The crossing into Italy at Nauders is uneventful. Not a border guard in sight. Only sky, a few food/souvenir shops and plenty of cyclists. When you drive to Italy, prepare yourself for bicycle racers sweating their way up or hurtling their way down the mountain passes! Most of them seem to have a death wish, or at least that's how it looked to me.
We had no stomach for a terribly far ride, so looked on the map and decided to stop at twin lakes near S. Valentino (1470 m). The campsite we chose was on the bank of the second, somewhat smaller lake, the Haidersee (or Lago della Muta in Italian) and yet again it was a nice, quiet, clean spot with wonderful bathrooms and a tennis court (the 6 tennis enthusiasts in our company of 7 were chuffed I can tell you!).
S. Valentino turned out to be a nice cross between Austrian efficiency and Italian joy for life. Its people are bilingual, which comes in handy when your Italian is limited to 'pronto', 'pizza Napolitano' and 'chiao, bello!'.
But another great thing about S. Valentino is that only 500 meters from the campsite it has a cable car going up the mountain; up up up you go to 3100 something meters. From there you can choose between going even further up (on foot) to a little lake and eternal snow, or down via varied paths, ranging from a fast 1 hour downhill one to leisurely 5 hours ones snaking down the mountain through flower dotted meadows filled with sweet brown cows and through leafy woods.
Needless to say we took the long way down, checking in at a dairy-cum-eatery around noon halfway down, where the entire family worked their lederhosen off to keep everyone in huge beers and platters of homemade cheese and speck (bacon).
The views are breathtaking, but at the same time it is absolutely doable, even for such a handicapped walker like myself (my frame has issues I will spare you the details about).
We met plenty of other hikers; entire families with young kids, but old folk as well, and (as usual) plenty of mountain bikers who had trails especially for themselves.
The last leg of the hike was along the lake, which looked ever so inviting by that time, but is not suited for swimming due to the many rocks and the icy cold water.
We left S. Valentino after two days. Our aim was the Val di Sole simply because someone had told us that the three passes we needed to cross to get there were rated as the most beautiful passes of Italy (according to Top Gear the Passo dello Stelvio 2757 m. is the best scenic mountain pass of Europe).
Uhm...my family and friends assured me they were. I was totally freaked out by the narrowness, the sheer hundreds of meters drops without any railings and the fact that other cars could not pass our Volkswagen Transporter, but had to anyway (necessitating them to reverse to a point where they could - madness). Those eight hours driving (we took the Passo di Gavia 2621 m. as well) were not my favorite part of this road trip!
But I braved the road a couple of times when we stopped and I took the photos. I hope you'll appreciate them!
Just when my holiday mood had sunk to an all-time low, we entered the most gorgeous valley I have ever seen, with small villages dotted on both sides as far as the eye could see. The mountain range we crossed is called the Cevedale and from our campsite (aptly called Cevedale) in Ossana (pop. 863) we saw both this range and the Presanella, both capped with snow.
For hikers, this must be Paradise. For me, struggling stumbling wanna-be hiker, it was stunning. But I was very happy to simply enjoy a leisurely walk from Ossana to the next village along Pellizzano, where there was a biological farmers market, and back along the fast river Noce, waving at the rafters along the way.
Those villages stole my heart. In fact, the entire valley stole my heart. Every village has its own Municipale, its own school and its own post office and a wonderful bakery, butcher and cheese shop cum wine shop. What else does a person need to grow old gracefully?
No discos, no nightclubs, no high-rises, a few restaurants. Almost every house its own vegetable and herb garden. Cows. A few horses. A bleating goat here and there.
I'm going to be saving up! This is where I want to spend my last years, after I've retired from my school when I'm 70 or so. The villager's English was atrocious to nonexistent, so I'll have a golden future there.
180 Nauders (Austria) to SS40 S. Valentino (Italy)
SS40 S. Valentino to Spondigna
SS38 to Bórmio
SS300 to Ponte di Legno
SS42 to Ossana - last campsite
All photos ©RenéeKoopman