Herefordshire Week 197: Tuesday 03 – Monday 09 October 2023

(A bit late with this one too – still playing catch up!)

A few more days in Northern Italy, then back to Herefordshire for TLC and two walks.

Last breakfast at Pastarell, Turin
Last breakfast at Pastarell, Turin

The start of “Herefordshire Week 197” was spent in Northern Italy and on the journey back home. You can read my write up here Northern Italy – Turin, Ivrea & Nomaglio: Photos & Notes, and Phil’s here Turin, Ivrea and Nomaglio.

Here are the main events from Week 197:

After a late start, our Tuesday in Turin on provided two highlights – Pastarell’s (twice) and Pandas! On the food front, we had a smashing veggie lunch from Mezzaluna, gelato from Gelateria La Romana on Santa Theresa and our second dinner at le vitel étonné.

Wednesday was split between Turin and London Gatwick. A last breakfast at Pastarell’s, a visit to the iconic Mole Antonelliana and the Museo Nazionale del Cinema (National Museum of Cinema), a second lunch at Mezzaluna, our first Bicerin to while away our final hour in Torino … and then I counted 234 Pandas between the bus stop and the airport. TWO HUNDRED AND THIRTY FOUR!

Good flight to London Gatwick which supplied M&S dinner and Premier Inn overnight to avoid the stress of trying to get to Hazel’s on a train and tube strike day.

Thursday saw us complete the rest of the journey back to Herefordshire by train, tube and Panda: London Gatwick – Farringdon – London Paddington – Newport – Abergavenny – Home.

Then over to Winchester to check up on a poorly dad and a stressed Jean.

On Friday it was back to the Dragons Back and Waun Fach with Sonia, getting in some ascents ahead of our Nepal trek. It was foggy, wet and windy on the tops. Sunny down in Crickhowell, where Latte Da still do excellent tea and cake!

Dragons Back and Waun Fach Circular: Sunshine over Crickhowell
Dragons Back and Waun Fach Circular: Sunshine over Crickhowell
Strava Map & Stats: Dragons Back and Waun Fach Circular
Strava Map & Stats: Dragons Back and Waun Fach Circular

Distance: 7½ miles
Elevation Gain: 2,141 ft
Moving time: 3h 22 mins
Elapsed Time 3h 45 mins

I drove home via Abergavenny Waitrose. Lots of bargains – and an orange Panda!!

Caught up with Jean again in the evening.

Sunny Saturday was spent in the garden. I weedkillered the drive, then got going on the mowing. Honda mowed the edges and tricky spots – harder given that the “power” wasn’t kicking in and the spark plug occasionally came loose (meaning the mower wouldn’t start / run) – then did the main mow everywhere except the Solarium, and all on a No 2 (short) setting. I reckon I collected 15 full loads of grass.

First two loads of grass distributed at Mower Turn
First two loads of grass distributed at Mower Turn

I also looked for the source of the apples on the upper path to mower turn, and it is the “I thought it was dead” apple tree by the bonfire. There are still apples on the branches that have grown away from the quarry.

In between there was a phone call with Steffi about our upcoming Pembs weekend and Nepal trek.

Still sunny on Sunday – but decidedly cool first thing, well it is October – perfect for the Jo’s GVWC circular walk from Garway Hill. And an extra bit at the start, walking from Bagwyllydiart to Garway Hill Car Park.

Strava Map: GVWC Garway Hill Circular: Route and Stats
Strava Map: GVWC Garway Hill Circular: Route and Stats

Distance: 8.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,620 ft
Moving time: 3h 06 mins
Elapsed Time 4h 11 mins

Gorgeous day, beautiful walking, lots of chat, medical rehydration at The Kilpeck Inn – plus a pick up from Phil-le-taxi.

GVWC: Garway Hill Circular: Morning Mist, looking south from Garway Hill
GVWC: Garway Hill Circular: Morning Mist, looking south from Garway Hill

And Val called me en route with more Nepal updates!

Back at base, collected apples.

I spent Monday with dad and Jean, including a trip into Hereford with dad in the morning and TLC throughout. Exhausting! But good outcomes, in the end.

On the bird feeders, the woodpeckers are back and I’ve seen robins too. The nuthatch(es) have grown more confident and the blue tits and great tits are as noisy as ever. Chaffinches galore and some sparrows. We returned from holiday to find a lot of small fluffy feathers scattered all over the patio…. and a large smudge on one of the conservatory windows. I wonder what it was? And what ate it?

There are still a bunch of big butterflies flying around (Red Admirals), and some shortlived fungi sprouted on the willow tree stump, wilted the next day.

