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Berner Oberland To the Alps! Switzerland and Italy

The Alps in Switzerland in the Bern Canton.

Pauline

Forums Admin
The trails seems to be well marked. I like the themed gondola and as always I love your cow photos. It looks like there's some snow. Thanks so much for sharing.
Yes, still bits of snow up over 2000 meters. And glaciers I think on those stone peaks.

Trails are really well marked here. Most signs even have walking times to the destinations. In the center of town is a big set of walking signs showing the trails in all directions. Better route signs than in the UK and theirs are pretty good.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
As forecast, temps in the mid 50s F (mid 70s yesterday) and rain all day. The mountains are covered in cloud.

We drove to Zweisimmen, to the tourist office, to buy passes for hiking in the Gstaad area but could not get them! You have to be staying in the Gstaad-Saanen-Zweisimmen area to get the pass, but we have purchased them the last two years and they did not ask where we were staying. This time they did. And I could not get them to sell it to us even with begging.

When you stay in Switzerland you pay a daily visitor tax (about 2.50CHF) and you get a card that gives you discounts on some things. Our card lets us ride the Lenk gondola for free (a great deal because it is 26CHF one way, 33 return). The Gstaad one lets you buy a pass for all the local mountains rides, buses and trains for 13CHF a day, which is the best deal we have ever found in Switzerland.

They did tell us that the road up the mountains to the lake, that we started up last week but turned back, was drivable and lots of locals use it, so we may try that again. And we will pay full price to ride my favourite chair lift. We did all the Gstaad hikes last year, and the year before, and two other times, so we won't miss them this time. This will let us do more hikes in the Lenk valley, ones we would have skipped.

Only a week left here! A week today we drive into the Italian Alps.

The weather is forecast to go back to mid 70s and sunny for the rest of the week.

While in Zweisimmen we went to their new Aldi store. I have never been in one, or in a Lidl (German discount grocery stores popular in Europe and the UK). It sucked.

View from our terrace. Looking towards the 5 star hotel and the Gondola.

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From the other day at Iffigenalp. These are typical walking signs here.

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Close up. The central white square tells you where you are and the altitude in meters. The signs point the direction and show the destination with walking time. White and red stripes means a more difficult trail.

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Pauline

Forums Admin
Another wonderful day. Sunny with a few clouds, weather in upper 60s. We took the gondola again and this time walked the other direction. Walked for two hours, had lunch sitting in a field looking at the mountains, then walked back. We took a diversion along an alpine flower trail near the gondola station. The flowers are gone, but the signs were there. A beautiful walk that must be even nicer in July. Walked for four hours but some of that time was taking photos of all the cows.

This cow was posing for me.

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Steve on the trail.

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Our lunch view. You can see the edge of Launensee which you get to from Gstaad.

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Exciting walk over this rocky area.

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Pauline

Forums Admin
Another lovely day - sunny and mid 70s.

We drove to Schoenreid, 20 minute drive, and took the chairlift to Horneggli, walked out and back for two hours (easy walk) and had lunch at a restaurant up there. Our first lunch out! We both had Rosti with egg (fried potatoes with a fried egg) and salad. We've eaten at this restaurant a few times before. They have a big terrace with views.

The chairlift is the one I used to hate until we figured out that you can flip off the plastic cover. An open air chairlift taking you 500 meters up a beautiful hill. The chairlift is quite high up and you look down on farms and fields. Going down is a bit upsetting as you realise just how high you are. But great views out to the mountains.

We continued on to Saanen. We spent two weeks there years ago and loved the town. When we visited for the day two years ago we were shocked how it had changed. Today we wanted to spend a bit more time there.

You can see the old Saanen but everything is more upscale, like nearby Gstaad. The Main Street is pedestrian and there is a big underground parking lot. The cafe we used to go to is still there and has the same name, but is more modern looking. The vegetable store, which featured in an article about vacation rentals that I had published years ago, has been replaced by an architects office. There is still one food shop in town and it is nice (we picked up a few things). And most importantly, a cup of coffee is 20 cents more than in Lenk (4.20CHF instead of 4.00).

