Below I'm admiring the Lac Noir, one of the many Alpine lakes I'd encounter during the week. Each one of them inspires you to take a contemplative pause, surrounded by wildflowers and stunning views.
I was based in the 3* Chamois d'Or hotel. Set up like a modern chalet, the rooms are adorned with wood, very charming and comfortable, and the food is outstanding. In 6 nights there I was never disappointed by the dinners: tasty and refined, yet simple and unpretentious, perfect after a long day's hike.
Marina & Angelo are wonderful and personable hosts, with a young and helpful staff. You feel at home the instant you arrive.
From my first walk: a steep path heading to the crests east of the Castérino Valley.
On the crests: Alpine meadows and wildflowers. Below are globeflowers.
asters on the right.
My second day's hike was the most ambitious, and definitely the most scenic, climbing up to the Fontanalba pass (2568m) on a former military path:
with some late snows to cross:
Beyond the pass I entered the Valmasque valley with its mountain lakes:
Refuge de Valmasque:
one of the many ibex hanging around the refuge (a young female):
Hiking back down the lush Valmasque valley, passing wildflowers (columbines):
The cobbled path that zigzags down the valley:
passing scenic waterfalls;
The following day's hike, up the Vallée de la Minière, covered in larch trees and wildflowers:
The final climb to reach the Refuge des Merveilles:
Above the refuge des Merveilles:
From the Refuge des Merveilles I took a guided tour (highly recommended!) of just a few of the 40,000 rock carvings, some of which are 6000 years old. It's Europe's largest open-air museum.
One of the sacred rock carvings in question:
I had placed them neatly on a rock, during what we call in French a technical pause.
It wasn't until a couple hours later, back in the comforts of my hotel room, that I realized they were gone.
I raced back to the end of the hike, and there they were: soaked, but otherwise OK.
My final hike took me to the Fontanalba valley, directly behind the hotel.
A curious ibex upon a rock:
the Voie Sacrée, or "sacred path", complete with millennia-old rock carvings:
Apparently the park's chamois have been less furtive towards humans since the wolf has returned to the region...
I suppose I'm a little ecstatic: it's the first time in a long, long while that I've done any proper mountain hiking, and I carried a sense of renewed wonder and energy with me throughout the week.
But personal fulfillment aside, I'm very satisfied with all aspects of my reconnaissance:
- the varied hikes lead to spectacular glacial valleys, now occupied by Alpine pastures, carpeted by wildflowers, and occupied by far more wild animals than humans
- the paths are well-maintained and easy underfoot, thanks largely to pre-WWII tensions between the Italians and the French (the paths and tracks were built by Italian soldiers to protect the borders)
- and the Chamois d'Or hotel awaits every evening, with a warm pat on the back from Angelo, a warm bowl of hearty minestrone, and a warm and comfy bed to sleep in.