Where Italy, France and Switzerland converge sits the fairy tale
town of Courmayeur. At the top of Italys Aosta valley,
high in the Alps, literally in the shadow of Europes
highest peak, Mont Blanc, the town has become one of Europes
premier alpine getaways. Whimsical slate roofed structures
are set amid the amazing views of the Dente del
Gigante (Giants Teeth) and the sadly receding glaciers.
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 regions unique flavors and
was paired with the perfect organic wine. We cant 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.
The serenity was only broken by the screeching cry of the valleys
famous marmots. Not ferrets as the valleys name implies,
but marmots, a kind of high altitude wood chuck or whistle
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 nights
dinner, we did have some nourishing soup, featuring the fabulous local
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 glaciers demise
from an elderly gentleman who has been visiting Val Ferret for over
For an up close and birds 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 doesnt matter a wit that it isnt
the highest anymore, its 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
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 areas 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 Veronicas every
terrified step toward the unwieldy gondola while pointing out
see, no wind at all, itll be great, knowing that Veronica would go nowhere near it otherwise.
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 Giants Teeth — seen up close and personal.
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,