Louie’s Salvia is thriving. Can’t say the same about some of the smaller goldfish…. Sounds like it might be oxygen starvation. Time to scoop out some of the goo….

Salvia Hot Lips - thriving!
Salvia Hot Lips – thriving!

And still So Many Apples!

TV: Sex Education (finished season 4), Ghosts, (started series 5 – the last one. Sniff),  Fleabag (series 1 – late to it I know).

Podcasts: The Forum, History Extra, In Our Time.

Photos: Herefordshire week 197 on Flickr.

Phil: F/E 2023-10-08.

Herefordshire Week 196: Tuesday 26 September – Monday 02 October 2023

(A bit late with this one. Playing catch up!)

Off to Italy for a wonderful wedding!

Signing the Register
Signing the Register

I devoted most of Tuesday to flickring and writing up Into the Pyrenees with Alfonso & Manu: Photos & Notes – I’ve got us through the Carros de Foc and to Vielha, so that leaves las Golondrinas for when I get back from Italy.

Phil and I also packed for our week away, getting all the essentials into the cabin bag sized suitcase we’re putting into the hold. Hopefully.

The rest of “Herefordshire Week 196” was spent in Northern Italy. You can read my write up here Northern Italy – Turin, Ivrea & Nomaglio: Photos & Notes, and Phil’s here Turin, Ivrea and Nomaglio.

You will find that I got very excited by ALL THE FIAT PANDAS.


Here are the (other) highlights:

Wednesday was Travelling To Turin day: drove to Abergavenny – TfW train to Newport – GWR train to London Paddington – Elizabeth Line to Farringdon – ThamesLink to London Gatwick Airport – EasyJet to Turin Airport – Arriva bus to Torino Porta Susa – 5 min walk to Hotel Torino Porta Susa. Dinner at DaZero pizzeria.

After our first breakfast at Pastarell we spent Thursday strolling and sightseeing in Turin: arcaded streets and spacious squares, the Museo Egizio (the Egyptian Museum), veggie lunch at l’articiocc, shaded gardens, (our first) dinner at le vitel étonné.

Friday took us from Turin to Ivrea to Nomaglio, ready for M&K’s weekend wedding where we met lots of lovely people. We pottered around Turin Centro, lunched at L’Orto Bistrò, got the (packed) train to Ivrea, caught our lift to Nomaglio. Dined and slept at Trattoria ‘l Burnel.

Saturday was the wedding day. Just Magical.

Post Wedding Party: Dancing
Post Wedding Party: Dancing

Sociable Sunday morning in Nomaglio then back to Ivrea, staying at Dora Maison De Charme. Explored the old town. Had my first gelato of the trip. Bruschetta and pizza (and red wine) at Pizzeria Sale E Pepe for dinner.

Monday was spent mostly in Ivrea – exploring “Ivrea, industrial city of the XX century” – the industrial and residential architecture commissioned by the Olivetti family for their factories and workers in Ivrea – in the morning and the old town in the afternoon, finishing up with another gelato before catching the train back to Turin and the Hotel Torino Porta Susa. Dinner at the oh-so-slow Selezione Naturale.

It was hot and sunny the whole time. We did a lot of walking. It was a fab week away…. read about the rest in Herefordshire Week 197!

TV: Sensationalists: The Bad Girls and Boys of British Art (parts 2 & 3), Sex Education (started season 4).

Podcasts: History Extra, The Forum, In Our Time.

Photos: Herefordshire week 196 on Flickr.

Phil: F/E 2023-10-08.

Northern Italy – Turin, Ivrea & Nomaglio: Photos & Notes

Phil and I have had A Holiday Abroad Together. And it was brilliant. The main attraction was the long-awaited, COVID-postponed wedding of two of his friends, in a small village north of Turin, in the Aosta valley.

We flew to Turin, spent a couple of days there, caught the train to Ivrea and a lift to Nomaglio for the weekend’s celebrations, returned to Ivrea for a day or so and then had a final couple of days back in Turin.


The wedding was magical; Turin is a lovely city to stroll around with plenty of sights and museums to visit, and restaurants and cafes to relax and eat in; and Ivrea is a fascinating mix of old mediaeval fortress town and Olivetti’s 20th century model industrial city complete with modernist architect designed factories and offices, houses and flats, nursery and canteen, social services and R&D centres.

Phil did all the planning. Top marks.

A hot and sunny week. We lived in shorts and T-shirts (except for the wedding day, of course!), ate al fresco at pavement cafes and streetside restaurants, strolled, sightsee-d and relaxed.

