Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Relaxing in the Italian Alps

Late last November right before Thanksgiving, Kyle had four days off.  We wanted to take an easy road trip with Gizmo, but November does not really have the best weather for travelling.  It's not snowy enough yet for a "winter fun" trip, but it's pretty cold and wet in the big cities.  For this trip, we decided to find our destination based on finding a nice, cozy hotel within driving distance where we would enjoy ourselves, even in bad weather.  We decided on a beautiful bed and breakfast called Les Trompeurs chez Odette in the tiny town of Cogne, Italy among the Italian Alps.  It's on the edge of the Gran Paradiso National Park, and it was a peaceful, relaxing place to visit.

Cogne is in the Aosta valley, which is very near Mont Blanc and the French border.  We couldn't be that close to the highest mountain in the Alps without seeing it for ourselves, so we stopped in the town of Chamonix, France on our drive down to check it out.  Chamonix is a beautiful little town, with Mont Blanc as an impressive back drop.  It reminded me of France's version of Garmisch, Germany, which has the Zugspitze towering above.

From Chamonix, we took the Mont Blanc tunnel under the mountain to reach Italy.  The tunnel is almost 12 kilometers (just over 7 miles) long.  It made the trip an hour shorter than it would have been had the tunnel not been there, since you would have to drive around Mont Blanc instead of just going under it.  The catch was that the toll for the tunnel was a whopping 42 Euro! We definitely didn't expect that!

We made it to our town very easily and made ourselves comfortable.  The town already had a decent amount of snow that had begun to melt in warmer temperatures.  We relaxed a bit before having a fantastic dinner at a cheese restaurant called Le Bar au Fromage.  It had a cozy and rustic atmosphere.  We had a beautiful charcuterie platter of typical Italian cured meats, followed by a delicious goat cheese raclette.  Raclette is somewhat similar to fondue, but the cheese is just melted in a different way.  They put a wedge of cheese in a heating device, and as it melts, you scoop it off onto bread, potatoes, veggies, etc.  It was very good!

The next day, we did a short hike from the town above that had beautiful views overlooking the valley.  We then drove down into the Gran Paradiso Park for a nice valley walk.  The park was created initially by King Victor Emmanuel II to protect the Alpine ibex population that was in decline due to hunting.  We were lucky enough to see a large group of the ibex feeding on the hillside as soon as we entered the park!  Gizmo loved our valley walk since we let him off of his leash.  He frolicked around, sniffing and having a good old time!

The next day we drove to the larger part of the Aosta valley to check out a castle and some Roman ruins.  We went to see the Fénis Castle, which dates back to sometime before 1242.  It is such a picture perfect castle!  We took a walk around, and Kyle got some photos before we headed on to the larger town of Aosta.

Aosta is a decent sized town.  It's not the prettiest Italian town we've ever seen, but it had a nice pedestrian street with some fun shops and restaurants.  The most interesting thing to see, and the reason we stopped in Aosta, are the Roman Ruins.  The town has many Roman ruins spread throughout the town.  We were both very impressed by the theatre ruins.  We had lunch at a nice microbrewery and brasserie called B63.  (Microbreweries aren't all that common in Europe, so we were excited to find it!)

After dropping Gizmo off at our hotel and getting our swimsuits, we headed back towards Mont Blanc to visit a wonderful thermal bath and spa right at the foot of Mont Blanc on the Italian side.  (We weren't driving back through that tunnel!)  It's in a beautiful historic villa and was a very nice setting for relaxing outside in the thermal baths, enjoying the views of Mont Blanc.  There were many different indoor and outdoor baths, saunas, treatment rooms, relaxation rooms, etc.  It was a nice way to end our trip!

We made the drive back the next day, heading through a mountain pass between Italy and Switzerland.  It was a simple drive back, with some very pretty mountain, countryside and lake views through Switzerland.  It was a very nice cozy, relaxing, with no expectations kind of trip.

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