A gassy refill
It was gas that forced us away from Cervinia.
The LPG that we use to fuel our fridge, hot water and heating was on the verge of running out. We already knew where we would head for a refill. There is a Valpetroli garage in Aosta that is easy to access and we have used before. In fact we drove past several garages in Aosta that sell LPG, including one specialist LPG only garage. That makes a change from the UK where LPG is definitely getting more scarce.
We filled up with LPG and then I asked Paul to drive us to Lidl for a top up of Italian Lambrusco. I think I’ve extolled the virtues of the ‘real thing’ before. Slightly sparkling and red and not too alcoholic, it ticks all the boxes for me and I wanted a few bottles to take back to the UK. LIDL was not a great choice though, the parking was cramped and with typical Italian disregard for the rules people were parked all over the place. At one point we felt like we were going to keep driving round the tiny carpark in circles. Luckily though someone did finally let us out. Note to self to avoid driving there again. If I had remembered I would have gone back to where we parked for the gondola to Pila where there was plenty of parking and the biggest supermarket I’d seen in some time. Oh well. Hindsight and all of that.
After a stop off at Chatillon it was back up the valley towards Cervinia again. This time we decided to stop en-route to check out Antey-Saint-Andre at the lower end of the valley. There was a motorhome parking area here in one of the car parks, next to a restaurant and across the river from an adventure park. After the crowds of the Easter break it seemed unnaturally quiet. The local store was shut up for the season, waiting for summer visitors, and unusually for Italy we couldn’t find anywhere selling bread. It shows how few people live here year round. Our exploration of the village did reveal the new Speed Queen self service launderette, a useful addition to our laundry options.
We walked up the river from here to investigate the cable car to Chamois. There are footpaths up both sides of the river, through the hamlets that make up the Antey-Saint-Andre commune. We followed a heron up the west side of the river, disturbing it’s peaceful contemplation and sending it flapping further up river each time. Spring flowers were starting to make themselves known with splashes of colour, but mixed in was the Japanese Knotweed we’d noticed in the Aosta valley.
Chamois is a village in the Aosta valley that cannot be reached on ‘normal’ roads. There are some dirt tracks from other villages, and there is a tarmac road around the village, but the main way to gain access is to take a cable car. Chamois also shares it’s name with the goat type animal that inhabits the mountains. We have spied them from afar on the sides of rugged cliffs but were hoping for some more close up encounters.
We wanted to find out whether we could park in the massive car park next to the gondola station while we made a day trip up for a snowshoe. There are loads of ‘No camper’ signs up in the car park and when I asked at the ticket office it was absolutely unequivocal. NO campers. There is a campsite right next door, so I can understand why overnighting is prohibited, but the daytime restriction seems a bit excessive. However we had got the message, either we stay in the campsite or we walk from somewhere else.
On a more positive note we also found out the times of the Chamois gondola (every half an hour from early til late, this is the main transport to a village so they really do run all day) and the price (€5.50 each for a return ticket in low season).
We had enough information to plan for the following day.
A Snowshoe in Chamois
The next morning we were up bright and early making a packed lunch, flasks and cold drinks. We weren’t sure what would be open in Chamois but most of these villages get quite quiet after the end of their ski season and before the summer tourists arrive.
We strapped our snowshoes to our rucksacks, feeling a little weird doing so in the warm sunshine of the valley, and meandered up the riverside path. This time the heron was nowhere to be seen. It had probably decided to find a quieter spot on the river.
We were the only people waiting for the gondola when we arrived and bought our tickets. A few minutes before it was due to leave the lady operating the lift got in with us. As we ascended she pointed out hikers walking a zig zag trail up the steep sides of the valley next to a waterfall (note to return and do that hike sometime). Then we crested the cliffs and the cableway crossed gentle grassy slopes where the operator pointed out a herd of Chamois grazing. Great, I thought, there are loads of Chamois here and I’ll be able to get some photos. Needless to say that was our only sighting of Chamois all day.
We had planned a 12km snowshoe walk through the hills around the mountain pastures of Chamois. As the villages is at 1815m and the walk was going above 2300 meters we were expecting snow but the meadows of Chamois were green and grassy and we started up the path wondering if we were going to end up carrying our snowshoes all the way.
We needn’t have worried. The path started off along the Torrente Chamois and where it took us into the edge of woodland the air was cool and there was compacted snow and ice on the path. More suitable for microspikes than snowshoes but a good sign of snow ahead. To our left we could see the ski lifts of Chamois, now static and waiting for summer season,
The path climbed steadily and we left behind the woodland where the path split. There was more snow now, slushy and uncomfortable to walk on. We took the southerly branch of the path and at a group of buildings decided it was time to put our snowshoes on. While we were sat down on a rock we heard a distinct whistle; the sound of a marmot. These large rodents hibernate in the winter and start to emerge in the spring. We scanned the patches of brown grass and spied a family of marmots playing around the rocks almost perfectly camouflaged.
We climbed gentle slopes across increasingly snowy slopes towards the Col Champlong, the highest part of the walk. All the time spotting more marmots emerging from their burrows, easier to see against the bright white snow.
From here we started our descent. In theory we were passing by lakes but they were still obscured by snow, only evident because they were flatter than the surrounding terrain. On this part of the walk there were a lot more footprints, but we didn’t spot any people yet. Below the treeline we found a playground along with a massive red bench at the Col Pilaz and a viewpoint over the village of La Magdeleine. We were getting back to civilisation and also leaving the snow behind.
The final part of the walk took us back through the edge of woodland to the village of Chamois. We sat at the edge of the path with our binoculars waiting quietly to try to spot some Chamois, but no luck. Maybe because it was a bit busier here with families walking the path. When we got back to Chamois there were enough people sitting outside the one open café to make it feel a little more lively. Workmen shared our ride down in the cable car along with their toolboxes, it’s a busy time of year for building trades while the resorts are mostly closed.
By the time we had walked back down to the motorhome we had walked nearly 19km, a good walk especially with the snowshoeing, which takes a lot more effort. We were ready for our dinner and a good restful sleep in our peaceful parking spot.