BBC Weather forecast for Turin - scorchio!
BBC Weather forecast for Turin – scorchio!
We've done a lot of walking during our week in Italy
We’ve done a lot of walking during our week in Italy

But possibly the highlight of the entire trip was the proliferation of Fiat Pandas everywhere in Piedmont. Panda PANDAMONIUM! It was the gift that kept on giving.

Panda PANDAMONIUM! Montage
Panda PANDAMONIUM! Montage

Photos are in my Italy, September / October 2023 Flickr album, and here is my write up of our week in Northern Italy.

Phil’s “What I did on my holidays” write up is Turin, Ivrea and Nomaglio (and the trip also features in his F/E 2023-10-08) and his Flickr photo album is Turin, Nomaglio, Ivrea, 2023.

Wednesday 27 September 2023: Home – Abergavenny – Newport – London Paddington – London Gatwick – Turin (Photos)

Wednesday was Travelling To Turin day: drove to Abergavenny – TfW train to Newport – GWR train to London Paddington – Elizabeth Line to Farringdon – ThamesLink to London Gatwick Airport – EasyJet to Turin Airport – Arriva bus to Torino Porta Susa – 5 min walk to Hotel Torino Porta Susa.

Even though I’d swear blind I put a mask on my bag, it definitely wasn’t there when I sought it out on Abergavenny station platform, so I took my chances on the trains and then bought some more masks at Paddington. LGW has had to cancel flights to due to air traffic control staff shortages caused by COVID, so I wasn’t taking any chances.

Email admin kept me occupied on the train, including lining up KMC catch ups for Oct and Dec – hello ladies!!

Excellent flight with EasyJet, and gorgeous evening light as we flew over the Alps. Phil got a better photo than I did – the benefits of being the one who’d paid for the joint hold luggage. On the ground we were swiftly through passport control, collected our wheely suitcase (yes, a suitcase – not a rucksack!) and easily spotted the Arriva Bus desk where we bought our return Airport-Porta Susa bus tickets from a super helpful young woman.

It was almost 9pm by the time we’d checked in at the hotel and put our stuff into our spacious room. Planner Phil navigated us along Turin’s cobbled streets to DaZero pizzeria – a busy place, a good sign. We feasted al fresco on freshly made, wood fired, sourdough pizza. And relaxed with a beer.

Beer and Pizza at DaZero
Beer and Pizza at DaZero

Back to base via Carrefour Market for water, and chocolate….

Thursday 28 September 2023: Turin (Photos)

We spent Thursday sightseeing in Turin: breakfast al fresco at Pastarell  (heavenly pastries), then on along arcaded streets to the Museo Egizio (the Egyptian Museum) where we spent the rest of the morning.

Breakfast al caffe
Breakfast al caffe

After a large veggie lunch at l’articiocc just off the Piazza Castello, and the first of two failed attempts to visit the Museo Nazionale del Risorgimento Italiano we adjourned to the gardens to digest and watch the world go by.

Back to the hotel for a rest and refresh – and some Panda spotting en route – then back into town for early dinner at le vitel étonné – the “poshest” place we ate at, but very relaxed, plenty of veggie options and good wine recommendations.

Dinner at le vitel étonné
Dinner at le vitel étonné

And, as we sat with our wine and grissini, a trio of Pandas circled the block – a Panda Parade!

Friday 29 September 2023: Turin – Ivrea – Nomaglio (Photos)

Woke up a bit groggy and with a headache. A paracetamol and breakfast back at Il Pastarell sorted that out. We went for straight caffè (and, yes, it turns out you do get more in a caffè lungo) and cornetti albicocca – apricot jam croissants (oooooozing jam, too much really).

I counted Forty Fiat Pandas – and that was just in the hour we were out having breakfast, buying train tickets (easy, using the ticket machines. There’s a language option and the step by step process Just Works) and wine and water from Carrefour.

Back in our room we sorted our luggage, cramming in the gifts. Checked out of the super Hotel Torino Porta Susa – it’s not fancy but it does the basics really well, and the location is great – leaving our bags there and heading out back into Turin Centro.

A bookshop, a coffee at Bar Francia, a mooch around Muji then back towards the hotel along a new route, the pedestrianised Via Garibaldi before stopping for a leisurely lunch at another of Phil’s veggie finds, L’Orto Bistrò, sitting outside in the cool, watching the world go by.

Veggie lunch, Turin
Veggie lunch, Turin

And it turned out to be closer to the hotel than I realised so we were at Torino Porta Susa station by 1pm, and sat on platform 2 ready for the 13.34 RV 2729 to Aosta.

