Italy 4th-17th August


Our sunny Sunday morning in the unsung village of Maglione was spent discovering why it was known as a City of Art. In the mid 80’s Maurizio Corgnati had the idea to create an outdoor gallery of contemporary art here and there are now around 170 works mounted or created on the walls of the buildings and sculpture dotted around between. Some have faded and flaked over the years but that was part of the plan. For the art to grow and die back with the fabric of the place. 

Anyway it was a nice walk with different scenery to the forests and mountains of our usual backdrop.  


We wandered up to a viewpoint by the church and looked out over the geological marvel of the Moraine Amphitheater of Ivrea but were more interested in the vast and stylish family vaults in the cemetery.  


Before we left I realised that the strange structure next to our parkup was a work by the landscape artist Nils-Udo of whom I’m a fan. This piece, a raised circular grotto like earthwork, has gone wild.  

 I also managed to find a touring bicycle to photograph as requested.  


We programmed Serena to take us to another parkup listed in the guide, far up in the Susa valley en route en France. It’s like a magical mystery tour letting the guide and the GPS decide destination and directions. It’s an exercise in letting go of control and surrendering to a higher power. Fate. And it usually works out grand. If it doesn’t it teaches you acceptance. 

The valley extends from Torino or Turin of sacred shroud fame all the way up to the passes over the mountains and nowadays the tunnels through them from Bardonecchia into France. Since the Middle Ages there have been numerous abbeys and monasteries of Franciscans, Augustinians and Benedictines and its on a Camino to Santiago de Compostella and the Via Francigena pilgrimage from Canterbury to Rome. I was tempted to get the staff out. 

Our camp was a nice small scale community run affair above Villar Focchiardo and below the forested mountains of the Parco Naturale Orsiera Rocciavre where they charged us a fiver. Fair enough.  

 The village had views down the valley over the fine stone roofs.  

 And across the chestnut forests the region is famous for.  


 But the thrills came later in the afternoon when a sudden loud crumbling crashing rumble and cloud of dusty smoke had everyone out rubbernecking the landslide on the cliffs above us.  


 Before long the civil defence and fire brigade were out and the church bell was ringing the news but after some barriers were erected and some no go tape strung around it was deemed “all clear” and there was no evacuation. 

The next day we hoped the mountains would hold together as we drove through numerous tunnels finally joining a long queue to enter the big one. 12 km of the Tunel do Frejus to France. A mighty piece of engineering that we had to cover the cost of. We reckoned it would be a tenner and handed one over. Yer mans waiting for more. We see the electronic price display flashing before our eyes. € 58.50.  Short and curlies. 

Arriving into France and only saved a customs going over by the more interesting car from Bosnia Herzegovina that came after us, we drove to a lakeside parkup at le Bourget du Lac to lick our wounds, plan our next move and have a swim.  



We had spent the night in the Ampezzo National Park next to the ruins of a famous hunting lodge that had been built by Irish Countess Lady Emily Howard-Bury and her American millionairess friend Anna Potters-Pott. (I’m not making this up) Originally it had looked more like a castle than a lodge  but it had become a victim of WWI when burned down by the Austro Hungarian side to prevent the Italians from using it.  Apparently soldiers from both sides would gather there peacefully together looking for food.

Anna had died of a heart attack at 40 while out hunting some years earlier and  Lady Emily had buried her ashes in a golden urn in the forest she loved so much.

This was going to be a busy weekend. A national holiday, the feast of the Assumption, and we were heading to what’s probably the most beautiful and popular part of the Dolomites, the Tre Cime du Lavaredo or Drei Zinnen both languages being spoken this far north.

The village of Misurina had a camp site and camper park at the beginning of a toll road leading into the iconic peaks that are featured in most illustrations of these mountains. We started up early again to give Tranny cold air around her/his radiator on the climb.

 There were some nice old lodges on the way.

 And the town itself is nicely situated on a lake surrounded by dramatic scenery.

The campsite and parkup were rammed but we slid into a vacated place and did our best to fit in while we showered and washed clothes etc.

After a day of domestic chores and watching the constant stream of motor home coming and going we resolved to get the first shuttle bus to the Refugio where campers pay 36€ to park overnight ,and follow a trail that goes all around the base of the celebrated peaks. It was a repeat of the queue for Marmolada cable car except we had the dogs as well. A mighty scrum altogether.

The bus journey saved us about 7 km and 600m ascent and when we got there the expensive car parks were filling up and were obviously a real earner making the conservationists calls to shut them down to limit the pressure on the mountains unlikely to succeed.

But immediately you could see why everybody wants to go there.

