Hotel Arrucador had been a wonderful nights rest after a tiring day. Uniquely designed with a bespoke interior in wood, stone and steel, it blended old and new in an unexpected but beautifully balanced way that just seemed so at home in its surroundings. It was certainly the most luxurious stay of our trip and Walter had made our evening with a meal that included his own recipe vegetarian ravioli with almonds and herbs, followed by wild boar and polenta, washed down with a delicious red that we couldn’t help feeling would have cost a lot more at home.
Italians, it seems, rarely have more than coffee and a piece of bread or brioche for breakfast and we’d been hungry by 10:30 the last couple of days. When we came down for breakfast Walter somehow knew this (the crystal ball of a good hotelier of course) and casually quizzed “bacon and eggs?” in a way that was more assumption than question. It was the best way to start a days hiking and we left feeling 100% better than we’d arrived the previous day.
A relaxed start meant the sun was already hot as we picked our way through cultivated fields and small dwellings, across a burbling creek and then began the steady climb that was becoming each morning’s challenge. The previous day I had carelessly sunburnt the backs of my legs wearing shorts and today I had to pay the price with an even hotter sun beating down on the backs of my legs. I’d worn thermal legs under my shorts today to keep the sun off them but the heat felt through these still agitated my already sunburnt legs, and it was oh, so hot and sweaty!
Walter had given us clear instructions to follow a network of hillside pathways that would join the GTA as it climbed the hill opposite rather than descend all the way into the hamlet of Limonetto, only to climb back out again thirty minutes later.
We were grateful and found it OK despite a misleading side turning to some huts. We turned left onto the marked trail and headed up the long ridge with a welcome break at a stream crossing before continuing ever upwards through flower meadows. At any stream opportunity like this we would not only drink (having filtered the water against bacteria of course), but we would also soak our clothes and hats to maximise cooling in the hot sun. Of course clothes would be dry within minutes but it did help to minimise the effect of being in the full heat of the sum all day with rarely much shade.
A downed signpost with signs laid on a cairn needed checking as the path was not clear and we pulled out the map to confirm our route. On occasions the, otherwise well-marked, route would just seem to vanish in the long grass or in meadows heavily grazed and trampled by cattle. The maps we carried were useful, if less than accurate at all times, and we were soon back on track. The path became steeper again and we paused momentarily for a brief chat with some German hikers following the route South, before continuing up steep switchbacks to the crest of the ridge, a trio of craggy outcrops that formed the natural barrier between valleys.
Lisa had me go ahead on this last steep section to the top to assess the exposure, still nervous from previous day when she’d been experiencing a bit of vertigo on the more exposed sections. To be fair I thought her concerns were well founded. The climb up had been steep and hard work but never a struggle for safe footing, whereas the descent ahead looked much steeper and had a lot of rough loose rock. It seemed that the path makers had also thought similarly as they’d laid on bolted cables for hand holds on the way down.
Despite this Lisa tackled it with confidence determined not to let her occasional vertigo with heights get in the way. It was tricky going and we had to pick our way down carefully finding both secure footholds and handholds. It was a steep concave slope so the angle only began to lessen as we got much lower down. Part way down we spotted two Chamois on the rocks further round the slope. Their incredible nimbleness put our efforts to shame as we watched one of them skip it’s way up the steep rocks scaling what appeared to us an almost sheer face before stopping to look back at us (slightly mockingly it seemed to me).
We disturbed two more further down the slope and watched as they quickly skirted round us, watching us warily.
At the foot of the slope was a beautiful turquoise lake just beyond which we stopped for some lunch. The sugar free biscotti were definitely wearing thin by now and we craved some decent lunch snacks. We’d found buying snacks a real challenge. The small village stores stocked barely anything ‘packaged’ and it seemed that Italians in this area must make almost everything from basic fresh ingredients. It was a wonderful revelation in terms of the resistance here to the inexorable rise of the supermarkets, but we could hardly carry a tomato, a couple of onions and a bag of carrots for several days of lunches. We got by however with a combination of nuts, some dried fruit, a little (usually soft) chocolate, biscuits and some apples.
The rest of the way down was straightforward. As we descended the undergrowth became more lush and for a while we followed a stream gurgling down the hillside, and stopped to filter water from a side tributary. Further down we entered woodland and encountered two older Italian ladies out with cameras exploring the undergrowth. One had gone ahead without the other realising and she was chattering away when she looked up to find us stood there rather than her friend which made us all laugh, even though we couldn’t communicate much we all got the joke.
Palanfre itself was a beautiful little village. We passed the dairy first and then a cluster of houses. We walked to the end of the village first then back up to the post tappa, outside which several other hikers where sat in the sun having a drink. 3 Austrians and a German where to become our friends for the evening. The host was an exhuberant young guy who greeted us with a little English. In typical Italian fashion he encouraged us to relax first, have a drink, and sort the room out later. We drank Chinotto, a local sparkling fruit drink, part of the slow food movement which began in this, the Piedmont region of Italy. Focused on quality ingredients, local provision, preparation that takes as long as necessary to be right, it is a movement that rejects the whole ethos of fast food.
The evening was great fun. Languages, politics, Brexit (!) were all covered as we drank the house red. I should note that the ‘simple cheap house red’ here was better than most expensive bottles I have had back home. The food was incredible; an enormous board of prosciutto and formaggio, locally produced here in the village. All the more impressive when we learnt that just two families live permanently in this valley now. At one time there were more than 300 people living here. Many of the houses that were still standing had become quaint well-cared for holiday homes.
The family had a new born baby and despite that mum was busy preparing food and serving us while her baby quietly waited in a rocker. One of the family had a mixing deck and entertained us with a constant flow of eighties tunes, all skillfully mixed. This posto tappa was clearly the life and soul of the handful of houses and the walkers that stayed a night seemed a very welcome connection to the wider world beyond the family and the cow bells.
We were comparing language skills as English and German were the common tongues and Lisa had them all roaring with laughter when she recalled how to say ‘hello, my name is Lisa and I am eleven years old’.
It always amazes me that you can throw together a small group, of three different nationalities, in an unfamiliar destination, with some good food and wine, and they’ll invariably find more in common than they will to divide them and we said goodnight that night more like old friends than the strangers that we were.