Torino - Porta Susa train station
Torino – Porta Susa train station

The train was packed – standing room only for the hour journey to Ivrea. An easy rendezvous with fellow wedding guests M&C, parking close to the station and going for a lovely late lunch / coffee and cake at Monastero cafe where we chatted with the owners’ daughter, bilingual courtesy of a life lived in Ivrea and Kent. Plenty of veggie options.

Then the drive through very, very windy and narrow stone wall lined lanes to Nomaglio, a gorgeous village of old stone houses and cobbled streets. M navigated us to M&K’s where we found a lot of folks gathered catching up over coffee, water, tea, wine…. sitting out on the shaded top floor balcony enjoying stunning views out over the village and the valley.


In due course we found out we were staying at the trattoria where we all also went for a chestnut themed dinner. Our booking for “between 10 and 17” turned into a long table of over 20, but the lovely family who run Trattoria ‘l Burnel were not phased in the slightest.

The cobbled street from 'l Burnel to the Chapel

Saturday 30 September 2023: Nomaglio (Photos)

Nomaglio has two sets of church bells, and they strike the hour and half hour few minutes apart. A lovely way to wake up, with our fab views out over the village and valley across to the high wooded hills on the far side of the valley.

Good morning from Nomaglio
Good morning from Nomaglio

Leisurely breakfast at the trattoria, a stroll around the village for half an hour or so then over to M&K’s to help prepare for the wedding party.

A magical day. M arriving in all his finery, a wonderful wedding in the village chapel, presided over by the lady Mayor, once we’d insisted that Hussar K come and get married (it’s a tradition), and the village brass band of 4 had serenaded her down the cobbled street and into the chapel….

Signing the Register
Signing the Register

A lovely afternoon back at M&K’s of prosecco and nibbles, toasts and chat, laughter and dancing, then we followed the band back to the trattoria for dinner on tables that had been set up on the cobbled street. A barrel of wine (one half) and beer (the other half) served as a self service bar.

Post Wedding Party: Dancing
Post Wedding Party: Dancing

I’d faded by the end of dinner and wimped out of the dancing at the village hall, which went in until 2am….

Sunday 01 October 2023: Nomaglio – Ivrea (Photos)

Breakfast, then over to M&K’s. Caught up on all the dance party stories until it was time to stroll across to the neighbours for coffee, cakes, wine and nibbles. Amazing hospitality.

Joined the walk down the cobbled mule track that descends into the valley, but turned around before getting right down to bottom so as to be back in time for our lift to Ivrea.

Handily the hosts at Dora Maison De Charme have a keypad / code door and we were able to get into our lovely room – LaUno iPesci – not long after 3pm. Showered off the sweat that had been generated by the valley descent and ascent, had a mug of tea, then left P to relax while I went to explore.

River Dora Baltea and the old bridge from the new bridge, Ivrea
River Dora Baltea and the old bridge from the new bridge, Ivrea

Having failed to find the Roman Amphitheatre, I did find this cool building:

Ivrea: not one of the Olivetti buildings. Very Jetsons!
Ivrea: not one of the Olivetti buildings. Very Jetsons!

Back in the old historic centre of Ivrea, Rosso Gelato served up a delicious cornet of dark choc ice cream and lemon sorbet for 3 euros that made my exploration all the more enjoyable.

Strolled back via the castle and the cathedral and a side street shopfront with old Olivetti posters. Ivrea old town is great for pottering around in.

Come 7pm we headed out for dinner, strolling up the road to the Porta Aosta where we feasted on bruschetta and pizza at Pizzeria Sale E Pepe. Lovely family running the place; we were made to feel very welcome.

Back at base, Phil logged into Netflix and we watched the first episode of Sex Education season 4. Smashing!

Didn’t sleep so well, even once Phil turned the aircon back in. Too much red wine …..

Monday 02 October 2023: Ivrea – Turin (Photos)

After a fresh fruit and cake themed breakfast at the Dora we headed out to explore “Ivrea, industrial city of the XX century” – a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2018 – following the not-so-great MAM map and signage to visit the various buildings commissioned by successive members of the Olivetti family for their business and its employees during the 20th century.

Olivetti: Centro dei Servizi Sociali, Ivrea
Olivetti: Centro dei Servizi Sociali, Ivrea
Olivetti: Centrale Termica, 1956-1959, Ivrea
Olivetti: Centrale Termica, 1956-1959, Ivrea

A fab way to spend the morning. I loved it.

