Sweet treats at 5,000 feet; Hoping to cool off, NEL STAVELEY makes her way around the Italian Alps, where it's permissible to drink hot chocolate in the summer.
I'M standing in the middle of scenery so staggeringly beautiful, they should probably reshoot the opening scenes to The Sound of Music here. Picture-perfect pine forests, distant snow-capped mountains, even a gentle stream tinkling along in the background for good measure.
And yet, for all nature's magnifi-cence 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 energizing snack to fire us up for our two-day hike, and that snack was the most delectable hot chocolate you could ever imagine.
Thick, treaclelike 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 'it doesn't matter' I've just wasted an hour ignoring the awesome landscape we've been passing, because at every corner, every path, every time you peer over a peak, it's there: green, lush, tree-lined, meadow-dotted, flowerdusted 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 often, but it works.
A bedroom |Chalet Hotel Champoluc, 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 wild flowers 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 the summer months, 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.
in the Breithorn, Italy 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."
As he proceeds through the tasting, dutifully explaining the basics of tannins, it's a mystery why they're not sending this wine out to the wider world - the 14% red is incredible - but actually, perhaps it's fairly obvious. They want it all to themselves. Thankfully, they're a little less strict on how much local salami and cheese you take away, and after a quick scout of the shops, my suitcase is packed with offensively 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 boasts 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% of your time here, and yet still know you're in the middle of somewhere so magical itll 100% seep into your soul.
NEED TO KNOW NEL STAVELEY | TRAVELled as a guest of Inghams, who offer seven nights half-board (including breakfast, packed lunch, afternoon tea and fivecourse evening meal with complimentary wine) at the 4.5 diamond Chalet Hotel Breithorn, Champoluc, Italy, from PS549 per person.
Price includes return flights |from Heathrow to Milan-Malpensa and resort transfers. Regional departures also available. Call 01483 791 116 or visit www.inghams.co.uk
A bedroom in the |Chalet Hotel Breithorn, Champoluc, Italy
The Aosta |Valley in the Italian Alps
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|Publication:||Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)|
|Date:||Aug 29, 2015|
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