We’re back! After 8days in the Italian National Park Val Grande (and two more days at Lago di Mergozzo to soak our wretched feet and sore muscles), we’re back in Berlin. The crowded subways and busy masses were a big, smacking slap in our sun- and windburned faces, but we are used to that from other returns. Which is why today, I preferred to hide away in my flat on a Friday night, providing you with a first sneak-peek of our adventure. We’ll probably need a couple of weeks to sort out all our footage, but I promise there will be more visual input soon. So, here are our first flashbacks of this wild “big valley”:
The bloodstained history
Interesting! As a matter of fact, Val Grande was not always as remote as it is today: There used to be many alps and logging was also popular for some time. However, most workers would prefer to overwinter down in the valleys. So even back then, large parts of Val Grande were uninhabited for whole months at a time. During World War 2, the area became a bloody crime scene: In 1944, German SS-units and fascist Italian troops scoured the whole area, searching for members of the Italian Resistenza (an anti-fascist movement), who were hiding in the mountains. During that mission, more than 500 people got murdered – not a few of them belonging to the local farmers who were accused of hiding the partisans. This cruel event contributed even more to the retreat of people out of Val Grande and left many villages in ruins. In 1992, the area was declared as a National Park (the name deriving from the remotest of the valleys). But even decades later, you come across many old stone huts – most of them in ruins. Especially Sebastian loved exploring them while I was often just as spooked as I was fascinated.
The park management restored some of those huts and created quite comfortable bivouacs. They are very basic but open to anyone and free of charge. And trust me, they will make you feel like a king*queen in his*her castle after a rough day’s hike! Some shelters even have solar panels but don’t expect a shower or feather beds there 😉 We slept in those Bivacchios whenever we could – sometimes sharing them with other hikers, sometimes having a hut all to ourselves. Only once, we needed our tent. But more on that later.
The wilderness ranking
A 9 out of 10 considering the fact that it’s in the middle of Europe and so close to other touristic hotspots such as the Lago Maggiore. Big! Wild! Rough! We would have never expected that it is even possible in the Alps to hike for a few days without meeting ANYONE! It is possible in Val Grande though, especially if you stick to the little paths. There are only a few tracks which are properly marked and maintained by the park management (and even those are only footpaths too narrow for two people walking next to each other) and once you leave them, you can be pretty much sure to be all by yourself. Skinny-dipping ahoi!
And even if you stay on those marked tracks, you will probably encounter only 1-4 other hikers per day (of course, that can be different at other times of the year. There are only two small villages (Colorro and Cicogna) close to the park’s borders where people live all year around and which you can reach by car. Very few other huts inside the park were actually occupied or looked like someone would slowly rebuilt them. So from those two villages onwards, you have to walk. Walking off-track, however, is often impossible due to the thick vegetation or insurmountable cliffs. Some paths seem to be long forgotten goat tracks which can’t be found on any map and suddenly end in the middle of no-where. On two days, we could only proceed with the help of chains and ropes, so you need to be sure-footed and an experienced hiker to conquer those challenges (climbing experience also helps). Personally, we navigated with map, compass and GPS and found the combination of all three very helpful.
Nonetheless, we would say that the National Park offers paths of many difficulty levels and we met a fair number of people who seemed less fit than us and still enjoyed their hikes. If needed, you are able to reach civilization in 2-3 days. Just make sure to inform yourself properly and be aware of the possible dangers. Val Grande has already claimed lives.
The animalistic companions
Thick bushes always mean that you will have neighbours and lurkers in the shadows. In fact, we met wild animals every day… But don’t worry, except for some vipers none of them are truly dangerous. And although some people even call the park “the valley of snakes”, we only saw a tiny (dead) one on a street. Just make sure to lumber through the wild like an overweight elephant (stomp-stomp-stomp) and you probably won’t come across any of those shy reptiles. Who we encountered regularly, were lots of birds and spiders, even more lizards and mice, a couple of fireflies, ticks and slugs, swarms of mozzies, a few chamoises and one dormouse. So not too wild. Are you terrified of wolves and bears? Good news then: You won’t meet any in Val Grande. Only the mice are a real pain in the a%# since they eat everything you haven’t secured properly over night (put all your food and garbage in closed bags and hang them up where they can’t be reached by hungry animals).
And last but not least: The social factor
Val Grande is remote and lonely, so make sure to take a good travel buddy with you – not only for safety reasons. Right at the beginning of our trip, we were all by ourselves for three long days and nights in a row. So, if you are more the companionable-scouts-kind-of-type and dislike silence, bring some jolly fellows with you. Because here is a list of the great entertainments of trekking-life: You can play carts, try to see your future in the flames of a bonfire or determinately belabour your walking stick with a knife until it has become a fine piece of art. Oh, and I guess there are a trillion good spots for playing hide-and-seek… But that’s it. Oddly enough, we NEVER got bored. Walking, preparing food, collecting firewood and edible plants, eating, sleeping, packing, unpacking and repacking, walking again, … – our lives consisted of very basic duties and we loved it.
Read the full stories here:
“It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves – in finding themselves.” Andre Gide