Some handy websites:

I had my first taste of a Chinò at the Borgo Nuovo Cafe in Banchette and, a little later, Phil tucked into a burger lunch at Ocio just up from the station. Then it was back into the old city and up to the Castle, the red rooftop views, into the Cathedral where, following Michael’s instructions, we checked out the reliquary displaying the skull and bones of Tadhg Mac Cárthaigh, an Irish priest who died in Ivrea in 1492 on his walk back from Rome, and the 10th – 12th century crypt.

Red rooftops, Ivrea
Red rooftops, Ivrea

After ice creams in the square from Rosso – mango and dark choc this time …

Gelato Rossi, Ivrea
Gelato Rossi, Ivrea

– we decided we skip an extra hour in Ivrea, lovely though it is, and to get the next train back to Turin. So we collected our luggage from the Dora (and uploaded photos over their super fast wifi), trundled over the old bridge and down to the station.

Ivrea to Torino by train
Ivrea to Torino by train

Thankfully the train was nowhere near as busy as on the journey up and back in Turin we checked back into the Hotel Torino Porta Susa, settled into our new room and relaxed until it was time to go out for dinner at Selezione Naturale which lived up to the reviews regarding the slowest service ever ….

Tuesday 03 October 2023: Turin (Photos)

After a late start, our whole day in Turin provided two highlights – Pastarell’s (twice) and Pandas! Plus a smashing veggie lunch from Mezzaluna.

Turin today - Pastarell's (twice) and Pandas!
Turin today – Pastarell’s (twice) and Pandas!

We also:

  • Found the bus stop for tomorrow’s return to the airport
  • Visited GAM (Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea). Done in an hour. Underwhelming but the again I’m no artist.
  • Decided to book Premier Inn Gatwick North (train strikes + tube strikes = stress)
  • Bought a bag from the market (me)
  • Failed to get into Il Museo Nazionale del Risorgimento Italiano for the second time. It was shut as was the main square, with a heavy police presence. We later found out it was due to strident protests against Georgia Meloni who’d been visiting. We were oblivious.
  • Read in the Park (Giardini Reali di Torino, at least the bit we could find our way into)

.. and went on a Gelato quest – Mara dei Boschi seemed too keen on its laboratory credentials, Gelateria Pepino looked closed but turned out to be just starting to open upso we waited on one of the benches in the shaded square by the Egyptian Museum. Time enough for Phil to review the reviews and decide we’d try elsewhere. 5 mins later we were deciding on flavours at Gelateria La Romana on Santa Theresa… WINNER!

In the evening we returned to le vitel étonné for our final dinner in Turin, and one of the few meals eaten inside (because they were fully booked outside).

Dinner: Alpine Cheeses
Dinner: Alpine Cheeses

The stroll there and back provided plenty of Pandas to photograph …

Wednesday 04 October 2023: Turin – London Gatwick (Photos)

Packed (no mean feat), checked out of the hotel leaving our bags there, headed round the corner for our last breakfast at Pastarell’s… where I snagged the last Girella – the circular pain au raisin / brioche that is my favourite from their vast offering.

Last breakfast at Pastarell, Turin
Last breakfast at Pastarell, Turin

We walked a new route into Centro, via the familiar Piazza Vincenzo Arbarello and then onto the pretty much pedestrianised Via Giuseppe Barbaroux all the way to the Piazza Castello and on to the iconic Mole Antonelliana where we visited the MNC Museo Nazionale del Cinema (National Museum of Cinema). Lots to see, particularly about the development of moving image entertainment and science prior to full on film. And the panoramic lift was Quite Something!

Mole Antonelliana, Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Turin
Mole Antonelliana, Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Turin

Back to Mezzaluna for a late lunch – not as successful on the selections compared to yesterday but still tasty! – then to the Roman Ruins Park by the Royal Palace for a read in the shade before heading back towards the hotel, after stopping at Cafe Paris for a Bicerin and to while away our final hour in Torino.

Bicerin at Cafe Paris, Turin
Bicerin at Cafe Paris, Turin

I spotted 234 pandas between the bus stop and the airport. TWO HUNDRED AND THIRTY FOUR!

Good flight. Dinner supplies from M&S Simply Food at Gatwick Airport. Premier Inn did A Great Job, as it always does.

Thursday 05 October 2023: London Gatwick – London Paddington – Newport – Abergavenny – Home (No photos)

Awake at 6am, well ahead of the 7.30am alarm. Both a bit anxious about the train into London the day after a strike so we sped through showers and packing and marched over to the North terminal where we caught the train to the South terminal and boarded the 08.06 Thameslink (standing room only) to Farringdon where the Elizabeth Line got us to Paddington with a good hour to spare.