 I have good signal strength right now in a hypermarket so I’m going to whack up a load of pictures while I can. Sorry if it’s overload.  

 We happily joined a stream of humanity on a conga line like procession around the three extraordinary towers of stone.

 Two tiny climbers are visible half way up the sheer wall.

  A lot of work had been done to the track and people of all ages were using it.

 We stopped for picnic on the rocks and decided to avoided the crowded bus and walk back to the village.

 It will stick in my dis functional memory as one of the finest walks of my life and sharing it with hordes did nothing to detract from the glories.

What did though was getting back to discover that the €10 parking ticket we’d put on Tranny wasn’t enough to stop us getting a €30 fine for putting a camper in a car park. By now the town was heaving and with clouds gathering and rain forecast it was time to pull out. We made it out of the valley to the north and against a stream of traffic, up another a little further west the Val do Braies Vecchia.

It started to rain hard just after we had parked up outside some abandoned buildings which we sussed out had been victims of earthquake.

  Serious thunder and lightning that lit up the clouds lasted most of the night but the morning brought an improvement and we were able to take our last walk in the Dolomites.

 Up through the misty pines to a Coll overlooking an impressive cliff and back across the valley.

Over our 10 days in the Dolomites we had hiked in 6 different National or Natural Parks and even in the honey pot areas of mass tourism their was an awareness of their special need for conservation. Those white towers of stone, flower filled alpine meadows and vast green forests have been beautiful for millennia, long may it last.

The come down from our figurative and literal high was bad. We needed to cross Italy from east to west. The general busyness had persuaded us to give up on visiting the Lakes and head for the Valle do Susa in Piedmont on the way to France.

I’m not used to traffic jams and not very good at dealing with them. We alternated between motorway and A roads trying to find some space to drive through. The desperate situation was alleviated by the fact that the flashy Ferraris and Porches weren’t going anywhere at the same speed as us.

Eventually, for unknown reasons, it cleared enough for Tranny to prove her/him self again by cruising for hours at 120kph. And through a deluge. We felt like storm chasers as we belted along the edge of the strangest cloud formation.

Luckily Serena was on hand to guide us to a place of safety. Our parkup guide had listed somewhere just off the motorway as an “art city” although it didn’t appear in Lonely Planet or any of our maps. It was just what we needed to escape a rainy motorway at dinner time.

 An empty grassy lot in a quaint and quiet village with A ROOF over the pitches and a restaurant next to it.
Remember the name. Maglione.



Dawn on Lago d’ Allegne from our park up. 

Italy has been very good to us in terms of nice places to stay for the night. Not always strictly by the rules but it does seem pretty relaxed. There are thousands of ” motor homes” here, way more than anywhere else we’ve been and they’re nearly all Italian. Gone are the Dutch and Germans. 

There are lots of municipal camper park ups but it’s the height of the holiday season and they’re pretty crammed, especially in towns. As are the camp sites. It seems like there is some inverse law that means the more unattractive the location, the more camperv, sorry motor homes will be in it. While we were lake side, the town side park up looked like this.  

 Or a small section of it did. There’s as much again on either side of the shot. 

Anyway, each to their own. I guess some folk are sociable. I am improving my skills at interacting with mass tourism facilities and to continue working on them I resolved not to hike on our own up mountains for a couple of days but to join countless others on cable car trips instead. 

From Alleghe there was a two stage lift to the ski runs atop Col del Baldi at 1930m. The second stage had been turned from a chair lift to a cable car this year so we were able to take the dogs. 

A few minutes and 900m later we were gazing in wonder at 350 degrees of splendour.  


What impressed us most apart from the peaks was the fact that all the ski runs were grassy loveliness. In Slovakia, Poland and Slovenia we’d seen some really scared up mountains but these looked landscaped and manicured, almost like golf courses. 

Another sport that was well catered for was mountain biking as the bikes could be taken up on the cable car and then avail of gravity to get them down. 

Here’s a couple more pictures of bikes to quench the thirst of Giles.  


There was a busy bar/restaurant and lots of picnicking and sunbathing around the CC station and a network of trails that headed off hither and thither. Some people were picking bilberry or blueberry of which there was a carpet.  

 As our mission for the day was to mingle with the masses we didn’t stray too far only climbing a solitary bump to check unseen vista. But what do you do when your not hiking? Chat? I wasn’t quite ready for that level of human interaction so found time passing slowly and after what I’ve just worked out to be 7 hours (no wonder it seemed like a long time. I’m better at doing nothing than I thought) we zoomed back down to cool off in the lake and head off in search of a remote, rural, isolated and quiet place to stay. 