I would stay there again because it is still a great location and a nice town, and Gstaad is a good place to stay too.

Lots of American and other English speaking voices today in these more well known towns.

Views on our walk. Those are the mountains above Lenk in the distance.

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From the chairlift.

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Saanen train station, looks the same.

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Knitted dish towels! A benefit of upscale. I bought a set, even though I have knitted my own!

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Pauline

Forums Admin
Every day here is the same. Sunny and warm, we go for a hike, it is amazing.

Today, sunny and warm (low 70s). We drove to Simmenfalle at the end of the valley and walked uphill for 1 1/2 hours. We took it slow. The walk is on a dirt road used by the farmers. It is beside the Simme River and the falls. You go in and out of forest, past fields of cows and old farm houses. Views up to those high mountains. When you reach the top you are in a huge meadow at the base of the mountains. Waterfalls come down from the glaciers and form the river. The water is grey because of the rock.

There is a farm house where they make organic cheese (bio). You buy it from a self serve fridge. They have a restaurant with tables outside, covered by a big umbrella because the sun is strong.

The restaurant was almost full. There were a lot of people at the picnic area at the nearby waterfall. Some people walk up like we did, but others start out earlier from Iffigenalp, the next valley over, and do a 3 - 4 hour walk to here. Others have come down from the huts up at the top of the mountains and some are heading up to them. It is surprising to see so many people when you can only get there on foot.

We walked further out in the valley, had our lunch (avocado sandwiches today!) with an amazing view, then walked back down in half the time it took to get up. 3.5 hours walking, 300 meters ascent and descent.

We got back into town in time to shop for things to take home. I like the Swiss Alpine Herbs teas and herbs.

Our first dinner out! Steve had perch, I had a vegetarian Rosti. It was still light when we finished after 8pm so we strolled around town. The mountains look magical at night.

We like this apartment and it is really nice being in town, so I will book it again for next September.

Waterfalls from the glaciers.

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The restaurant and farm near the Siebenbrunnen falls. I think people stay there too and maybe camp in the area.

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Our lunch time view. Behind us is the end of the valley. Last year we climbed out of the valley, up another 400 meters, but that turned into a very long hike - too long for us. This time we turned back before the big climb.

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Pauline

Forums Admin
Our internet has gone out tonight. I am posting this via our phone. (It returned while I was writing. Now I can listen to Radio 4 and catch up on The Archers. Plus Narcos season 2 tonight.)

Another fantastic day. We got a late, but well rested, start and took the bus up the mountainside to Laubbargli. It is a 20 minute ride on a narrow road. They use a van instead of a regular bus. It went from 1000 meters to 1847 meters, saving us that long uphill. There is a restaurant at the bus stop and some people on the bus were going up for lunch with a view.

The bus driver told us the best route to take (the signs were confusing) and we started by climbing up on an easy switchback through forest. We saw a huge red mushroom! Then we were above the treeline and climbed to a ridge. We walked along the ridge with magnificent 360 degree views of mountains. We walked across the mountainside to another bus stop and restaurant at Buhlberg.

The walk ended up taking us 3.5 hours, climbing 250 meters and descending 400 meters.

We bought a round trip ticket for the bus for this route for 22CHF each ($22) and it included a free coffee at either restaurant. We arrived with enough time to have coffee before getting the Buhlberg bus back down. This was a regular sized bus.

I find it amazing that the hiking is so well Organizer that they know that hikers will want a ticket for going up on one bus and down on another. You feel very well taken care of as a hiker here. It isn't cheap but the hiking is fantastic. It was the woman at th tourist office who told us we might like this hike. All the other hikes we've done before, but this was the first time for this one. The only downside was that it was buggy for the first half. We have not run into any bugs on other hikes, but this one had these flying ants that were annoying.

We have driven to Bulberg on a previous trip and the last two years we stayed in a chalet about 2/3 of the way to Buelberg. I was happy to be on a bus this time, making the cars coming towards us back up until there was room to squeak past, instead of driving.

Another perfect day. Temps in the mid 70s, sunshine all day. It is cooler up at altitude and we are always surprised at the heat when we return to town.

