Wednesday, February 27, 2013

An Alpine Adventure

By Supriya Savkoor
Vista from Courmayeur
One early September, about a decade ago, we’d headed to Italy to attend a wedding, flying first into Milan where my brother and sister in-law received us. They had a planned a little pre-wedding weekend excursion for us, since we had only ever visited Italy’s usual hotspots (Florence, Venice, and Rome). We had never heard of the little towns they’d told us we’d be visiting, nor had we done any research beforehand, nor had we discuss it much. A few beautiful places that they wanted us to see, and we were grateful for the pampering.
We rented a van and drove the 220 km (roughly 140 miles ) ride northwest at high speeds through lovely hilly territory, where every few hundred yards a castle was pointed out to us. At first, we ooh-ed and aah-ed at the mere thought of being within walking distance of a real-life Italian castle, but after about a dozen such sightings, we were amused and soon a tad disinterested (only a tad). (Except for the wedding we attended in a beautiful little church in a stunning castle near the famous sparkling wine-region of Asti. (Side note: It’s sparkling wine, not champagne, which is French. The Italians, we learned, and quite possibly the French, are very particular about that distinction.)
When we reached our first destination, Courmayeur, a little dot of a town in the Italian Alps, we were stunned. The breathtaking view outside the balcony of the little studio-condo where we stayed was, excuse the cliché, picture perfect. Like a Swiss postcard, only better. Vast expanses of rugged, snow-capped mountains and valleys that started within a millimeter of our balcony and went on forever. Clean, crisp air that we found ourselves breathing in like a sort of nectar along with an absolute stillness that only deepened our awe.

Santuario Notre Dame de la Guérison
in Courmayeur, Italy

 Our first day, we hiked around the quiet little village and took pleasure in the simplest of things: the many colorful flowering plants hanging from window boxes outside many windows. The cool, clean water flowing from spigots that we had to pump, in lieu of the boring old fountains we were accustomed to in the States. The winding narrow roads with the somewhat rustic but gorgeous edifices to one side and a steep drop plunging into the infinity of the Italian Alps on the other side. We drove around quiet, empty roads and byways, from the snowy white peaks to the lush green valleys where we stopped to marvel at a distant steeple atop an 11th century church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. We got a little lost but eventually found our isolated but elegant destination, a restaurant where I got my first taste of raclette, a sort of grilled cheese that to this day astounds me. It was my first introduction to a dish completely dedicated to only glorious, superb cheese, one of my very favorite foods. And with no other seasonings or accompaniments, not even bread, it was the perfect homage.
From there we were on our way, skirting the Swiss Alps, some 4,800 km (or 15,000 feet) high, atop the highest mountain in the Alps. The weather was sharp and crisp, the air a bit foggy and chilly considering the time of year. Soon, we crossed what has to be the most hospitable border into France by way of an 11 km (7 mile) tunnel beneath a mountain and leading us into the penultimate of picturesque towns—Chamonix, France. 
Jonathan M
Chamonix, France

There, we drank in the old world charms of cobblestone roads lined with wrought-iron lampposts and hanging flower pots; little canals situated between buildings, reminiscent of those camera-ready sights in Amsterdam; lovely boutiques full of pottery and all kind of tantalizing, one-of-a-kind trinkets; patisseries with chocolate fountains and buttery pastries; delicatessens with Italian meats and cheeses; shops dedicated to fondues (sigh); and an idyllic town square straight out of a fairy tale. All this against the backdrop of the most wondrous vistas that, little did we know at the time, are among the world’s oldest and most famous ski resorts. (Case in point: the first Winter Olympics were held in Chamonix back in 1924.)

From our Alpine weekend, we headed to Asti (the sparkling wine capital of Italy), not far from the tiny town (and large castle) where the wedding took place. And then on to Genoa, the beautiful port city in which Christopher Columbus was born. It was a most magical vacation, definitely kickstarted by our own sort of Alpine honeymoon that weekend in paradise.

Overview of Chamonix, France, nestled at the base of the Alps.

addedentry / Owen Massey
Gare de Chamonix


1 comment:

  1. How amazing that you did all that in a weekend. What a fantastic trip!