It’s so cold out there, isn’t it? After all, these are the days of the blackbird, the bitterest of the year. Are you familiar with the legend? If so, you can skip the next paragraph. Otherwise, here it is.
Once upon a time, there was a family of blackbirds – but back then, they were white. On a snowy day, they were suffering from the freezing cold, and the little ones in particular needed shelter. They flitted around and around, and eventually Papa Blackbird glimpsed a little house, a roof, a chimney: it was warm and protected from the snow, wind and ice – but it was also full of soot! The family of birds squeezed in there headfirst, making it through the night and surviving the exceptional cold. But they got covered in soot: once white, the birds had become jet black. And so they remained forever more.
Right, let’s come back down to earth – that’s enough chimneys, soot and legends. In honour of these polar temperatures, what better destination than the mountains once again today? And after visiting the Dolomites, today we’re heading to the opposite end of the Alpine range: time for a trip to Courmayeur, in the Aosta Valley.
When I was little, I didn’t understand why this ski resort – which I visited with my parents at the weekends – had a French name: we were in Italy! I decided that was why everyone in Milan called it Courma: the name did exist in Italian, after all! It was only some years later that I learned that the Milanese love to mangle words by cutting off the last syllable... So much for “Courma”! Courmayeur it is, even in my language.
It was my father who explained to me that the whole Aosta Valley speaks a dialect – known as patois – much more similar to French than Italian. It’s all down to the mountains and borders that weren’t as defined then as they are today.
Anyway, that’s enough chit-chat: let’s jump in the car and... head up to altitude! The most exciting thing to do in Courmayeur is actually climbing Mont Blanc (the highest peak in Europe). No, don’t panic! I won’t force you to strap on a harness, defy the laws of gravity or take your chances on its vertical walls: we’re taking the cable car!
And what a cable car it is! It’s called Skyway and it’s super modern, heated and – above all – very fast: in just a few minutes we can get up to the glacier at Pointe Helbronner (3,466 metres, wow!). What do you say? Climbing all the way up here is a real thrill: there’s a 360-degree panorama over the mountains, everything is white and blue, the ice is spectacular and so close, and the sky is incredibly clear – so much so that it seems almost unreal, as if it were a painting. In short: a view worthy of a climber, with the key difference that we’re very well rested. ;)
So we have the energy to get back to Courma – oops, Courmayeur – and do a few circuits of Via Roma in the town centre, past shop windows and historic cafes: we’ll stop at Caffè della Posta, established in 1911, with very cosy seats next to the fireplace (always lit).
We can’t leave without a few gourmet purchases: a nice bit of Fontina DOP cheese and Lard d’Arnad pork is just the thing for us. Not exactly low-calorie – I know – but we need these Alpine treats to help us fight off the cold.
It’s getting dark – time to head home. And now I’m back on level ground, ready for a new week full of shoes and creativity.