, there are little gems in tucked away places, waiting to be discovered by the traveller who is determined enough to go out and find them. Second, if you really want to know a place, ask a local. The jewel of this walk was a tiny village called Chemp, situated above Pont St Martin in the Aosta valley.
After a slight organizational hiccup, we parked our car near Nantey and started walking up a path between some houses. The weather was cool and overcast, sadly not the best for photographing the glorious autumn colours, but good for the approximately 600m climb that our walk would entail.
The mountains here are thickly wooded with chestnut trees and our path was strewn with bursting chestnut pods, their fat, shiny fruit begging to be collected. I’m not really a fan of chestnuts, they’re too floury for me, but even I couldn’t resist collecting a few for my son-in-law, who enjoys them.
Theres something magical about walking in a forest with the sound of the wind in the trees and a waterfall in the background. The forest seems alive and you feel as if you are breathing in its essence.
The path climbed steeply, passing over rock steps and around steep cliffs, until we found ourselves in a meadow with our objective, the village of Chemp, just beyond.
This little village was abandoned and slowly decaying, until the artist Angelo Giuseppe Bettoni discovered it and dreamt of breathing new life into it. He managed to buy one of the houses, which he uses as a summer home, and over the years, he has populated the village with sculptures, some his own and some by sculptor friends. A stroll through the village finds the visitor charmed by sculptures tucked away in little nooks and corners or proudly standing beside the buildings.
Some of the houses and other buildings date back to the 1600s and 1700s.
If you’re interested, you can watch an evocative video containing some sculptures and the sculptor explaining his reasons for establishing an open air museum in this little corner of the world. He calls his project A Dream Carried on the Wind. It’s in Italian, but don’t mind that – just soak in the beauty of it.
Ps. For visitors who would prefer not to hike the mountain paths, there is a road to the village. If you’re in the area, don’t miss it.