GWR got us back to Abergavenny where our Panda was waiting patiently for us in the station car park.

Then Home to provide some parental TLC.

Snowshoeing in Italy / France: Photos & Notes

Me and Steffi, l'Alp du Pied
Me and Steffi, l’Alp du Pied

A fab, fabfab week in the Southern Alps, on Exodus’ Transalpine Snowshoe Week (CAV), delivered by local operator France Outdoors.

The weather was weird, with the Beast from the East bringing significantly more snow than is normal for late February, but we still got out and about and had an amazing time – largely thanks to Yves Novel, our fantastic guide and accompagnateur en montagne.

My first time snowshoeing, but definitely not my last!

For photos, see my Transalpine Snowshoe Week, February/March 2018 album on Flickr or click through to see day-by-day photos in my detailed notes below.

Here’s a summary of what we did (or scroll down for the full story):

Friday 23 February 2018: Barbican rendezvous – London Gatwick

  • Overnight: Premier Inn, Gatwick North Terminal

Saturday 24 February 2018: London – Turin – Thures

  • am: Flight to Turin – Transfer to Thures
  • pm: Snowshoe fit out – Avalanche Rescue Training
  • Overnight: Rifugio La fontana del Thures

Sunday 25 February 2018: Thures: Below Cima del Bosco

  • Slopes below Cima del Bosco
  • Overnight: Rifugio La fontana del Thures

Monday 26 February 2018: Thures to Rifugio Capanna Mautino

  • am: Thures – Torronte Thuras – Pont de Rua – Grange Dalma – Peira Longa – Serra Brusa – Rifugio Capanna Mautino (aka the Mautino Hut)
  • pm: Costa Via Veccia loop
  • Overnight: Rifugio Capanna Mautino

Tuesday 27 February 2018: Rifugio Capanna Mautino Figure of Eight

  • am: Costa Via Veccia – Costa La Luna – Cima Saurel – Lago Saurel loop
  • pm: Col Begino
  • Overnight: Rifugio Capanna Mautino

Wednesday 28 February 2018: Rifugio Capanna Mautino (Italy) to Cervières (France)

  • Mautino Hut – Col Bousson – Le Bourget – Val Cerveyrette – Cervières
  • Overnight: Maison d’hôtes La Cerveyrette, Cervières

Thursday 01 March 2018: Cervières: Rochebrune Valley / Vallée du Blétonnet

  • Cervières – Le Laus – Bois du Laus – Le Blétonnet – Ravin des Oules – Le Blétonnet – Le Laus – Cervières
  • Overnight: Maison d’hôtes La Cerveyrette, Cervières

Friday 02 March 2018: Cervières: Vallée de l’Izoard & l’Alp du Pied

  • am: Le Laus – Bois des Loubatières – Izoard Pass Road (D902, 2000m) – Le Laus – Cervières
  • pm: l’Alp du Pied via Le Sautaire
  • Overnight: Maison d’hôtes La Cerveyrette, Cervières

Saturday 03 March 2018: Cervières – Turin – London

  • am: Cervières
  • pm: Cervières – Turin – London

And here’s the detail!

Friday 23 February 2018: Barbican rendezvous – London Gatwick (no photos)

Rendezvous at Ben Jonson House, with Steffi travelling over from Pembs and Dave coming down from Stourbridge. Hazel joined us for dinner of bangers and mash à la Phil, then it was off to Farringdon to catch the train to LGW.

Overnight at the Premier Inn, Gatwick North Terminal, so as to be bright eyed and bushy tailed for tomorrow’s 6.40am flight to Turin.

Saturday 24 February 2018: London – Turin – Thures (photos)

Steffi, Dave and I were more bleary eyed than bushy tailed when we convened in the Premier Inn’s reception at 4.45am, but thankfully we didn’t face anything more challenging than working out where to go for coffee after checking in. We were surrounded by lots of skiers – a very different crowd from Gatwick’s summer clientele.

A good flight, with sunrise as we took off from Gatwick and amazing views over the Alps as we descended towards Turin. But cloud and rain awaited at ground level, as did Yves, who shepherded his 12 showshoers-to-be onto a waiting minibus, bound for Thures. As the roads climbed up the Val di Susa, rain turned to sleet, which turned to snow. Grey skies overhead.

Our first base was the pretty village of Thures about 90 mins drive west from Turin. We stayed at the Rifigio fontana del Thures, a lovely old wooden farmhouse now run as an auberge. We settled into the two dorm rooms upstairs, then gathered in the dining room for lunch.

