Monday, February 4, 2013

Italy - Magical Aosta Valley

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45 miles - Saturday, October 1

This morning I discovered the source of a foul smell that’s plagued us for days. I’d teased Andy that it was his socks, but it turns out it’s a week old piece of cheese unearthed from our spice bag.

With our bikes and panniers stowed safely in a compartment beneath the bus, we cruise through the Mont Blanc tunnel. The tunnel travels 15k straight through the Mont Blanc Massif. The smell of exhaust fills the air, even inside a vehicle. SOS signs light up the curved wall every few meters. And though I gave up my dream of crossing closed Grande Saint Bernard Pass, the 70 FF (or 14.00) per person was worth the 30 minute ride; it cuts two days of travel by bike.

Leaving Chamonix in overcast skies we were surprised to rumble into Italian sunshine. Valley walls rose steeply from the small town of Courmayeur with the mountains behind us shrouded in fog. We got off the bus and started riding. It was immediately apparent that we’d entered a different country: scalloped slate roofs, all at different levels along the narrow beginnings of the Aosta valley, seemed to undulate like scales on a dragon’s back. In fact, it’s a downward spiral with several tunnels posing a problem until we notice old roads skirting the dark openings; however, it’s a harrowing pedal with the river 1000 feet below.

Exploring Avise. Photo credit: , Panaramio

Andy and I coast for miles. The towns are picture-book perfect. Houses are made of stone, connected to barns, another home, etc. A maze of narrow dirt alleys wind between buildings. A church perches overhead on a cliff. It’s a fascinating existence; villages and vineyards propped on stone terraces, lining the green hillsides and tumble all the way to river level.

Around a bend we can’t resist the village of tiny Avise and detour across a bridge. We eat lunch on a picnic bench, admiring the orchards, vineyards, and Romanesque castle. After the tent is dry, we leave the bikes behind and explore the narrow lanes, up and around the castle then past the church. Women wash laundry in outdoor communal tubs; gardens are squeezed in courtyards; the smell of garlic permeates the town. Andy and I long to stay in the nearby deserted campground – the open bathhouse is a good sign – but it’s only noon.

Avise. Photo credit: , Panaramio
Later, after moving further downriver we discovered that several campgrounds closed in mid-September. Fortunately, a kind man calls ahead and locates a place for us to stay a few kilometers further. Until we leave the mountains behind, we’ve been forewarned to more closures.

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