Up in the Air in Courmayeur, Italy

Where Italy, France and Switzerland converge sits the fairy tale town of Courmayeur. At the top of Italy’s Aosta valley, high in the Alps, literally in the shadow of Europe’s highest peak, Mont Blanc, the town has become one of Europe’s premier alpine getaways. Whimsical slate roofed structures are set amid the amazing views of the Dente del Gigante (Giant‘s Teeth).

Somehow David convinced Veronica that going on the Funivie Monte Bianco, a cable car that terrifyingly drags you STRAIGHT UP Monte Blanc was a good… CONTINUE READING >>

Courmayeur, Italy

Where
Italy, France and Switzerland converge sits the fairy tale
town of Courmayeur. At the top of Italy’s Aosta valley,
high in the Alps, literally in the shadow of Europe’s
highest peak, Mont Blanc, the town has become one of Europe’s
premier alpine getaways. Whimsical slate roofed structures
are set amid the amazing views of the Dente del
Gigante (Giant‘s Teeth) and the sadly receding glaciers.

Hotel Dente del Gigante

One of these
remarkable stone roofed buildings is the Hotel Dente del Gigante where we were honored
to be the guests of Luciano and Alfreda Angelini.

Since 1947, the Angelini family have been the proprietors
of this beautiful inn at the base of the giant teeth near
Val Ferret. The weekend was dedicated to a celebration for
family and friends and we were thrilled to be a part of it.

Included in the
festivities was a ten course meal the lasted an incredible five
hours. Each course reflected the region’s unique flavors and
was paired with the perfect organic wine. We can’t imagine
when or where we could ever have a meal (event!) like that again.
In the Italian tradition, the food and conversation nourished body,
mind and soul. After dinner, we moved to the cozy lodge area where
the fabulous Paolo Bonfanti entertained us with his marvelous music.
A perfect finish to a perfect meal.

We took off
early the following morning to hike the Val Ferret. Strenuous
work was needed to burn off the massive amount of calories consumed
the evening before. The peace and beauty of the place is palatable,
just the two of us walking up a valley alongside glaciers, streams
and the snow covered peaks, layered one beyond the next.

Marmot

The
serenity was only broken by the screeching cry of the valley’s
famous marmots. Not ferrets as the valley’s name implies,
but marmots, a kind of high altitude wood chuck or whistle
pig.

Perhaps the locals
just didn’t think that Val Whistle Pig had quite the same ring.

After about
an hour of hiking up the trail from the parking area, we were
surprised to come upon a beautiful mountain lodge, the Rifugio
Elena. Unbelievably — in the middle of nowhere — there is a
beautiful and bustling refuge with lodging rooms and full service
restaurant. Though we vowed never to eat again after last night’s
dinner, we did have some nourishing soup, featuring the fabulous local
Fontina cheese.

Prè de Bar glacier

There
are many of these refuges throughout the area that are used
as safe havens from sudden storms or base camps for more
demanding excursions into the wilderness. From this refuge,
many folks go on to take the hour long
hike over the ridge into Switzerland.

When not gawking out the windows, we spent most of our
time at Rifugio Elena staring at the incredibly informative pictures
on the walls. The history is all there, the refuge was built shortly
after the First World War, destroyed by an avalanche it in 1960,
then rebuilt in 1995. There are photos documenting the retreat of
the Prè de Bar glacier just across the valley. We were fortunate
enough to get a first hand account of the glacier’s demise
from an elderly gentleman who has been visiting Val Ferret for over
sixty years.

For
an up close and bird’s eye view of these rivers of
ice, a ride on the Funivie Monte Bianco is unbeatable. Planning,
engineering and construction took decades and at the time of its
completion, in the mid-fifties, it was the highest cable car in
the world. Honestly, it doesn’t matter a wit that it isn’t
the highest anymore, it’s more than scary high enough! Whoever
created a higher one had to be out of their ever-lovin’ minds,
and Veronica can tell you right now, she will NOT have any part
of it!

Billed as
the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” (one of the best of
the hundreds to make this claim) this terrifying little aerial
tramway was the area’s only direct link into France until
the Mont Blanc tunnel was completed in 1965, after eight years
of digging. These mountain folks are of a hardy stock.

Veronica,
being a rational human being, has a natural fear of riding in
small boxes that dangle thousands of feet in the air from an inch
thick cable. David, on the other hand, was actually giggling with
anticipation. His maniacal grin taunted Veronica’s every
terrified step toward the unwieldy gondola while pointing out
“see, no wind at all, it‘ll be great,” knowing
that Veronica would go nowhere near it otherwise.

Funivie Monte Bianco Step 2

Once
in the car, the trip is basically STRAIGHT UP from Courmayeur
(4,015 ft) to Punta Heilbronner (11,355 ft) on the French
border. When she had her eyes open and was
properly managing the gorge rising in her throat, Veronica had to
admit it was one of the most spectacular sights she had ever seen.
At the top, the panorama includes many of the Alps’ most famous
peaks. These include the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa, as well as Mont
Blanc and the famed Giant’s Teeth — seen up close and personal.

Funivie Monte Bianco Step 3

At the top, while drinking a very civilized and nerve-calming glass
of wine, we had a chat with a group of crazy Scots, up there for
some frost bite-tempting camping and crevasse-dodging skiing. Knowing
that writer (and bad-ass mountain climber) Jon Krakauer (of Into
Thin Air fame) called the area “the death-sport capital of
the world,” we wished them the best of luck and smartly decided
that cable car travel was the least dangerous path back to the base
of the peak.

With this
in mind, the stomach churning ride down was actually quite pleasurable.

David & Veronica,
GypsyNester.com


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10 thoughts on “Up in the Air in Courmayeur, Italy”

  1. Veronica & David,

    We just got back from our trek through the French, Italian and Swiss Alps. No cable cars for us (unfortunately), just straight up for 3-4 hours, then straight down again (over and over). No way we could have properly trained for this excursion though we did hike at home as much as possible (living at close to sea level and only having 600-700 foot ascents). But we made it through 7 days of up and down and witnessed the MOST amazing scenery imaginable! We even stayed at Elena refuge; the next morning we continued up the mountain to (and beyond) the Grand Col Ferret on the Italian/Swiss border and on to La Fouly, eventually winding up back in the Chamonix Valley, from whence we began.
    Truly cannot believe we actually did a 7 day trek through the Alps at ages 53 and 61. My husband was the oldest on the trek; the youngest was a really sweet 7-year old from Belgium.
    Thanks so much for your insights before we left and please keep blogging…I really love your posts!

    Amy

    1. Amy
      That’s great! Wow! We SO wanted to go up further, but had obligations back in town. Sounds like we missed an amazing opportunity – stupid obligations. Glad you had such a wonderful time – keep on trekkin’! You guys ROCK!

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