We spent our first afternoon getting to grips with snowshoes and poles on the meadows up valley from the village, and having avalanche rescue training with Yves. We carried avalanche transceivers, snow shovels and probes all the time we were out in the snow. Yves checked our transceivers each morning before we set out too.

Beer and nibbles around the table next to the log fire before a hearty dinner.

Sunday 25 February 2018: Thures: Below Cima del Bosco (photos)

Our first full day dawned snowy which meant the ascent of Cima del Bosco was restricted to the lower forested slopes. The trees shielded us from the snow and we had plenty of practice at uphill, downhill and breaking trail through the snow in a beautiful monochrome winter woodland setting.

Good food back at the Refugio, and another log fire.

Monday 26 February 2018: Thures – Rifugio Capanna Mautino (photos)

Next day brought the cold weather – -19°C first thing – and it was time to say farewell to our main bags, which trainee guide Ann transported onwards to Cervières, leaving us to carry essentials for the next couple of days/nights in our daypacks. You really don’t need much.

Then we were off – straight down to the Torronte Thuras, crossing the river via a frozen weir and then ascending straight back up the other, steep, side and continuing along a forest road. At Pont de Rua, we turned onto a trail through the trees, way marked initially and then DIY zigzagging up to the ruins of Grange Dalma (?), where we paused for a snack and photos. Then on into the Narnia forest and across the plateau via Peira Longa and Serra Brusa.

The sun finally forced its way through the snowy skies adding extra sparkle to the snow laden pine forest as we neared Rifugio Capanna Mautino, the mountain hut which was our base for the next 2 nights. Wood panelled, with its window lined dining room soaking up the sun and stoves pumping out heat, it is not a million miles away from a Nepalese tea house.

After polishing off the remains of our picnic lunch, it was decision time: some of the group opted for R&R in the hut (incentivised we learned later by the lure of Italian style hot choc, coffee & cake – and vin brûlé!), while the rest of us headed back out into the snow and spent a fantastic afternoon snowshoeing the Costa Via Veccia hills above the hut.

Under miraculously blue skies, we each had a go at breaking trail (after which we marvelled at how Yves managed to do that so effortlessly, day after day), got super views and had our first go at tobogganing, AKA sliding down the tree-free steep bits. Waterproof trousers definitely delivered the best results….

Back at the hut we celebrated the day’s sun and fun with a carafe or two of red wine. Clambering up into and out of my top bunk that night was to prove challenging!

Tuesday 27 February 2018: Mautino Hut Figure of Eight (photos)

The day dawned clear but cold: -25°C. I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere that cold. It was dry though, so it didn’t feel cold, especially in the sun.  In exchange we had beautiful blue skies and pristine white snow as far as the eye could see …. (almost) all day …. Just magic.

Tuesday was a real highlight for me – a long morning’s walk up to Cima Saurel (2451 m) and looping back to the hut for lunch, and then out again to go down from the hut and then up to reach the Col Begino (2331 m) just in time to catch the views before the skies turned grey.

We started our morning by retracing our steps up and across the Costa Via Veccia. Pine trees sparkling white, some with delicate ‘catkins’ of snow, gave way to the tree-free terrain of the Costa La Luna.

Steep slopes and hard snow meant we had to space ourselves out on the way up to Cima Saurel, giving plenty of time to soak up the sun and the fabulous, fabulous views , perched on the border between Italy and France – Cima Fournier (2425 m), Col Begino (2328 m) and Monte Corbioun / Mont Courbion (2430 m) across the valley, followed by Monte Giassiez (2588 m), Cima Dorlier (2758 m) and Dormillouse (2908 m) and occasional glimpses of Roc de Boucher (3285 m) beyond, with Pic de Rochebrune (3320 m) dominating the scenery ahead and clear views back down the Alta Val di Susa towards Bousson.

From the Cima Saurel we dropped down to the col, going most of the way on a mammoth DIY toboggan run – BRILLIANT! – and on down to Lago Saurel, hidden deep under snow and ice.

Back at the hut we found an Italian army group on winter exercise, and a pasta lunch.

Refuelled, some of us headed back out again for an afternoon snowshoe – dropping 100m down the slope below the hut to Grange Servierettes and the cappella di Madonna del Lago Nero, skirting the sleeping Lago Nero before climbing 300m back up over the Peira Roia to the Col Begino, where we caught our first glimpses of chamois high on the rocks of Monte Corbioun / Mont Courbion above.