The red mushroom in the forest.

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The view after our climb up. There is a paraglider in the photo.

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We had lunch on a bench outside a mountain hut. This was our view.

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An interesting stile to get over a fence - two wooden ramps to let you get over it.

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Pauline

Forums Admin
I googled red mushroom too but that was when our internet went out, then I forgot! Thanks! It is the iconic mushroom from children's stories. It was quite big, maybe 8 inches across.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Travel disaster today! For the last few days we could hear a worker laying a new floor in the apartment next to us. A bit of noise but not much. I should have thought it through and talked to the local agency. This morning they put the sealer on the floor and the smell was throughout the building and coming into our apartment. Steve is very sensitive to chemicals, like the ones in fragrance or this type of building product. We went to the agency and they had no where to move us for our last two nights (fully booked). They were upset that any work was being done next door without them being told.

So I arranged to checkin in Cogne on Sunday instead of Monday (they are booked Saturday) and found a hotel in Aosta for one night. We packed quickly and left.

I am well prepared for this because my most common nightmare is having to pack and leave for various reasons (forgot date of flight, etc).

Half way to Aosta I got my email booking confirmation only to find it was the hotel Aosta in Trieste! I had booked by phone, I had made sure it was in Aosta, but something got lost in translation. I phoned and convinced to cancel without charging me.

Here we sit in a hotel in Courmayer, in Italy, in the Aosta valley. Pretty room on the noisy Main Street, but we are happy to be here. Now out to see Courmayeur!

That Mont Blanc Tunnel! 54 euro for a return trip through it! It as an incredibly beautiful drive today! About 3.5 hours.

View from room.

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Pauline

Forums Admin
We had a nice evening in Courmayeur. We got the last table at the restaurant with the best menu for us and had a very good meal (pasta for me, local fish for Steve). The hotel was comfortable.

In the morning, after breakfast at the hotel, we walked into the town center to find it packed with people. There was a big event starting - an endurance run up into the mountains, Tors des Geants, 330km, 24,000 meters ascent, 150 hours max. The elite athletes arrive back on Wednesday and do not stop to sleep. There were 1000 people running, men and women, old and young (but you have to be over 20 to do this).

Shop were open so we got bread and some vegetables. Then we drove to Cogne. Most of the drive on the autostrada was in tunnels, but after 30 mins we were on a long mountain road to Cogne (good road). Another 30 mins on that.

We were early so stopped on the way to see a very good Roman aqueduct bridge, Pont d'Ael.

Cogne is a nice town about the size of Lenk. Many shops and restaurants. Most shops were open (on Sunday!). Lots of people in hiking gear. The one woman I saw in spike heels and skin tight torn jeans looked out of place.

We checked into our apartment, had a late lunch with things purchased from the deli, then walked up the river to a higher small town (Valnontey), where the big hike we have planned starts. It was a lovely walk in woods (1 hour up, 40 mins back).

Today was sunny and mid 80s. Tomorrow and the next few days are mid 60s with some rain. Thursday is mid 50s. We are happy about this because we want to see the Ibex. Valnontey is at 1600 meters and the Ibex are up at 2300 meters for the summer. When the weather changes they start moving down which means we won't have to hike up as high.

If we can't manage the 900 meter climb and don't see them, we will come back next spring. At that time they are down in this valley (the tourist office explained all this to us). He said they start going up at the end of June. There is a huge beautiful meadow in Cogne and they come down to it.

The apartment is nice, but not as nice as that Lenk apt. It is on the ground floor with the owners above (a nice couple with young kids). A spot to park the car but to get out you back down a narrow lane with stone wall on one side, dropoff on the other. I am voting for backing out tomorrow and keeping the car in the town parking lot.

The town is very nice and it is fun being in Italy.

Photos in next post because the Internet is out and I am using my phone.
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
Back online!

The large meadow on the edge of Cogne. They do cross country ski racing here in winter. Looking towards Valnontey and I think Gran Paradiso peak.

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From our walk, just before Valnontey.

