Friday, 27 July 2012

Val d'Aosta, Mont Blanc & Chamonix

Leaving Bologna, Janine and I headed north up though the Val d'Aosta and into France through the Mont Blanc tunnel. I have to admit to having felt some trepidation at the idea of the 'van going over the Alpes - I wasn't a 100% sure the engine was going to cope, after the fairly hairy journey through the Sierra Nevada in Spain. However,  the road through the Val d'Aosta is cunningly designed to trick you into believing that you are travelling on the perfect flat - and although the satnav showed the height above sea level gradually rising, for the most part you hardly noticed the fact you were going up and up.

Aosta itself is a pretty little Roman town, complete with triumphant arches, amphitheathre and other roman remains. In the summer it's fairly quiet, and seems to focus on the sale of 'porcini' or  Boletus Edulis/Penny Buns for the majority of it's income. It's a different story in winter of course when it becomes a major ski resort and the town nestles in a blanket of white. For us, we had the interesting experience of wandering though the streets in bright sunshine, and 34 degrees heat, whilst surrounded by snow capped mountains. Since we seemed to have stepped into a bizarre world, we decided to add to round it off, by enjoying Virgin Mojitos, and an apple flavoured sheesha, before heading off towards France.

It has been a long time since I've been through the Mont Blanc tunnel, and one of the legacies of the 1999 fire is the severe hike in price to get though. There are substantial safety improvements, with clear delineated driving distances, and escape areas - a good thing to see that the money is being spent on the tunnel management since it cost over £50 to take the van through one way. Once on the French side of Mont Blanc, we stopped to stretch our legs, but also to replan our route - we decided to drop Switzerland from the agenda and stop overnight in Chamonix instead.

 Chamonix in summer is full of fit young things in hiking and mountaineering clothing, striding energetically around. The deep verdant green is a real contrast to the white of the surrounding hills and glaciers, but the river is still the green white of glacial run-off - freezing cold and not suitable for a quick dip! We had dinner in one of my favourite restaurants, and as always, I heartily recommend trying the local cheese dishes - tartiflette is filling and simple, raclette is awesome and calorific!

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