  Another picnic place in the shady trees by a river surrounded by soaring towers of limestone.  
 And in the background was our goal for the morning, Marmolada, known as the Queen of the Dolomites, the highest of them all at 3343m. But we weren’t going back to our old ways and hiking up, no we still had work to do on the crowd tolerance. 

And getting up at six to drive the last steep bit while the air was still cool meant we were at the station plenty early to avoid a queue and be unnecessarily tested. Or maybe not.  

 Still there were some lovely sheds I could spend time with while we waited.  

   And some even had the iron roofs I like so much. We had realised in Slovenia, whilst admiring the corrugated iron shed rooves that they were actually recycled 1st World War iron and it was everywhere. 100 yr old thick iron with a coating or patina of rust but still good and outperforming stuff obviously much younger. And here we were again on another Italian /Austro Hungarian WW1 front and the Tin was back.  


The cable car which took 70 punters shooting up the vertical wall of rock took 3 stages to work it’s way to the top. From the village of Malga Ciapela at 1435m to El Banch at 2236,  

 straight onto another car to cross the rocky expanse of Valon d’ Antermala  

 to Refugio Serauta at 2950m where there was a new museum devoted to the WW 1 activities at 3000m on the mountain.  


 Unsurprisingly it’s the highest museum in Europe, and its surrounded by trenches and caves, steps and observation posts cut into the rock. Over 10,000ft up mind. 

 And then into another car to whisk us over the cracked icy wastes of the mountains glacier  

 to the top station with a new viewing platform on which to suck up the thrills and swallow down on the wonder.  




 And so far from home.  

  Then down onto the glacier itself where,again, the refreshing lack of paranoid health and safety measures allowed for a slide of a lifetime (probably).  

   And how the hell did they get that up there.  

 Of course in the winter it’s all about the skiing and taking off from here they have 1200 km of pistes to work. I couldn’t persuade the Missus to come onto the ice but she did wave.  

 We also visited the grotto chapel hacked out of the rock to accommodate the Madonna donated and consecrated by John Paul 11 when he visited the mountain in 1979.  

   The brand new war museum was well designed with interesting exhibits but we had seen a lot further East on the Isonzo front where 300,000 had died. What was amazing on the Marmolada was the Ice City carved out of the glacier by the Austro Hungarians. 10km of tunnels with every kind of facility within. One of the largest, the so called Eisstadt was home to 300 under ice riflemen. 

We had left the dogs slowly baking so had to return 

 to base and take a walk down the “Temple of Nature” a very deep river gorge that runs down to the neighbouring village of Sottoguda. More ubiquitous picnic areas  

 brought us down into the gorge  

  where WW1 men had dug around a obstructing boulder  

   And made caverns and caves along the way.  


The village below was a treat with it’s wooden buildings, floral displays and quaint inhabitants.  


In our program of social readjustment we hadn’t reached a level that allowed use of the “fun train” so we were forced to walk back up the hill.  

 Leaving the dogs looking for cool  


Off again, and this time for quite a spin. Because we are wary of taking Tranny up steep winding roads we had to go the long way round to get to and beyond Cortina d’Ampezzo the main tourist hub of the Dolomites. The steep sided valley and lack of side roads meant out park up was not of the usual high standard but we had a lovely pink mt Pelmo in the morning.  


 We travelled on up in the cool early morning air to get through the town and into a valley to the north where we could park up and hike. 

From Uberto we walked up the Val Salata to the Refugio Stua and then up and up above the tree line to the Alpine meadows of Lerosa at 2020m. A good 18km and 600m climb.  

   The landscape was dreamy and a little rustic hut made a perfect spot for contemplation.  

     Getting up into the high pasture we took a detour to a beautiful restored house.  

     Where we spotted marmots  

 but couldn’t get close. And horses availing of the spring waters.  


Further on we were treated to views of spiralling layers of rock in more mountain ranges.  

     And inescapable reminders of WW1 with the sites of cemeteries  

 and trenches  

 and the old military road  

 but the memories were faint and overlaid with a landscape of timeless beauty.  


Good to be walking in it. 


I’m taking photo requests now so when regular commentator Giles asked for, rather bizarrely, more photographs of bicycles I set out to find the best I could. My research led me to an area of the Alpago north of Il Lago do Santa Croce. 

There were tales of a legendary bicycle lost deep in the chestnut forest above the village of Sitran for many years that had become one with nature. 

Armed with maps and guides and a nose for the curious I eventually found the bike, englobed as the stories had said. I will reveal the evidence at the end of this post to keep the bi (cycle) curious reading. 

