The busy year was coming to an end and we were already pulling on our reins to get on the road for our traditional Christmas road trip. This year the selection of our destination was easy; our dear friend Maria had moved to Italy in the summer and we were eager to visit her. Christmas vacation gave us the perfect excuse!
Maria lives in the Aosta valley and our plan was to drive there through Switzerland and cross the Alps via the St. Bernard’s tunnel, which arrives directly to the Aosta valley. We would be at Maria’s casetta in no time. We planned to sleep just one night on the way there, somewhere in Switzerland.
On the Saturday before Christmas, we packed our car and caravan and headed south, towards Strasbourg and the border crossing of Basel in Switzerland. The route is quite nice and the French road tolls are quite low there. At the border, we bought the Swiss vignettes and headed on our way to the first sleeping spot a little bit past Basel, scouted from Park4Night.
During the night, the weather took a turn to the worse. There was a storm warning over the Alps and heavy snowfalls were expected. We had to reconsider our route. The St. Bernard tunnel is almost at 2000 meters, and there would surely be snow up there. Our house on wheels was not equipped for such conditions, so we decided to play it safe, and take the lower St. Gotthard tunnel, which would bring us to the lake Como and Milan. A bit of a detour, but it seemed like the best option.
On Sunday, we drove through a soaking wet Swiss landscape, made it to the tunnel with no ice on the road and poked out on the other side of the mountains, where there was sunshine and we could finally relax. The road sloped gently towards the Italian border and Milan. From there we took the heading to the west and Turin.
After the darkness had fallen, we finally arrived in the small village where our dear friends live. They were meeting us at the roadside, as the way to the casetta is quite small and hard to find and invited us into the warmth of their home. We sat to the table and enjoyed a meal prepared with love. I was so happy to be reunited with my dear friends after way too long of a time.
We spent two days with them, eating and walking and sitting around the campfire, giving new names to constellations and so forth. The Christmas was approaching and our friends were called away to their family’s Christmas table. It was time for us to move on too.
As usual, we were looking at the weather and walking regions and after a little bit of browsing decided to go to Parma –region. We spotted a caravan resting area in a small town of Bardone at the foothills of the Apennines, not very far from Parma itself. The mountain walks were also only an hour away from there, so things could not be much more perfect.
It was Christmas day and the church of that small town chimed a melody and woke us up to a sunny day. We squeezed into our boots, packed snacks and water and headed to the higher hills and the Tuscan-Emilian National Park, where we had spotted a nice looking ridge, climbing the peak of Monte Sillara.
We parked at Rifugio Lagoni, a mountain refuge, nestled next to a beautiful lake, and headed on, following the orange line marking our trail in Wikilocs. The trail was wide at that point, following the shape of the lake in the forest, it took a determined upward direction.
The snow was getting gradually deeper as we gained altitude. Which made me happy, since in my books Christmas without snow isn’t a Christmas. A good hour later, we reached the saddle (Sella di Rocca Pianaccia). From there on out we started to miss our crampons; the snow was getting deeper and icy at times, so finding a secure footing was challenging. We advanced very slowly.
Every now and then, the trail slipped to the southern side of the ridge, and the snow pack got thinner and we could walk more freely. But, for the most part the trail was challenging all the way, up until we got to the first peak of the ridge. Already there the view was magnificent! The air was clear so we could see the whole length of the Alps in the north, as a snowy rugged line in the horizon, below us we saw the land reaching down to the Mediterranean. It was very rewarding to sit there and feel like on top of the world!
After the amazement came time to find a way down. The trail was not getting any easier. It followed the norther side of the ridge, and there were large patches of icy snow on it with steep slopes. We weren’t too eager to walk it. Turning back would have been a pity also. Luckily, I spotted a signpost marking a trail crossing at the bottom of the cliff on top of which we were standing. There seemed to be a trail running back to the lakes where we had come from. We just needed to find a way to get to it.
We were in luck! There had been someone before us, who clearly had run into the same problem and that someone had left footprints for us to follow. We carefully followed a zigzag down the slopes, taking a slide on the snow when it got too hard to step on and navigating past boulders. Slowly we made it down to where the trail post was standing. It pointed towards another refuge, nestled a little ways above the lakes where we had started.
The trail was a bit easier to follow from there on. It was still quite snowy, as we were on the northern side of the ridge, so we were still advancing at crawling speed. There were streams crossing our path, making it icy and slippery, and sometimes it was difficult to find a sure footing. Both of our butts made contact with the earth more than once, before we finally reached the refuge.
The refuge was now closed for the winter, but I would imagine it is a very beautiful place when the summer comes and the nature blooms around it. There is water everywhere and magnificent rack walls sheltering it all around.
After hanging around the shelter for a bit, we headed in to the forest on the now wide trail. The forest there is very pretty, even in wintertime. I was mesmerized by the trees, and took a dive again into the snow. Soon enough the trail was done and we were back. We had just enough time to sit at the lakeside and eat our snacks before the sun left us and sunk behind the mountains and we started our return to the village where our trailer was waiting.
The evening of Christmas day was calm for us. We were already looking forward to visiting some cities the following day. More of that part of our vacation in the next post! Photos you can find from our Flickr.