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Pauline

Forums Admin
It is odd to be in Italy, but still be in the Alps. I expect things to be like in Switzerland but they aren't! Today started with espresso and cornetto at the cafe a few steps away.

A lot of people were out in the main square because the runners we saw leave Courmayeur 24 hours earlier were passing through Cogne. People clapped and cheered as runners arrived. They were arriving all day and the last will come through tomorrow morning. Cogne is a main stop for them and a tent was set up beside the sports center.

We did a three hour walk today, mostly flat with a climb at the end. We walked on a beautiful footpath along the river to Lillaz, another village in this valley. The Tor des Geants runners were going on this same trail so we saw more go by.

We left the trail they were on and walked up to the top of their waterfalls. A lot of people were doing this walk. The falls and surrounding area are beautiful. In winter they freeze and this is a famous area for ice climbers. Our landlord told us about this and he does ice climbing.

We were going to have lunch in Lillaz but the restaurant we thought looked best (there are 3) had nothing vegetarian on the menu, so we had a late lunch at home.

We rested in the afternoon then went out around 6pm to have apperitivo in the cafe on the main piazza and watch runners arrive. They have a website showing where they all are. http://live.tordesgeants.it/positioning.html

At one point this afternoon I was sitting on a plastic chair outside my front door, knitting and watching for runners. Very Italian grandmothery I thought.

Today was sunny but a bit cooler with about 30 mins of rain late afternoon.

The Internet connection is slow, so I can't upload photos tonight. Looks like one uploaded. This is one of the runners passing us on the trail to Lillaz.

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Pauline

Forums Admin
There are four valleys from the north near Aosta into Gran Paradiso Park. The Cogne valley where we are is the eastern most. The next valley west is Valsavarenche. Then Rhemes-Saint-Georges. The last one is Valgrisenche. Further west the park becomes the Vanois Park in France.

Today we drove into the Valsavarenche. Even though it is only over the mountain from us it was an hour on winding mountain roads to get there. We parked at Eaux Rousses (red waters) and started out on a hike. BUT we went the wrong direction. The hike is on the Alta Via 2 long distance trail that goes from Chardonney, east of Cogne, to Courmayeur. We have walked on this trail where it passes through our valley. We were supposed to head west from Eaux Rousses, but we went east (my fault). I realised the error after 30 mins uphill walking. We walked back down and started again. This time up on the trail through woods, on a good path, climbing for 500 meters. It took us 2.5 hours but the sign said 1hr 30min. After the woods the trail goes out into a large steeply sloping meadow with some old stone houses. At the top of the meadow, just before the rock mountain slopes, is a large hunting lodge built in the 1800s for King Vittorio Emanuele II who created this park to protect the Alpine Ibex.

The hiking guide says there are ibex at the hunting lodge, and there will be in another month, but our too good weather has kept the high up on the mountain peaks. This part of the trip is a present to Steve because ever since he saw an ibex in the cave art in France he has wanted to see one in the flesh. We saw a female and young one two years ago in Samoens. This trip was to see a male. I was worried that we are not in good enough shape to do the 900 meter climb to where they are, but we don't need to do the climb because they aren't there. The best place to see them is at Rifugio Stella up from Valnontey near Cogne, but only in Spring or fall. At the tourist office they told us they come down to Cogne in late spring, so we will do a May trip some time.

Anyway, it was a lovely walk today. Including the mistake hike we walked for four and a half hours, climbing 500 meters. The walk back down took under a hour.

We got back to the car at 4:30 and continued down the valley to the end, Pont. Eaux Rousses is at 1600 meters, Pont is at 1900. It was beautiful there. First a small village of falling down stone houses, most for sale. Then a hotel, restaurant and huge car park before a large meadow. Several hikes from here, many with steep climbs, but one looked good - the Kings Path from the Cicerone guide. 4.5 hours, 730 meter ascent. They say there are always ibex there (I doubt that).

It took an hour to drive back.

There are some good walks in the Valsavarenche, but the towns are small. Cogne is a good place to be based here.

The meadow where we had lunch and turned around. We saw a few marmots.

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The hunting lodge above us.

