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.

The Lost City of Z – David Grann

The Lost City of Z - David Grann
The Lost City of Z – David Grann

This name lodged in my brain from a 99 percent invisible (I think….) podcast advert, for the movie it’s been made into.

But don’t let that, or the cover and blurbs, put you off! The latter not do justice to the book’s research and the twin track quests it recounts – Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett‘s for the ancient civilisation(s) of the Amazon, the author’s for the expedition Fawcett led in 1925, and which never returned.

Fawcett’s previous explorations, surveying borders, rivers and routes through the Amazon in the 1910s and 1920s took place at the same time as more famous expeditions to the Poles and the Mallory-era attempts on Everest. Fawcett’s was a life similarly interrupted and irrevocably impacted by World War I, where he served as an officer on the Western Front.

A couple of interesting nuggets that I learned from the book were that:

  • The Royal Geographical Society was based for almost 25 years at 1 Savile Row
  • El Dorado was the title of the ruler of the fabled and fabulously rich kingdom deep in the jungle, to which the conquistadors gave that name

One minor niggle, but one that kept resurfacing, were the American English references that always jar for the British English ear: ‘the London Times’, the ‘Mayfair district’, ‘jelly’ for jam, ‘X wrote Y’. Still, worth working though!

The Lost City of Z: A Legendary British Explorer’s Deadly Quest to Uncover the Secrets of the Amazon – David Grann

Better Than Fiction: True Travel from Great Fiction Writers – Don George (ed)

Better Than Fiction: True Travel from Great Fiction Writers - Don George (ed)
Better Than Fiction: True Travel from Great Fiction Writers – Don George (ed)

An array of travelling tales from authors better known for their fiction. Each short and sweet, and for the most part excellent reads, often looking back at an incident or experience early in the author’s life.

Publishers page: Better Than Fiction: True Travel from Great Fiction Writers – Don George (ed)

The Waters of Eternal Youth – Donna Leon

The Waters of Eternal Youth - Donna Leon
The Waters of Eternal Youth – Donna Leon

Brunetti is asked to investigate the attack on the teenage grand daughter ofContessa Lando-Continui, a friend of his parents-in-law, which left Manuela with a mental age of 6-7 …. 15 years ago.

With the by now familiar an not strictly by the book assistance from Signora Elettra, and with Commissario Claudia Griffoni as his co-investigator rather than trusty Vianello, we see Brunetti comfortable working in a predominantly female context, and see Venice through female eyes.

Publisher’s page: The Waters of Eternal Youth – Donna Leon