Back to the Rifugio Capanna Mautino for not quite such a boozy night. A memorable, magical day.

Wednesday 28 February 2018: Rifugio Capanna Mautino (Italy) – Cervières (France) (photos)

Wednesday was chilly again, with the thermometer showing -24°C first thing…

Saying au revoir to the Mautino Hut we set off for Cervières, crossing the Col de Bousson and the border into France en route.

The day started off lovely with great views of Cima Saurel and Pic de Rochebrune, but then the snow clouds clustered and the wind picked up and it was FREEZING. The couple of hours we spent walking along the Val Cerveyrette from the summer village of Le Bourget to Cervières the hardest part of the trip by a long way, largely due to the wind.

We were all very glad to reach the Maison d’hôtes La Cerveyrette, in the middle of the old village of Cervières. Another converted farmhouse, it was our base for the rest of the trip.

A warm welcome from our hosts, Stef and Julien, was matched by that of the old cellar where radiators were on full blast – as were the filter coffee machine and kettle. The warmth, and the rest of our picnic lunch, perked everyone up and we had the rest of the afternoon free to explore. Most of us found our way to Cervières’ sole hostelry, the Hôtel d’Izoard, for a vin chaud or two before dinner.

It snowed pretty much 24/7 for all of our time in France.

Thursday 01 March 2018: Cervières: Rochebrune Valley / Vallée du Blétonnet (photos)

The view from our windows on Thursday morning was of snow whirling around the village. We couldn’t even see the sky, but I’d bet it was dark grey and full of more snow.

Setting off into the snow, and the wind, we put our trust in Yves’ assurances that we’d be spending the day in one of the sheltered valleys leading off south of Cervières.

And so it was. Almost as soon as we left the village we were out of the wind that hurled the length of the Val Cerveyrette and it was an easy walk to the village of Le Laus where the valleys of the Rochebrune / BlétonnetLes Oules, and the Izoard / Bois des Loubatières meet.

Turning south east into the forest we headed first for Le Blétonnet, where the roof of the tiny chapel was piled high with snow, and then deeper into the Bois du Laus for lots of off piste fun – wading through snow and crossing streams, not all of which came with any sort of bridge…..

Back via Le Blétonnet to Le Laus, where we called in at the Auberge l’Arpelin for coffee / hot chocolate / vin chaud before snowshoeing back to base.

It did snow all day mind you.

Still, we celebrated St David’s Day in style – presenting Dave with his daffodil costume before dinner. Sorry, no photos….

Friday 02 March 2018: Cervières: Vallée de l’Izoard & l’Alp du Pied (photos)

On Friday morning Yves-le-Taxi provided a shuttle service to drive us to Le Laus, and from there we headed off into the Bois des Loubatières and up the Izoard Pass Road (D902) to about 2000m before persistent snow forced us to turn back without reaching the Col d’Izoard.

Revived by hot drinks and snacks back at the Auberge l’Arpelin, and with the skies surprisingly starting to clear for the first time in days, most of us opted to walk the 1.5km from Le Laus back to Cervières.

The week ended on a high note as the afternoon’s clear skies meant we could climb up into the hills above Cervières, where the summer meadows and high plateaux of Le Sautaire and l’Alp du Pied afforded super late afternoon views of Lasseron and the peaks beyond Le Laus ….

… plus a couple of last goes at tobogganing downhill.

You can never have too much of either.

Saturday 03 March 2018: Cervières – Turin – London (no photos)

Yves had headed off to meet his next group last night, so we had the morning to entertain ourselves until our minibus reappeared a little before 2pm.

Snowfall had resumed, so the plan to snowshoe to Le Laus for an early lunch back at l’Arpelin was put on hold. Some folks headed over to the Hôtel d’Izoard instead; snug in the cellar, I caught up with my diary.

Thankfully not much sign of snow once we were out of the mountains and driving towards Turin, and our flight back to Gatwick was only delayed by an hour, mainly due to the need to de-ice the plane each time it landed.

Train to Clapham Junction, and a walk along the mucky gritted pavements to Hazel’s for cheese, wine, chat and bed.

Sunday 04 March 2018: London (SW11) – London (EC2Y) (no photos)

On Sunday, having seen Dave and Steffi safely start their journeys home, I caught the 344 bus back towards the Barbican and spent the afternoon downloading photos and making a start on my Snowshoeing in Italy / France: We’re Back! blogpost.

Overall, a wonderful trip and I am already planning a return to the Southern Alps for more snowshoeing this time next year, possibly booking direct with France Outdoors.