Jane's Travel Blog

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Anniversary Hikes in the Alps

Bob and I planned to hike the Alps to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. We hired Donato for a Saturday hike and then received an unexpected invitation to hike the Alps again with Suzanne and Maurizio on the day of our anniversary. Two different hikes in the alps, oh boy!

Both hikes could not have been more perfect. That’s about all I can say because the beauty renders a person speechless. But I’ll try and describe each day. The videos will show you more than I could ever describe. ( look for both videos)

For the first hike, Donato and Emanuela  picked us up at 8:15 and drove about an hour to Macugnaga, a lovely ski town at the foot of Monte Rosa, which is the second highest mountain in all the Alps, and straddles Italy and Switzerland.

We stopped for a cappuccino before we hit the trail. (Monte Rosa is also very close to the famous Matterhorn, which is across the border in Switzerland.)

The first half of the hike is up, up, up. We just keep going up. It started on a gravel road, which I’m guessing is used to get skiers to the lifts.  We are surrounded  by woods and Monte Rosa stares down on us. She looks like she’s lit by God. Soon the trail starts and we trek switchbacks through the grassy foothills, and the sun is out, beating on me and I am WAY over-dressed. Thank goodness for layers.

We get to just above the tree line and BAM, Monte Rosa is towering over us. I feel like I can reach out and touch her. The next part of the hike is along a dry glacier. Very cool!


The power of nature is clear here. We actually cross the rock glacier to get to a mountain ridge about four feet wide with steep cliffs on both sides. This ridge takes us tPo a mountain refuge that is a place for hikers to stay and eat in summer. We walk another five minutes to a grassy pasture with boulders scattered around. Donato picks a boulder, we climb up, and enjoy our well-earned lunch surrounded by Monte Rosa and her fellow sidekick mountains.

The trek down was just as beautiful. We took the same trail, but somehow it felt new. This trek was ideal  to celebrate twenty years of marriage: peaceful, beautiful, satisfying, and occasionally challenging, but always worth it. Thanks Bob. I love you.

To our surprise, it just happened our friends Suzanne and Maurizio invited us to hike the Natural Park of the Devero Alps on the day of our anniversary. It’s also on the boarder of Switzerland with equally stunning views. All the hikes that we have taken are spectacular, yet they all have their own unique speechless views. Nature knows how to show herself off.

The hike started next to a wild rushing river which guides us up into the woods. Next, we find ourselves in a grassy pasture that the alpine cows use to come down from the mountain in winter. This leads us to the top of a valley whose beauty simple takes your breath away. We leave this valley to enter another valley top and are hiking on the edge of the valley, and I mean edge. One wrong step and I’d be rolling hundreds of feet down into the valley. Yes, I was focused, hanging on to grasses (that wouldn’t help if I slipped anyway) and just scared enough to take this section very seriously. We stopped a few times to soak up the incredible views.

After about 20 minutes, we descended a bit to a tiny working farm where the cows live in summer. We saw three stone buildings, and what looked like an area for pigs.

Then we hiked straight up a ridge to the top of this mountain to discover more pasture and a small lake where we sat in the warming sun and ate lunch. Boy, food tastes good after a hard hike.

The rest of the hike was downhill through beautiful woods, past more rivers and waterfalls. Almost at the end, we hiked into the quaint community of Crampiolo, with its restaurants and places to stay. Many tourists hike to this area as there’s an easy paved trail that leads here. We took the high path.

As the sun was setting, we hiked another half hour along the river back to the car. I could not have planned a better way to spend my 20th year with a perfect partner. Cheers to you Bob!






Ghiffa Hike

Ghiffa Hike

Bob discovered a hike on the internet from Ghiffa to Verbania. The website stated, “perfect for families and children.”  It sounded like a perfect 3 hour hike. You take a quick bus ride, hike up the mountain, and hike on an old goat trail back to town. Simple, easy. Hmmm, NOT so much.

