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Alpine Walking Itineraries: the Alpi Marittime II

In Alpine Walking Itineraries: the Alpi Marittime Iwe have walked through the buildings and upon the roads created by and for the Italian army in the past two centuries. Since the  times of Napoleon, these mountains represented a defensive stronghold for Piedmont first and for the Kingdom of Italy later, their landscape modified by such a role in many a place.

In the second part of our virtual trip, we will take a better look at the history of the Savoias, Italy’s royal family, and its strong ties with the Marittime. Beloved by Vittorio Emanuele II, the Valle Gesso and the Valle Stura became a suggestive background for the king’s hunting expeditions, as well as a favored retreat for the entire family.

The Savoias and the Alpi Marittime

Itineraries of the Alpi Marittime: the Rifugio del Valasco (Luca Bergamasco/wikimedia)

The Savoias loved the Valle Gesso. Their three-generation-long love affair with the Marittime started here, in this Valley, when Vittorio Emanuele and Ferdinando of Savoia visited the area in 1855. Italy was not a unified country, yet, but young Vittorio Emanuele was already known as a skilled and passionate hunter: no wonder he fell in love with the area, whose fauna is still today among the richest in Northern Italy. Of course, the Valley had to be only his to hunt in, so he demanded to the local authorities of Valdieri and Entracque exclusive hunting rights on this stretch of mountains. If it seemed unfair, think twice: the king was to bring much work and cash to the areas he was so often to visit throughout his life. In 1857, the Riserva Reale di Caccia di Valdieri e Entracque was born. At the heart of it the Terme di Valdieri (the Valdieri Spa), still running today, and the Reale Palazzina di Caccia del Valasco, the Royal Valasco Hunting lodge, the very destination of our first itinerary.

Vittorio Emanuele II, in his hunting attire (Palace/wikimedia)

Itinerary three: the Valasco Hunting Lodge

The Valasco Hunting Lodge was adored by Vittorio Emanuele, and frequently used by his son Umberto, too. The last king of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele III, was not as keen on mountain living as his predecessors, but his wife, Queen Elena di Montenegro, loved fishing in the area. Throughout the decades, the lodge lived as a hunting retreat, military barracks and, today, it is one of the best known, easy-access Alpine lodges (rifugi) in the Maritimes. Leaving from Terme di Valdieri.

The Rifugio del Valasco is open every day from the  1st of May to the 30th of September. It closes fully from November to mid-February, as snowfalls in the period usually make access harder, but it opens by booking at weekends and during Easter holidays. This is also possible at Christmas, if the weather allows it.

The trekking route to the hunting lodge starts at the parking space in Terme di Valdieri. It is an easy to walk road, which will bring you up to destination in about one hour.

More trekking from the Rifugio del Valasco

If you make your visit to the Rifugio a longer stay, you would have the opportunity to take daily treks in the surrounding areas: we will give you some ideas here, but the best thing to do is to ask the people at the Rifugio once you are there: they will be able to address you to the right type of itinerary for your tastes and walking abilities!

From the Rifugio del Valasco, you could reach other Rifugi quite easily: the Rifugio Emilio Questa is only 1 1/2 hour away. Reaching the Rifugio Livio Bianco, beautifully located on the shores of a lake, will take you much more time (around 5 1/2 hours), so it may be a good idea to stay overnight there. The Rifugio Morelli, whose ascent is considered one of the hardest in the area to reach a lodge, is about 4 hours away from the Rifugio del Valasco. To reach it, you would have to walk back to Terme di Valdieri.

If you fancy some more mountaineering, you could try the ascents to the Rocca Valmiana (3006 metres/9900 feet above sea level) or the Cima di Fremamorta (2731 metres/8960 ft above sea level) both accessible with a 4 hours walk.

These areas are also of interest in relation to our first set of itineraries, those related to the military and the Alpi Marittime: during his years in power, Mussolini renewed many of their roads, and plenty of small bunkers and forts can still be seen while walking around. Do not be surprised if, while you look around in search of a marmot or an ibex, you eyes will set upon one of these constructions, as there truly is plenty around here.

A young ibex on the Marittime near the rifugio Remondino (Peter Fenda/flickr)

Itinerary Four: the “Sui Sentieri del Re” Four-Day Tour

This itinerary is professionally organized by the people of the Parco Naturale Alpi Marittime and, if you like mountains and trekking, it may be an amazing way to get to know Italy in a less ordinary way. An official Park guide will lead you through a fascinating voyage on the roads and sites adored and enjoyed by Vittorio Emanuele II during his stays in Basso Piemonte.