So after a couple of days in the Alpago mountains looking across at the Dolomites it was time to get in there. The 32,000 acres of the Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park, which was only established in ’93, was our first destination. After what seemed an eternity of strip malls, run down industrial units and hyper markets on the outskirts of Belluno we turned in towards the dramatic profiles of the limestone pinnacles that make up this most beautiful of mountainscapes.  


Listed as a natural World Heritage site by Unesco, the Dolomites have been considered special for a long time. The first written descriptions were of extraordinary visions and powerful emotions and used words such as sublime, purity, intensity,grandeur,mystical aestheticism and transcendence. 

The first Dolomite travel guide in English, John Murray’s Red Book from 1837 defined the landscape as ” imparting an air of novelty and sublime grandeur to the scene which can only be appreciated by those who have viewed it ”

We have and we can. 

We turned off the busy main road and were quickly enveloped in a tranquil valley. The Val de Mis has been dammed and flooded to create a pale blue reservoir with a narrow road on one side. Half way along a rest and recreation area has been created with picnic lawns with shady trees, an exercise and workout zone ( handy in this heat!), a bar and restaurant ( much handier), a bunch of wooden chalets, an amphitheater, an area of hardstanding pitches with water and electricity and shower/ toilets and a grassy free park up by the lake. All good.     


It made for a perfect spot for the night with the setting sun turning the mountain golden. 


It was a sweet relief to get into the cool water although a bit alarming to realise that the level was slowly dropping to satisfy the needs of the city. There had been no rain here and a heat wave so there wS a lot more water going out than coming in. I kept an eye on a partially submerged rock and the lake level dropped a couple of feet overnight. That’s a lot of water. 

      Still, most people didn’t seem to want to swim anyway but picnic. Obviously an event of great cultural significance the Italians take it seriously, spending hours over a relaxed lunch in the shade. Or dinner. Some folks came out to play cards before the eating began.  


  In the morning we hiked up the steep sided lateral valley walls of Val Falcina. More ancient coppice for charcoal the wood was mainly hazel and hop hornbeam, a new one on us but plentiful in these parts.  


We had spotted an old cable that had been used to get the wood or charcoal down and way up on the trail we found an old motor barrow.  

  A little later, when we came down to the river we were ” treated” to a view of some stromatolites or layers of petrified tropical algae from back in the day, ( put me straight Milo).  

 Fossils were found in the dry riverbed among interesting rocks.  


The afternoon was spent further up the lake at the Cadini del Brenton, a long series of stunning pools of green water linked by waterfalls.  

  Some fit and buff athletic types were leaping from pool to pool but others were more sedate.  

 The pools were described as vortices and there was some great swirling jacuzzi effects. The clouds had been gathering while we were there and eventually the thunder was followed by  the storm sending sheets of heavy rain and hail and sending everyone scurrying back down the hill. 

With no point hanging about in the wet we left the Mis and drove north,deeper into the Dolomites, to Val Lucano and with the sky cleared, another great park up.  

   It was yet another picnic area with bar b que’s and tables and benches. We met an Italian couple there who gave us some tips on where to go. The women had lived in Galway and been to Ireland many times. The Italians seem more interested in our licence plate than anywhere else has been and Tranny has been getting many admiring glances. 

Sally had had enough of scrambling on rock and slipping on scree so we devised a hike for the next day from the end of the valley up a forest track for 1000m to a col overlooking the range to the north. So, with the heat that was in it, we were off by 7, past the last houses of the village  

 and their tree trunk flower beds 

 Past more neat piles of riven timber 

 and wayside shrines 

 while the landscape through the trees got loftier  

 we reached what seemed to be an old mill site with more swirling pools  

 and massive cubes of cut stone lying around in a jumble gathering moss. 

Switchbacking up through the shady forest we didn’t notice the build up in heat till we finally rose above the tree line for the final climb up across the lush wildflower filled alpine meadows.  

   Where there was a mountain hut busy with hikers and bikers and a fountain of cool spring water. The views were worthy of the effort.  In the distance we could see a slither of glacier atop Mamalada, the highest of them all. 

   From the Coll paths led into the high mountains in all directions but we were not prepared to go further and after feasting our eyes and bellys we returned to the old mill for a swim in the cold pools.  

 And above us, in a “privado” area, some new age mud therapy was in progress.  

 The dogs were also keen to cool down at any opportunity and Toby took to ditch bathing.  


With the heat making day long hikes impossible we decided to check out the cable car up from Alleghe, a lakeside town further north up the road. The lake had been created when a massive landslide had blocked off the valley and the rising river waters had flooded 4 hamlets slowly submerging them. A few years later to add insult another landslide into the lake had created a tsunami that took out a load more homes. But all is tranquillity now and the lakeside made another room with a view.  