It was 60 degrees and we were off. Bob, our friend Dave and I take the 7 kilometer bus ride from Verbania to Ghiffa. The plan, as explained on the hiking website, was to follow an old trail to Sacro Monte of the Holy Trinity, a natural reserve and UNESCO World Heritage site (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.)

We believed we were the best prepared for any hike with printed directions in hand. Well, we quickly discovered the website was WRONG! The directions sucked and at times the trails were quite arduous.

Finding the trailhead was the first clue that the directions, as I said, “sucked.”

“Go to the hat factory/museum and follow the stone stairs.” Sounds clear, sounds easy – Nope, no stone stairs at the hat factory. They should say, “go south from the hat factory, past the parking garage, and look for the stone steps and a sign for Monte of the Holy Trinity.” The directions were about 2 football fields off.

We are feeling wonderful now. The trail is ancient stone, with stone walls on both sides and honestly radiates  holiness.  All goes well for about 15 minutes and we meet an asphalt road. The directions are not helpful. Is it a left? Is it a right? Do we turn three times, and click our shoes together?  Our instincts prevail  and we find the next major landmark, a church.

At the church, the directions, say ”walk up the steps past the church and follow the internal road until you reach the mule track that rises to the Holy Trinity of Ghiffa.” Again, sounds easy. Going up the stairs was as obvious as the yellow brick road. We get behind the church and you guessed it,  turn left? right?  Hmmm. And where’s the mule track? As if we’d know a mule track if we saw one.

At this point we are practicing our oral reading and listening skills. “OK, listen to me read this and you guys tell me what it means.” We choose right and keep walking. A few more dead ends, a helpful woman walking through the woods in a business suit talking on the phone (haven’t figured that one out yet) and two somewhat angry construction workers later ( we got busted cutting through some construction), we make it to Sacro Monte of the Holy Trinity.

The crazy hike was well worth it. The peace, the quiet, the view! We eat our picnic lunch sitting on an ancient stone bench overlooking Lago Maggiore, and explored a bit of the sanctuary.

OK, now we think all is great. There’s a trail marker and it looks crystal clear for the second half of the hike.  Again, after about 20 minutes of clear trail, nothing is obvious.  We run into many forks, trails that just end, and sometimes no trail at all. We read the useless directions, trust our guts, hit many (albeit beautiful) dead ends, and just keep hiking south.

Eventually we found our way back to the road, had a somewhat hair-raising walk on a highway, and arrived safely back in Verbania happy, a bit tired, and satisfied with a day of unexpected hiking.

We will be commenting on their website with a few suggestions on their directions. BTW, NOT children friendly.


Neighborhood Hikes

One of the routines Bob and I are establishing is hiking about twice a week. We can’t get to the Alps every day, so our goal was to find hikes that don’t require a guide or a car. Once again, Verbania, Italy does not disappoint. Monte Rossa, The Red Mountain (not red however) is smack dab in the middle of town.

Situated toward the top of Monte Rossa is a 15th century town, Cavandone, so that became our destination. The hike started at our door step and we headed south along the lake to the small community of Suna (great restaurants in Suna.) We turned into town at the sign for Cavandone. The hiking signs tell the hours and minutes, not the distance. We started the ascent pronto. It’s an even, but noticeable upward walk. I call it a walk at this point because we are on cobblestone streets through town on our way to the trailhead. After 20ish minutes and an underpass, it starts to feel like a hike. The trail is a Roman footpath complete with remnants of stone paths. Occasionally, dry-set-stone walls guide us up Monte Rossa.

In fall, the chestnuts cover the trails. The crazy surprise with chestnuts comes with their outer layer. It looks like a creature from Star Trek. (Kip, Find the episode for me! See the picture) I put one in my backpack, forget about it, and had quite the scare when I reached back in. My hand never moved faster. Laughter took over, and I’ve since eaten roasted chestnuts.

