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Published: August 4th 2016
Today Cate saw "A deerish, goatish thing" shortly after we began our big climb to the land above the tree line. She got a fair bit of ribbing about that, too, but I believed her - unlike some who likened her "Deerish, goatish thing" to a Mr Tumnus vision caused by lack of oxygen as we puffed up the steep trail. Mick, who I guess had to at least try to believe, suggested that as the creature was quite small, it might have been a chamois. I had never heard of chamois (Except in car-cleaning talk), but Frank reminded me there had been a few stuffed versions in the Alpine Museum that I'd deliberately avoided.
This walk was one of the biggest on the hike- and once again proved that kilometres on a brochure can be deceiving. I have never forgotten our Lake Annecy walk with the children - 5 kilometres in 5 hours because the map neglected to state that the trail was almost vertical. We had to find tree branches to walk with in lieu of poles so that one or other child didn't end up sliding back down to Verthier!
Anyway, this walk was big.
I loved the beginning and the end best. That came out slightly wrong, but what I meant was that I think I enjoy green mountain and valley scenery more than barren wilderness scenery. Everyone in the group had a different opinion on what constituted 'beautiful' scenery though. I love the forests, so different from ours, and today I loved the alpenroses that were growing absolutely everywhere. Imagine your whole backyard planted with azaleas instead of grass except for a little rocky path through the middle and you'll have an idea of what it was like. As we walked higher, the big foliage disappeared and little clumps of wild flowers poked out beneath rocks as we walked. We ate lunch next to a lake surrounded by a carpet of grass and blue and yellow flowers. I initially thought there was some kind of white pollution floating on the lake and was really disappointed, until I walked down to have a look and discovered the 'pollution' was actually thousands of the tiniest waterlilies I have ever seen. The water in the lakes and streams up here is completely safe to drink. No Giardia or other nasties, which makes life easy as we
take our fill of cool water when we stop instead of having to carry it in.
Some cloud drifted in and out all day, which gave the green views a mysterious air and made the rocks up at the highest points look quite forbidding. The advantage of climbing to such an isolated spot was a sighting of some Ibex, an endangered species. We were not surprised to hear that after seeing archive film at the museum of the king's men herding hundreds of Ibex into a valley where he was waiting to shoot a few hundred for sport each day!
After our very big uphill stretch and a stop at the cairn to add a rock, there was an inevitable long downhill stretch which began to give Frank's knees some mild trouble, but took us past cows grazing and meadows full of marmots! They popped in and out of holes and amused us for some time at one of the rest breaks. Many houses we passed kept just a handful of goats, and Mick explained that all you need to make good cheese up here is a little goat's milk and hundreds of years of insider expertise!
A short stretch of road walking followed (which was quite pretty as it followed a gushing river) and we found ourselves back at our starting point. Much to my embarrassment, because it's generally agreed in our family that I have a good sense of direction, I failed to recognise that fact. When I asked Mick how he got the vans there, my answer was a withering look from the man of few words. Everyone else found it hilarious.
A long soak in the spa was what the doctor ordered, but we delayed it to go and see Chagall. Everyone else was too tired, but the four of us were not going to pass up the opportunity. We trudged up the hill to Forte di Bard, still in sweaty hiking gear, to be met at reception and hosted by the impossibly gorgeous Giovanni in pale blue Italian linen and slim grey trousers. We were very flattered that he would take time out to show our small group around, and he was the ultimate host, although when we expressed gratitude he said "I didn't do it for you, I did it for my friend Mick!" Hilarious.
The exhibition was about
The Chagall Exhibition poster
A personal tour with Giovanni - such an amazing opportunity
to close for the day, and we had it pretty much to ourselves. After we'd had our fill of the art, Giovanni had organised drinks and a plate of appetisers for us in the gallery cafe and we sat chatting with him for a while. Giovanni's heritage is Walser - his ancestors fled German persecution in the 13th century and made the gruelling journey to safety in the alps. He still lives in one of the tiny villages that proudly speak a German dialect as well as Italian, although he met Mick and Jackie when they all worked together in Abruzzo. We talked holidays, children and the French. Giovanni was bemoaning the fact that his 11-year-old son chose skiing instead of playing a cheaper sport like soccer! He is at a Summer training camp in Austria at the moment, so we got the impression that he might actually be a very talented skier and Giovanni was being modest! Our biggest laugh was a fleeting comment he made about the French. France and Italy seem to have a rivalry a bit like Melbourne and Sydney, but perhaps with a bit more of an edge, thanks to history. We had been discussing
visits to France and our experiences there. "You know what they say about the French", said Giovanni with a little smile on his face, "They're really just sad Italians". He had excellent comic timing that left us roaring with laughter. There is something about a violin-playing goat and a charming Italian that is good for the soul, and we left the Chagall exhibition feeling completely re-charged. It didn't stop us needing one last visit to the spa before dinner though.
Dinner almost needs a blog entry of its own. We came down the stairs and I instantly caught a crustacean aroma so fantastic that I knew we were in for something special. Everything was absolutely beautiful tonight - the gentle breeze on the terrace, the candles, the wine. I was excited reading that our appetiser would be Lardo. It doesn't necessarily look all that appealing, but after seeing a show on television about how it is made, it had been on my list of "Foods to try before I die". If you haven't seen the huge Carrara marble coffin-like troughs that the lardo is cured in, it is worth hunting for a picture, in fact, I will hunt for
Lardo curing troughs
Made of stunning Carrara marble
one and include it. To make lardo, an immaculately trimmed piece of pork lard is placed immediately in marble basins that have been rubbed with garlic. Salt, black pepper, rosemary, and garlic are placed in between the layers of lard. (Ours definitely had star anise as well, yum!). The aging takes a minimum of 6 months, during which the amount of liquid released by the salt-covered lard is measured regularly. Lardo di Colonnata has been made this way since Roman times. It is an extremely effective curing and aging practice because it does not require any additives or preservatives. The lardo we had was completely white, but tasted just like melt-in-your-mouth bacon. That's the only way I can describe it. Next course was spaghetti alla chittara with crustacean sauce. To. Die. For. By the way, Chittara literally means 'guitar', and the pasta is pushed through a tool which is strung with metal, like guitar strings.
The sauce had obviously been made with the shells and heads of the lobster in the stock, it was so beautifully rich, and there were generous pieces of lobster, and capers tossed through the pasta. OMG.
It's not that the stuffed calamari and the peaches
with amaretti weren't special after that, but if I don't stop writing soon it will be time for my next meal!
We couldn't go straight to bed with stomachs full of magnificent food and never-ending wineglass refills, so we sat talking after everyone left. Soon enough Mick emerged from the kitchen to join us, carrying a bottle of very special grappa. He poured everyone a nightcap (It's not for me, but Cate is a convert!) and that ensured that the five of us sat arguing politics, sport and all sorts of other taboo subjects until the early hours. It's the stuff memories are made of.
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