And finally, the big reveal. The bicycle englobed. By a chestnut tree. 



A crystal clear starry sky all night, and the tips of the white towers that encircled us slowly shining as the rising sun threw shards of light above the valley and the wide pale moon just sat there watching. 

I hadn’t been on the pipe. That’s how waking up at the top of Slovenia sounds. 

But we turned our backs on all the magic and headed out towards the border and as fate would have it our very last encounter with the country was a surreal alternative to the impression we’d had. Realising we had Slovenian stamped postcards to send we pulled into the big building before the border and asked them to add it to their post. We didn’t stay to play.  


Arriving in the first place to restock supplies in Italy was also a culture shock. After 2 months in former Soviet block countries the wanton consumerism was impressive. With a huge amount of style and bling.  

   We don’t have these kinds of artworks outside Supervalu.  


But style has been big here for centuries and the old city centre streets are a crumbling fading warren of urbane perfection.  







 And they know how to keep their melons cool.  

 I’m sure the rain lashed brethren back home in Eire don’t want to hear about it, but it’s a battle to stay cool here. We had to make an emergency stop at the Lago Morto ( does that mean Lake Dead ?) 

 an emerald green hydroelectric reservoir with the mighty legs of a motorway stepping around it, but still heaven in its heatstroke saving cool.  

 We headed for the hills again, to a free municipal camper park up in  the village of Tambre, 950 m up in the Alpago mountains, overlooking the big blue Lago do Santa Croce and the bulk of the Dolomites, our next destination.  

 Armed with local route maps from the lovely, if somewhat flirtatious, lady at the tourist info we devised an early morning 4 hr hike up into the wilds.  

 All went well until we got lost on the return due to poor, wrong and missing signage and a spiders web of possible tracks. I might have to go back to tourist info.  

 Skilled mapmanship got us back on track passed sad ruins and through thankfully shady forest.  

   It wasn’t all abandoned either. Lots of the old places had been done up and new hamlets were appearing with the ever present finger bar mower, which along with the tiny tractors and trailers, I would love to see at home.  


Finally arriving back at base we drove along the high tableland of the Consiglio forest, a wonderful area we had happened upon of thousands of hectares of mixed woodland, mainly beech but also stretches of conifers that are popular with shade seeking picnickers.  

   Lots of mown grass, tables and benches and fresh water are all laid on to aid the enjoyment of the forest. Coillte have some catching up to do. While we were there what looked like the Italian national squad came past.  


A little further into the forest was an ethnographic museum that although frustratingly only in Italian had great exhibits about the forest folk. The Venetians of the 15th century used loads of the beech for oars and boat building.  

 And later on a huge industry of wood work developed particularly the making of beech strips 1/4 in thick for use in loads of stuff.  


 And we met the charcoal makers.  

 Really interesting displays on water powered saw mills, ariel runways for the lumber, tools and houses etc etc. And we didn’t understand a word. Even showed us timber dam construction.  

 No nails involved of course. 

But we had a date with the big stuff in the morning. A 1000 m climb from the highest park up we could find to Rifugio Seenza and the Laste saddle. And a more beautiful sunset camp you couldn’t wish to find.  


A more or less circular 5 hour route we needed to start early to avoid the heat, so the kettle was on at 5.30 and a hiker had already gone past. We had decided to go clockwise which meant a long steep climb to start, but in shade, followed by a more gradual traverse of the high cliffs and a steep descent from the summit on the way back that would quickly get us into shady forest.  

 The cloud had nestled into a bowl in the middle of the forest that bury off as we climbed.  

 All too soon we were in the sun, which even at 7.30 seemed hot.  

 And then we were over a shoulder, above the tree line and another world revealed itself.  

     We heard sheep as we approached the refugio but it took a while to spot them high on the wild flower slopes.  

 The shepherd and his dog were keeping a watchful eye from the balcony where we were grateful of a coffee and rest.  

 The real splendours awaited us at the Coll another 15 mins higher where the emergency shelter was reassuringly rugged.  


The views, of miles and miles of mountain ridges, was jaw dropping and had to be taken in bit by bit over time to avoid a rush to the head. 

My love affair with the Julian Alps was in jeopardy, I had a new mountain mistress.  


Time to go down before we got giddy. 

  On the way we passed a huge erratic and madonna shrine were we left an offering to mark the life of a friend cut short untimely like his brother’s before him.  

And on down to the peaceful cathedral of beech stippled with light and adorned with snails in a tight embrace.  


 Tonight at our lakeside camp we feel love and light a candle for the Brennan brothers.