Thursday, 26 January 2012

Gran Paradiso - summit or tour it - knocks the socks of the Tour de Mont Blanc!!

Gran Paradiso, for the uninitiated, is the highest peak in Italy at 4061m and nestles in a splendid amphitheatre, in a stunning triangle of cross border peaks – including Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn. With 700 square kilometres to gambol in (and Italian food!), it really is a paradise on earth.
Previous visits to GP have been based around the very fine Hotel Genzianella at Pont in the Valsavarenche valley. When we were last there, the new owners were keen to up the ante in their traditional Alpine hotel with good home cooked food and a friendly atmosphere. Always enjoy that slightly frizzante white wine on tap too! They looked after us, with our varying levels of fitness, allowing us to enjoy the sun and the splendid views, to the max.
With guests whom are always a pleasure to welcome back, the creation of a long weekend in Italy this year was no arduous task at all. No summit attempt required but a good work out for a couple of days combined with some time dabbling in the snow.
Arrival day dawns hot and clear as we meet the famous four at the airport in Turin. An hour and a half later, under the only rain that we see all weekend, we finally arrive at the Hotel Belvedere in Gimilian, just outside Cogne. A “belvedere” indeed, towering above Cogne with a mega view over to Paradiso, but also a towering radio mast. Hey ho – such is modern life.
However do not hesitate to come here, but diet first, because the six course menu, is solid home-made mountain food, with one unifying ingredient - CHEESE……in all its forms and presentations, delicious, and the source of much hilarity amongst us all. We might have been too embarrassed to refuse much food but would have needed to have been climbing Everest to do justice to all the calories that were being enthusiastically passed our way.
The next day dawns dramatic grey and blue so we decide to have a non snow shoe warm up day – and one which is preceded by a scarey “Italian Job” zig zag road – and one, we discover after, we shouldn’t have been up in the first place. We have headed slightly south east from Cogne, to Lillaz and then up to Gollie. The walk is under typical Alpine weather – five minutes of spring sunshine, followed by some cold blasts and threats of snow and sleet.
We manage to have a calm lunch in the former, before heading off towards Loie lake where Tony, the keen bean photography course student, heads off in search of an old ibex which has, rather tantalisingly, just disappeared behind a bluff. The rest of us wait, donning all we have with us, in the cold, before our leader Mel also disappears into the gloom.
Fearing that end of the world scenario, or perhaps we have seen too many cheap horror films, we were very pleased to see our two Musketeers appear over the horizon, armed with some great shots of a whole pack of ibex – result!
A great intro day with all safely gathered in, a bit weary, after a stunning round of local beers in a more than stunning location looking up the Val Nontez valley – where a wedding is taking place in the hotel next door. There’s not too much in Cogne so have a wander round and look out for a modern bar, with a row of beer pumps on the left just as you go in – and a huge picture window at the rear. Gratis nibbles and pretty bar staff too if that is your fancy!
Ordered specially, day two dawns bright and clear and we drag our cholesterol ridden bodies out on the hill in search of snow; snowshoes clattering reassuringly on our backs. A beautiful but not the most exciting of schleps takes us up to the very friendly Bardze refuge where a cup of tea with plenty of sugar is very welcome, as well as some foraging for food instruction as we leave.
A clutch of lycra bedecked Italian mountain bikers have munched their way through a vast quantity of food and a litre of wine (of course) before mounting their steeds and pedalling off into the distance. There is a feeling of relief among our merry bunch in anticipation of the snow, so we get geared up and head off towards what seems like a very near col – with much deception involved as ever, as we hit false col after false col!! However we are rewarded with stunning views at the top, before the hardy among us head off to a Col at nearly 3000m to try to get a view of the must be seen triangular peak of Mont Viso, and the green valley of Camiglia below. And there she was!! Job done……
I shan’t mention the C word again but suffice to say after a goodly day and a slogging 1300m of ascent, the belly full was rather welcome, and the young ones put a spring in the step of their older companions, by being the first abed! The “youngs” however are much more used to tarmac than tufty terrain, so they did very well and were unfailingly cheerful about it.
In Aosta, after a bit of retail therapy for family and friends, we regret the demise of an interesting snack bar, due to refurbishment of the paved street, but enjoy a (slightly) less (than what we have become accustomed to) calorific lunch before heading back to Turin. The name is lost in the ether but succumb to the charms of an Italian man on the doorstep at the Western end of this major pedestrian thoroughfare, and you won’t be disappointed.
Sound interesting? Our next foray is for two weeks at the end of August, with New Zealanders who are well used to their own impressive Alps, doing a two week circuit around GP. Think we can hardly wait?? Correct!!! A snow shoeing trip – on the cards for later in the year!!
Instituto Geografico Centrale – Italian maps
Gran Paradiso National Park
Aosta Valley
Turin airport
Spacebetweeen – based in the Mercantour in France – also provide Gran Paradiso trips – summit and circuits
Hotel Genianella – Pont
Auberge Belvedere - Gimilian
Cogne Snow Forecast

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