DRINK IN THE VIEW

GET YOUR FILL OF SNOW-CAPPED MOUN­TAINS AND ALPINE SCENERY EX­PLOR­ING THE AOSTA VAL­LEY IN THE WESTERN ALPS

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Gold Coast Eye - - HOROSCOPES - WORDS: NEL STAVE­LEY

I’m stand­ing in the mid­dle of scenery so stag­ger­ingly beau­ti­ful, they should prob­a­bly reshoot the open­ing scenes of The Sound of Mu­sic here. Pic­ture-per­fect pine forests, dis­tant snow­capped moun­tains, even a gen­tle stream tin­kling along in the back­ground for good mea­sure.

And yet, for all na­ture’s mag­nif­i­cence in the Aosta Val­ley, in the Western Alps, there is only one thought in my head: “I re­ally, re­ally want another hot cho­co­late”.

I know it’s wrong; be­ing priv­i­leged enough to see this sort of view but barely ac­knowl­edg­ing it be­cause I’m ob­sess­ing over hot cho­co­late. And yes, of course, part of me is ashamed. But the other part doesn’t care. An hour ear­lier, in the equally quaint and “made-for-a-post­card” Ital­ian alpine vil­lage of Gres­soney-La-Tri­nite, we’d stopped off for an en­er­gis­ing snack to fire us up for our two-day hike, and that snack was the most de­lec­ta­ble hot cho­co­late you could ever imag­ine. Thick, trea­cle-like gloop – a fon­dant in a mug, ba­si­cally – topped with cream and served with a cho­co­late on the side. And now, it’s all I can think about. “Sorry, no more un­til we get back to­mor­row,” shrugs our guide, strik­ing off along the alarm­ingly steep foot­path. “But it doesn’t mat­ter.”

At first, I’m slightly put out by this last com­ment. But over the rest of the day, his mean­ing be­comes clear.

In re­al­ity at ev­ery cor­ner, ev­ery path, ev­ery time you peer over a peak, it’s there: green, lush, tree-lined, meadow-dot­ted, flower-dusted Alpine per­fec­tion.

Even the grey rocks, ran­domly scat­tered from var­i­ous win­ter avalanches and now stand­ing stark and de­fi­ant against thick beds of grass and trees, have their own splen­dour.

The guide’s com­ment also soon rings true in another way. “It doesn’t mat­ter” that I won’t be hav­ing another hot cho­co­late to­day, be­cause far greater culi­nary plea­sures are in store.

Af­ter seven hours of walk­ing, we ar­rive at our ac­com­mo­da­tion, Chalet Ho­tel Bre­i­thorn, where we’re served a din­ner that gives me a new ob­ses­sion. A Walser ver­sion of mac­a­roni cheese – made with lo­cal cheese and bits of salami – is the best I’ve ever tasted. It’s not your tra­di­tional Ital­ian fare, but then this bot­tom cor­ner of the Alps isn’t your tra­di­tional Italy.

Pop­u­lated by the Ger­man Walser peo­ple, flee­ing re­li­gious per­se­cu­tion in the 12th and 13th cen­tury, ev­ery­thing from the ar­chi­tec­ture, to the lan­guage (Walserdeutsch, a di­alect that sounds sim­i­lar to Flem­ish but is res­o­lutely Ger­man) and the food (hearty, carb-fu­elled dishes) is in­flu­enced by a cer­tain Teu­tonic nu­ance.

This solid, Ger­man ef­fi­ciency and re­fined Ital­ian beauty isn’t a blend you see very much, but it works. Even our moun­tain guide some­how com­bines the two: bluntly ig­nor­ing my pleas for hot cho­co­late, in­sist­ing on a steady walk­ing pace, de­liv­er­ing us to our hut at ex­actly the time he said he would (that’s the Ger­man bit), yet still find­ing the time to stop at all the pretty wild­flow­ers and tell us (in zeal­ous and flam­boy­ant de­tail) their names and blos­som­ing pat­tern, while ex­trav­a­gantly wav­ing his arms and pas­sion­ately urg­ing us to “stop and take in that view” (the Ital­ian bit).

On day two of our hike, to his de­light, we do make a few more of these stops as we wend (mer­ci­fully) down the val­ley and back to Gres­soney. Quads and glutes now aching, our pace be­comes no­tice­ably less ur­gent than the day be­fore. The fact the sun is blaz­ing also slows us down. It’s easy to for­get just how hot the Alps can be in sum­mer, as in the win­ter, this area, known as Mon­terosa, is a pop­u­lar ski des­ti­na­tion.

We cool off by fill­ing our wa­ter bot­tles in moun­tain streams, then pre­pare to in­dulge in yet another guilty plea­sure – wine tast­ing.

We find a small bar in Gres­soney-La-Tri­nite, of­fer­ing in­cred­i­ble food (all served to fine din­ing stan­dards) and fan­tas­tic wine. There’s even a spe­cial wine-tast­ing course thrown in and, un­less you’ve ac­tu­ally been to this mod­est cor­ner of the Ital­ian Alps, I can hon­estly say it’s like no wine you’ve ever tasted.

“It’s be­cause we don’t ex­port any of this,” our “master taster” ex­plains – not even out of the Aosta Val­ley. “You can only buy or taste most of these vin­tages here, in the lo­cal vicin­ity.”

It’s a mys­tery why they’re not send­ing this wine out to the wider world. Per­haps it’s fairly ob­vi­ous; they rightly want it all to them­selves.

Thank­fully, they’re a lit­tle less strict on the amount of lo­cal salami and cheeses you can take away and I pack my suit­case with pun­gent del­i­ca­cies. To be hon­est, our mere two-day hike, how­ever steep the gra­di­ent on the first day, doesn’t re­ally jus­tify all this wine, cheese and meat. The Aosta Val­ley fea­tures some of the great­est treks in the Alps, in­clud­ing the 10-day, omi­nously named Trail of Giants. Per­haps if we’d at­tempted some of those, we’d have re­ally de­served the end­less treats we keep indulging in.

But then again, not ev­ery­thing has to be a trade-off. You can have a bit of Ger­man in­flu­ence and a bit of Ital­ian in­flu­ence.

You can have dis­tant snow and blis­ter­ing sun­shine. You can have a small, rus­tic moun­tain hut and still en­joy fine din­ing. And you can think of hot cho­co­late and cheese 50 per cent of your time, yet still know you’re some­where so mag­i­cal, it’ll 100 per cent seep into your soul.

“... YOU CAN THINK OF HOT CHO­CO­LATE AND CHEESE 50 PER CENT OF YOUR TIME, YET STILL KNOW YOU’RE SOME­WHERE SO MAG­I­CAL...”

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