Anyway, hiking this clearly marked trail is stunning. We past an medieval watchtower, Maddona Del Buon Rimedio Oratory (small 17th century chapel), and hike up a long cobblestone stairs to enter Cavandone. I felt like I stepped back in time. As we wandered the deserted streets we remembered it was siesta. We came across a tiny restaurant with five people enjoying their siesta.

We were a bit tired and needed to hike back, so we decided to explore more on our next visit. We just reversed the hike to return home and ended back in Pallanza for a gelato for Bob and a vino rossa for me. Again, a perfect day!

Later that week, we hiked Monte Rossa again, but started north walking 20 minutes to Madonna Di Campagna Church, an octagonal Renaissance church. We turned toward the mountain, as the plan was to hike around the mountain instead of up and back. The dirt trail was also well marked and mostly took us through beautiful wooded forest with an occasional overview of the city. This side of the mountain was much steeper and it took some focus. We refueled with oranges and almonds and keep moving toward Bieno, a small town on the trail. When we got to the town, we enjoyed our lunch in a tiny piazza next to yet another ancient church. Happy and somewhat rested, we headed straight up and the trail dropped us off in Cavandone. Here we repeated the descent from the first hike and ended in Suna. After a 15 minute walk back to our door, we completed circling the Monte Rossa. These two hikes will be repeated again and again. Verbania has the hikes!


The Mountain Trek

The Mountain Trek
As Bob and I envisioned ourselves living in Verbania, hiking was always in the picture. The train ride into the mountains on Wednesday motivated us to get started. We would hike either Friday or Saturday depending on the weather.
Bob studied the hiking maps, had a plan, and at the last minute called Donato, a professional mountain climber and alpine guide. He’s scaled most of the highest peaks in Italy as well as around the world. So, he’s willing to take four somewhat in shape enthusiastic people into the Alps for a hike–a mountain trek.
We were all a bit nervous that we’d be scaling cliffs, but Bob assured us that Donato understood . He and his girlfriend, Emanuela picked us up at 8:30 Saturday morning and we quickly drove up the zig-zaggy mountain roads to the trailhead. By the time we got there, I thought I was going to vomit. Well, thank goodness for the fresh mountain air. Once I was out of the car, took a few good yoga breaths and started the hike I was feeling fine.
The first part of the hike was through sharply sloped woods. A elderly white bearded man (could have been Santa Claus) appeared from the woods carrying a wicker basket over his shoulder. He was digging wild mushrooms. He just nodded.
As we trekked out of the woods, the trail became more rocky, more grasses and the views began to pop out of the fog. It wasn’t the clearest day, but every-once-in-a-while the fog would clear and the view literally stopped us in our tracks. At points, you had to stop to look or you would fall off the mountain. It was a steady climb up and curious mosses, herbs, flowers and rocks kept my interest. Donato stopped us and pointed out a cross in the distance and explains via Bob (Donato only speaks Italian) that the cross is our goal. We are trekking to the summit–to the cross.
We continued on and passed a small rock building with a scary metal door. Donato opened the door, and explained that it is a winter shelter in case a person gets stuck on the mountain. We peeked inside to see a wood stove, no windows and two wooden twin beds covered in straw. What, no silk sheets and down comforter?
Next we stopped for a quick snack before making the final ascent. Donato leads followed by Bob, me, Nancy, Gary and finally Emanuela. The ascent is steady, grassy and close to straight up, but not a cliff. I think we were following a sheep trail. Bob and I get to the top and the view is mind-blowing. So worth the climb! The fog starts to roll in and within minutes we are in a blanket of fog. Very cool and spooky all at once. If our knowledgeable guide was not with us, I’d be nervous and think we’d be trapped and staying in that dank spidery shelter. One glance at calm Donato and I knew all was fine.
After a photo op we started our one and a half hour descent down the mountain. Now back at the trailhead, Danato and Emanula surprised us with cheese, prosciutto, and wine. Sorry, no gelato. We all sat at the table overwhelmed with the beauty of the mountains and the satisfaction of completing the four hour trek. I can’t wait to do it again before the snow falls. A perfect day!