I have chosen three walks with the aim to provide something for everyone from families to advanced hill walkers. For all of the walks,
Walking in Italian Alps can be an extremely rewarding prospect for a number of reasons, not least the food at the end of a long days walk. The summer climate is excellent for walking, especially for those who don’t mind rising a little earlier. There are also a huge variety of paths which can cater for all tastes. This is made even better due to the fact that the least demanding paths are very well marked for family walks and because most Italians stick to these main routes those who are seeking a bit more of a challenge don’t have to look hard. Walking is also a major past time in Italy compared with Britain probably because of the reasons mentioned which means that most paths usually have people on then to help guide the way if needed. Lastly Italy like much of the Alps often has refuges at the top of hills, not unlike Snowdon in Wales. However unlike Snowdon these refuges are not in the main tourist attractions selling over priced sandwiches and rubbers. Rather they are often run as B&B’s, restaurants or both selling almost always local food and drink. They are either owned by the Italian Alpine Club (Club Alpino Italiano or CAI) or privately owned and run. Either way they are a very welcome presence for both day hikers and trail walkers. From my own experience they are also a very enjoyable way to spend an afternoon eating excellent, reasonably priced food followed by coffee and a grappa.
It is because of this potential that I have found myself on a number of occasions walking in the Italian Alps and within the article I hope to show that whilst Monte Bianco offers a great deal for mountaineers the Alps has just as much to offer for a whole variety of walkers. I have found it easiest to base myself in Courmayeur because although it is more expensive than Morgex and Aosta located further down the valle it has unrivaled access to the best routes. I have chosen three walks with the aim to provide something for everyone from families to advanced hill walkers. For all of the walks, hikers would be advised to purchase the Mont Blanc/ Courmayeur/ Chamonix/ La Thuile 1:25,000 maps made by the Istituto Geografico Centrale. Whilst all European maps lack the detail of British OS or Harvey maps this is the closest I have found to the British equivalent.
La Palud to Pavillon (Hard) Although this walk is very short it is definitely a challenge, made all the better because of the wonderful restaurant at the end. The main difficulty with this is the sheer steepness, as the walk is only around 2km long but climbs 1000m. From Courmayeur take the bus to Coudrey (just up the valley) or if you have a car there is a car park in La Palud. The first part of the walk is through the village and then moves into forest track which is extremely steep. If you have any issues with joints take walking sticks as I struggled without mine. Once out of the forest you wind you way upwards into spectacular views down the valley. I walked as the sun was rising which made the walk all the more impressive. The route is clearly marked so navigation is not an issue; however this is a walk for people who like a challenge rather than those looking for a long days walk. The walk takes around one and a half hours in total but could be completed quicker depending on fitness levels. Once at Pavillon (the refuge and cable car base) I would advise staying for food at the restaurant followed by a rest out on the sun loungers. You can then either take the cable car up (to Ponte Helbronner 3450m, viewing platform) or down to Praz Dele (1381m) where there is a bus stop, café and a number of bars. Although at first this seems like a short walk the rewards are massive the views alone are worth the effort, however there is the added benefit of other members of you group being able to take the cable car up to meet you. This is especially useful if you are with children.
Courmayeur to Val Ferret (Level Moderate with the potential for Hard) This walk is best started in the center of Courmayeur, especially as you have access to some excellent bars open early for coffee, most notably Bar Centro which can be found at the bottom of the high street. After this you head up the high street to the Guida Alpina (local guide’s office) located next the recently renovated church. From here you head for the small village of Villair along the Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB) route, which begins with a forest track. After crossing a bridge you head upwards on a steep track (this is the most challenging part) for around 2 hours if with non walkers. Although the top is some 1989 meters you actually only climb around 700 from Courmayeur. On the day I walked up a family were walking up with children as young as 6 or 7. It can easily be done with a day pack in under an hour, as I reached the top in just over 50 minutes. At the top you will reach the Refuge di Bertone a family run refuge which sells excellent food and drink. The refuge is also home to some of the most spectacular views in the low Alps and is well worth the walk. From this point you have two choices, firstly for families you can return downwards into Val Ferret along the route marked 31. This route is very gentle and leads you down eventually to Planpincieux where you will find a restaurant and a regular bus service (every 15 minutes) to take you back to Courmayeur. The other option is to continue to the top of Mont de la Saxe (2345m), which is around a 30 minute walk from the refuge. You then continue walking along the TMB route and descend steeply to the Col Sapin (2435m). From here you continue down and then follow the Torrent D’Arminaz along rout 29 down to the valley. This takes around an hour and a half and is much more demanding than the first option but well worth it for experienced walkers.
Val Ferret Walk (Easy) Val Ferret is one of the three glacial valleys which meet at the base of Monte Bianco (Italian for Mont Blanc). It runs South West-North East for around 10-15 km and provides perhaps the best opportunity for easy walking with children in the area. You can start the day either by walking from Le Saxe (1260) a small village on the outskirts of Courmayeur or taking the bus to Pont Perrin at the entrance to the valley (1495m). If you are walking you walk through Le Saxe and follow Route 1 for around ¼ km until you meet the main road and walk along side where the route changes into route 33. You then follow the river on your left into the valley for around 30 mins. This is fairly flat and passes through some very picturesque forest paths. Once at Pont Perrin you walk along side the road to Planpincieux. At this point you can leave the road and walk northwards up Route 21 which is a small climb. Although this leads into the mountains there are some excellent spots for a picnic along this route which is usually quieter than the routes further up the valley. From this point in the valley you can walk along side the Doire du Val Ferret (glacial fed river) which in some is beautiful as you have the Monte Bianco range to the west. Once you get to Lavachey (1640m) there are a number of excellent restaurants selling local food and excellent wine. In the summer months this route becomes very busy so I would advise that walkers start out early before the tourist hoards arrive.
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Author Carmine Sacco is a free lance writer and owner of the web site www.italiansapore.co.uk
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