Driving into Piedmont…
Greg and Jan, the owners of our mountain home, recommended that we take a drive to Upega, crossing the border into Piedmont (known for its food and wine, especially the red Barolo. And they were spot on with the advice!
As we climbed into the mountains, it was amazing how quickly the temperature dropped and the scenery became more stunning! The buildings also became more alpine in structure and look. We stopped at little Viozene – the start of many of the alpine walks – for a coffee at the bar, before continuing on to Ponte di Nava. Just inside the Piedmonte border is a little grocery store famous for its local products. We spent ages wondering around the shop, finally selecting a bottle of Barolo wine and a bag of bacci. Bacci are little biscuits found across the region – but as we found later, the recipes vary depending on the town.
We chose not to buy any bread / cheese / prosciutto for lunch as we were unsure of our plans – but we did know the store shut at 1pm for lunch and it would likely be closed on our return from Upege. This decision turned out to be the best one we could’ve made. After our scenic trip to Upega, we arrived back at Ponte di Nava at 10 minutes past one. No lunch!! On driving up the main road, we spotted a guy going into a door and realised it was a restaurant. So, parking outside the grocer, we meandered back to the little door, opened it and discovered a log fire and the welcoming owner of Vecchia Locanda. I don’t think we’ve eaten so much good food for so little money. And the owner was having fun chatting to everyone – even though everyone in the room was speaking a different language! A little gem!
We took a round trip home via Pieve di Teco, a town centred around a main street lined with loggia (porticoes).
Climbing Mt Mongioie (2630m) from Viozene…
Some of the walking trails from Viozene
Our brief stop at Viozene had whet our appetite for doing some alpine walks. Whilst we were happy to embark on a couple of short trails on our own, not knowing the terrain or conditions we were more reticent about embarking on a more strenuous walk, especially the climb to the summit of Mt Mongioie that we spotted. Lorenzo to the rescue!! A long time ago, when watching an episode of Escape to the Continent that featured Liguria, we saw a guy that ran a walking company. He was Italian but he had spent a lot of time in the UK so spoke English. We made contact then and had kept in touch. All it took was a quick email (OK, maybe a few emails) to lock in the details and we were on our way to the town of Pieve di Teco to pick up Lorenzo for our climb.
Following a quick brioche and macchiato, we were on our way. That is, after tracking Lorenzo down as we had no phone or internet reception (fortunately Walter recognised him from this television debut given we’d watched it at least 3 times!).
Contemplating the climb
As we approached Viozene, we could see remnants of the snow that had fallen on the mountain overnight. Yes, we’d chosen the coldest day so far to climb to 2600m+! But it did make for an interesting walk, albeit slippery in a few spots.
We were privileged to spot (with Lorenzo’s help) a number of Marmots – little mountain creatures that live in burrows. Although if truth be told, not so little at the moment, but a bit like us after all the Italian food – although they have an excuse as they’re preparing for their winter hibernation. Luck was certainly on our side as we also saw a number of Camoscio (Chamois) skipping around the slopes. Lorenzo also had a chat to a cow that was sunning itself on the southern slope. It didn’t appreciate being disturbed!
The view of the sea and the Alps from the summit of the mountain made all the climbing, slipping and rock hopping worthwhile. We signed the book and sheltered ourselves as we nibbled on our snacks. Unfortunately, we left our descent a few minutes too late – by the time we set out, the sun had disappeared behind the cloud and the wind was blowing, so we were glad for our gloves. But amazingly, the snow on the southern slopes had melted and everything looked totally different to what it had on our ascent.
We made a stop at a mountain refuge for a welcome (and well earned?) cappuccino. It felt a bit like entering a Nepalese tea house – even the person making the coffee was Nepalese!
The day ended with apperitivo with Lorenzo at a bar in Pieve. Being with a local, the cheese, meat and bread snacks were likely much better than we would have had on our own!