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Published: August 2nd 2016
Monte Rosa in the distance
The start of the Gressoney Valley walk
We've had a lot of fun today with a new Italian phrase we learned from our guide at Queen Margherita of Savoy's fairytale castle in Gressoney-St-Jean. Apparently she was "Una Buona Forchetta" (Literally, "Good on the Fork"). This phrase can be used to describe a lover of good food if you are being polite, or, reading between the lines in this case, someone who just likes to eat far too much. All good if you are a queen, except for the poor men who used to have to carry her up to the peaks of Monte Rosa on a massive chair, or pull her through the snow on her special wooden sled! We got the feeling during the tour that there was not too much love lost between ordinary Italians and this royal family.
The walking stepped up a little today, but the spectacular views of mountains streams, beautiful valleys, waterfalls and the wonderful snow-capped Monte Rosa mountain meant we had a good excuse to stop, have a breather and look at the scenery fairly often! We walked through little hamlets with stone and wood cottages and ate a delicious lunch at a mountain refuge - lots of good cheese,
The church in the valley
Looked like a Christmas decoration from a distance!
and different types of cured meats. I am loving the prosciutto. Lunch finished with espresso and beautiful home-made cake which certainly kept us going until we got to the postcard-perfect village of Gressoney-St-Jean. I'm not usually a chocolate dessert lover, but it was good!
As we walked down the trail toward the town, a little church appeared in the Larch forest that looked just like a Christmas decoration. I would love to see it in Winter, with a dusting of snow on its roof. Much to Mick's dismay, a little further on we were ambushed by an older gentleman who was obviously waiting for a chat. Apparently it happens every time, and Mick's usually inscrutable face was an absolute picture when he appeared. The man likes the opportunity to practice his English but is always reluctant to say goodbye! As we got closer to town, we were passed at close quarters by Italians of all shapes and sizes, male and female, out for a short walk in their bikinis and walking poles! We certainly stand out as foreigners - we are far too covered up.
A few of us had been joking about trying to play golf on
some of the gradients we'd been walking on, when a golf course miraculously appeared. The boys were alternately excited, than deflated when they realised they didn't have any clubs.
Gressoney-St-Jean is a real Summer resort town. We passed a large chalet which turned out to be a horse-riding school, and a gorgeous swimming hole surrounded by sunbathers which had a waterslide and various other things for kids at one end. While a few people stopped for coffee or ice-cream, I had indulged in far too much at lunch to need more food so I went for a wander through the town. Most things were closed for lunch, but I enjoyed exploring and looking at the beautifully kept gardens in window boxes and planters.
Our next stop was the Castel Savoy, built for Queen Margherita's mountain holidays. We had to put on blue cloth overshoes when we walked in to protect the beautiful floors, but they were a bit of a health hazard - though after nearly ending up on the floor a couple of times we began to enjoy skating through the various rooms. The castle was looted during the war, so the only original furniture remaining was
Wildflowers, Gressoney Valley
Couldn't stop snapping! Won't bore you with the hundreds of close-ups....
anything too huge to steal. The architect designed the castle so that every window in the royal suite framed a view of Monte Rosa perfectly. I can imagine why the Queen loved to go there in Summer. A magnificent carved staircase swirled down from two sides, creating a heart-shape, and was apparently built from the wood of a single tree. The light fittings and wall decorations were lovely and the whole place did have the feel of a hunting lodge, rather than a formal palace. (Just right for a holiday house!) We were intrigued by a little underground train, which was used to transport meals from the external kitchen to the dining room. Apparently the Queen detested cooking smells. Maybe she was pregnant when they were in discussions with the architect!
By then it was getting late, and we were going further up the mountain from our hotel to have dinner, so after a mandatory visit to the spa, we wandered across the bridge in Bard to the vans. The light was beautiful as we made our way up hairpin bend after hairpin bend - it was quite a hair-raising drive on very narrow, steep roads. A ski lodge
on one corner was called Chez Isabel, which made us all think of her. I didn't think that we could get much higher when we finally pulled up at a lone house built into the side of the mountain. We were served by the owners of the house and their young daughter. They had cooked us a typical mountain dinner of thick soup, magnificent polenta with rich braised meat, and a dessert as well, which I really didn't need but managed to eat anyway. It seems I too, am becoming "Una Buona Forchetta"!
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