Gran Paradiso or Bust!

Snow might just seem rather a distant memory to all of us at the moment…..

Despair not, there’s certainly no shortage of snow, and certainly not in Gran Paradiso.  Fortunately, at the moment, it is not the sort of snow that prevents you from being outdoors – as encountered no less than three times on “reccie” visits by your adventuring friends at Spacebetween.  Undaunted, your Celtic adventurers completed a successful summer summit of Gran Paradiso in the summer of 2010, and were recently back for more.

Gran Paradiso, for the uninitiated, is the highest peak in Italy at 4,061 metres and nestled in a splendid amphitheatre.  It’s in a stunning triangle of cross border peaks – including Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn.  With 700 square kilometres to gambol in (Italian for 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.  We 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.  There was no summit attempt required, but a good workout 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.

However, do not hesitate to come here, but go on a diet first because the six course menu is solid homemade mountain food.  It all has one unifying ingredient: Cheese.  The Belvedere presents 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 so much food, but needed to have climbed Mt. Everest to burn all the calories that were being enthusiastically passed our way.

The next day dawns dramatic grey and blue skies, so we decide to have a non snowshoe warm-up day – and one which is preceded by a scary “Italian Job” zig zag road.  We head slightly southeast 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 that has tantalizingly just disappeared behind a bluff.  The rest of us wait, donning all we have with us, in the cold…and 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.  They were armed with some great shots of a whole pack of Ibex.

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 we have a wander around and look out for a modern bar.  We find a bar with a row of beer pumps on the left just as you go in – and a huge picture window at the rear.

Day two dawns bright and clear as 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.

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 pedaling 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.  However, we are rewarded with stunning views at the top.  The hardy among us heads-off to a col at nearly 3,000 metres to try to get a view of the must-see triangular peak of Mont Viso, and the green valley of Camiglia below.

Suffice it to say, after a good day and a 1,300 metre ascent, a full belly was rather welcome.  The young ones put a spring in the step of their older companions.

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 we enjoy a (slightly) less (than what we have become accustomed to) calorific lunch before heading back to Turin.

Sound interesting?  Our next foray is for two weeks at the end of August, with New Zealanders who are used to their own impressive Alps.  We plan to do a two-week circuit around GP.  Think we can hardly wait?  Correct!  This is a snowshoeing trip in the cards for later in the year.

More Information

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

Images courtesy of Spacebetween walking and adventure holidays and Tony Green.

About the author

Liz Lord

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