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Published: June 13th 2018
On June 10 we left Milan to travel by bus with our OAT group to Tirano via Lake Como. We made a couple of stops on the way near the beautiful lake where George Clooney, Johnny Depp and some other celebrities have villas. The first stop was at a village called Bellamo to see a flume ("l'orrido di Bellamo"). The second was at Varenna, a town that was overrun with tourists and weekenders from Milan on this perfect Sunday afternoon. We had gelato and a light lunch by the lake and toured some botanical gardens. Everything grows here with a mild climate year-round!
We continued on, turning into the Valtelline (a valley region known for wine and apples) and ending at Tirano, a walkable small city split into a modern half and a 17th century half, surrounded by mountains. We are right in the middle in the Saint Jane Hotel. Dinner tonight was inside a vaulted wine cellar: bresaola (dried beef), lasagna, apple cake.
Monday morning was spent with a local guide at the Medieval Castle Vecchio (900 AD) and, next to it, the Castle Nuovo (16th century). But as if these ruins weren't old enough, the grounds also
contain petroglyphs from the copper age (about 5000 years ago). No one knows the purpose of these carvings in the rocks, of course, but they are mostly of human stick figures in a pose like a ref saying, "Goal!" so they might symbolize a thanksgiving prayer or celebration (?).
We had a local lunch at the agritourism restaurant called Al Castagneto, with more bresaola, buckwheat pasta, sciatt (buckwheat fritters filled with cheese), and local vegetables. To reach the restaurant, though, we had to take our minibus up the Mortirolo Pass. This is a steep 9-mile stretch of road with 33 switchbacks and up to an eighteen-degree grade that is part of the professional bike race, Giro d'Italia, and Lance Armstrong believed it was the toughest route he ever biked.
Dinner was with a family for a home cooked meal. Five of us rode with Antoinella to her home just outside of Tirano. She is a florist and had a beautiful garden and fruit trees. Her daughters, son-in-law, and two grandsons joined us for dinner: fresh pasta sautéed with herbs from her garden, spare ribs, cauliflower, ice cream with fresh berries. We conversed a LITTLE bit using broken English-Spanish-Italian,
with a lot of hand-waving and laughter.
June 12 was our day to take the Bernina Red Train up into the Alps and actually cross over briefly into Switzerland. We had a special day-guide, Flavio, with a booming voice and heavy German accent and syntax, so we could hear every word but not always make sense of it! The weather worsened as we climbed, getting foggy and drizzly. Still, we could see the rugged mountains and got well above tree line where snow patches dotted the gravelly slopes. We all got into a gondola at Bernina Diavolezza and glided silently up to the top at about 12,000 feet. It wasn't great weather for walking around outside, but Wayne and I took a very brief hike to look at the glaciers and then hurried back into the heated restaurant/ski lodge for our bag lunch. From this lodge you can ski (in winter) on a seven-mile trail to a lower station, remove your skis and take the train up to Bernina, and get on the gondola again to start all over at the top!
Our group descended on the gondola to board the train again, this time getting off to
Petroglyphs near Tirano
Sprayed with water to make them more visible.
hike to Il Giardino die Ghiacciai di Cavaglia, a gorge with crazy potholes carved by the melting glaciers and swirling gravel, much like the Basin in Franconia Notch, but dozens of them. Here the sun came out, and the wild flowers with the backdrop of the snow-capped mountains were breathtaking.
Read no further, all you Italian food lovers, but with dinner on our own tonight back in Tirano, Wayne and I decided we had had enough of CHEESE and pasta, so we found the one restaurant that served anything else in the whole city: sushi!
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