Main routes of the trek will be the king’s favored hunting paths. All itineraries are easy enough to be enjoyed by everyone who is mildly used to walk uphill and a luggage transportation service, which will take care of your heavier backpacks, means you will be able to trek in freedom, carring only a small backpack with you. All you will have to worry about, in other words, is to take in the scenery and make some good photos for your album.

Overnight stays are organized in characteristics Alpine lodges or comfortable sleeping points, so you certainly will not need to worry about not getting a good night sleep after a long day walking and sightseeing. And what a fantastic experience staying in an Alpine lodge is: the camaraderie, joyful chattering and  sense of communion, the lightheartedness you will enjoy may well be among the most beautiful memories you will bring home with you from this trip. Of course, you will dine here, too: expect simple, yet heartwarming grub, just right to keep you going through the next day’s big walk. Lunches, too, are usually catered for in Alpine lodges, which will provide a joyful and well deserved rest-point after a morning of trekking.

The first day will see you walk to Pian del Valasco and reach the lakes of Portette, Claus and Valscura, to then return to the Pian del Valasco. You will stay overnight in the above mentioned Rifugio del Valasco. This first day walk will see you trek 17 km (around 10 miles), for a total time of 6  and 1/2 hours.

The laghi di Fremamorta are the main destination of your second day trek. Amazingly beautiful in their own right, these lakes also offer one of the most magnificent views on the Argentera Massif, whose peak is the highest of the Alpi Marittime (10.816 ft). 14 km (8 1/2 miles) and almost 6 hours will be the toll of your second walking day on the Marittime.

Day three will bring you to the Vallone del Lourousa, where the largest glacier of the Marittime is: the Gelàs is a long, deep sliver of perennial ice that runs for 900 metres downill the homonymous mountain. After lunch, the Vallone della Rovina and its surroundings will be protagonists of your walk. At the end of day, while resting in the cozy atmosphere of the Rifugio Genova, where you will spend the night, your feet will have walked 17 km (more or less 10 miles) and your eyes will have feasted on the beauty of these mountains for more than 6 hours.

On the last day of the Sui Sentieri del Re itinerary you will reach the Colle di Fenestrelle and, from there, enter the Vallone del Barra. This is the perfect location for some Alpine fauna spotting (mind, you will very likely see plenty of marmots, ibexes and chamois on every day of the tour: I used to come to these mountains every week when I was a child and not once I did not come up and close with one of these beautiful animals) while relaxing and reaching back to Terme di Valdieri, where the itinerary had started.

For bookings and details, you may like to take a look here, Parco Alpi Marittime: Sui Sentieri del Re

A panoramic view of the Argentera from the Colle di Fenestrelle (guidosky/flickr)

How to Get There

All the itineraries proposed in this two-part trip into the Alpi Marittime and Italian History leave from Terme di Valdieri (besides the Forti di Nava walk, but we gave you details on how to get to starting point, already!). Here is some indications to reach Terme di Valdieri in all safety!

The closest airport is certainly that of Turin, but that of Nice, in France, is also very handy. From Turin airport, take the A6, Torino- Savona, exit at Fossano and then follow the SS (Strada Statale) 231 to Cuneo. Once there, drive on the SS 20 to Borgo San Dalmazzo, then follow indications to the Valle Gesso and the Terme di Valdieri.

From Nice, take the Autoroute in direction Italie-Vintimille and, once you are on Italian soil follow up on the motorway in the Savona direction. Here, take the A6 to Turin and exit in Mondovì and drive to Cuneo. Once here, follow the indications proposed above.

If you come from the Milan area (for instance, if you arrived at Malpensa airport), take the A6 motorway Torino-Savona to Fossano, then follow the same itinerary described above. If, on the other hand, you come from Liguria (Genoa), take the A6 motorway in direction Torino up to Mondovì, then follow indications for Cuneo.  From there, follow the same roads as above.

I admit it has been a pleasure to write about these itineraries, not only because I love history, but also because I have walked them myself often when I was a child. Memories of childhood and of that light hearted sense of freedom one gets only at that age resurfaced as an ancient memory, and brought me back to those incredible moments and much loved, treasured memories.

More than images, more than snapshots came to my mind: scents came in as silent, magnific waves onto my mind and onto my nostrils. It was scents that brought me back to those places: the clear, crispy scents of the mountains, the sweet accent of summer mint and flowers, mixed with the sunblock I used to wear as a child. Beautiful places, beautiful memories: you should go, really. And if you are lucky, if the day is clear enough, from one of the Marittime’s peaks (I am sure you can see that from the Marguareis, which stands at 5.577 ft), you may be able to look at the sea.

Alpi Marittime, on the way to the Punta Marguareis (Gruppo Scout Agesci Lodi/flickr)
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