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Pauline

Forums Admin
I have now talked to many people about Ibex, even a local guide who we met on the trail. This was a hot summer and the first half of September was hotter than usual. The Ibex are at the mountain tops where there is still snow, above 3,000 meters. The guide was up there last week, on a mountaintop near Valnontey, and saw a lot of Ibex. In a normal September they would have come down at least to the Rifugio Stella at 2,500 meters. Maybe lower. At the end of April, early May they will be in the Valnontey meadows. There is some dispute about this - either early May or late May.

At least we saw Chamois today - they are like deer. We saw one at the edge of Valnontey before our hike and one after our hike.

Today we did part of the walk to Rifugio Stella. We walked up for two hours, probably only 400 meters, to the top of a waterfall, near the end of the woods. This is still the Alta Via 2 trail, well signed and maintained. The trail is an old mule trail and switchbacks up the hillside through woods. It was steep, but we turned back before it got steeper. The woods and views were lovely. We spoke to a few others on the trail. It only took 40 minutes to walk back down.

There was some light rain at the start of the hike. It was cooler today with some sun, but most cloud. I wore my fleece sweater for the first time on the trip.

We had driven to Valnontey to avoid the extra one hour walk each way from Cogne. There is a huge parking lot - 3 euro for a day. We had our sandwiches sitting in the car :) then did another walk down the valley. This was just a slight uphill following the river past the end of the road. There is a little hamlet here with cows grazing. They were wearing bells like the Swiss cows.

We ended up walking for five hours and celebrated with a coffee in a cafe in Valnontey.

Back in Cogne we did a bit of souvenir shopping. Dried porcini, cookies. This is the end of our hiking unless we wake up tomorrow to sunshine. Rain and temps in the mid 50s is predicted. Our plan is to go to Aosta where it will be warmer, but still wet.

Friday is rain too and we are going to leave, instead of Saturday morning as planned. We will spend Friday night in Chamonix. It is a 2.5 hour drive from Cogne to Geneva airport but when we drove here last Saturday we saw a long line of traffic for the Mont Blanc tunnel, in the direction we will be going. I will be happier to have a one hour drive with no tunnel to the airport on Saturday.

Have I mentioned the hideous parking spot we have? Up a narrow lane and park in front of the house. You have to back out with a sharp dropoff on one side, a wall on the other and to add excitement a hump you go over that I worry will scrape the car. We have backed out twice with Steve driving and me directing. This morning someone walking by helped me direct. Old Italians love directing cars - well, who doesn't? The vegetable shop at the bottom of the street helps by putting boxes in front of their door that we have to avoid. I suggested we not use the spot but park in the big parking lot but Steve seems to think this spot is just fine.

We hiked up to this waterfall.

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Chamois.

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At the end of the valley.

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Our car in it's spot. Our apartment is ground level. The owners live above.

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Pauline

Forums Admin
Today the weather changed. Overcast and rain and cold (low 50s). There is snow on the mountain tops! I have loved the good weather we've had in these three weeks, but I am pleased to get a day or two of this. It feels like fall in the mountains.

We drove into Aosta, only 40 minutes away. We were last in Aosta 28 years ago on our year in Europe trip. We wanted to see the Roman sites and marked them all,out on our map last night. The Roman city walls are well preserved in many places as are the towers on them. We saw a few towers, saw the wall, walked through the huge arched hate to the city, walked a few more blocks to the Augustus Arch and a small Roman bridge. We toured the remains of the theatre and visited the Archaeological museum (small but with a good coin collection and interesting small statues). Wonderful!

For lunch we found a vegan/macrobiotic restaurant on the Main Street! Italian (and French) vegetarian restaurants are usually very good. This one was.

Home again around 5pm and in another hour the rain stopped and it brightened. We did a last walk on the huge meadows on the edge of Cogne, watched the fast moving and full river, saw cows being moved onto the meadow (one licked me), and walked some of the streets in town. The town is larger than I realised.

Packing up now and we leave a day early to spend a night in Chamonix. We were last there 28 years ago too!

The Cogne meadow and snow on the mountains.

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The Main Street in Cogne.

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On the meadow looking back to Cogne.

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