Barry and Daphne Bastow, WA
We all know how picturesque the Alps in Europe are but when seen through the eyes of the local group leader (John Iacomella) you get not only the views but a lot about the culture, food and local experiences of the area as well. We joined John and a group of eight for an 11- day walking experience in the Alps in 2017 and enjoyed it so much we returned to do it all again in 2019.
John’s choice of walks for each group is based on the fitness level of the group, the status of the walks, the weather and, it seemed, which of John’s relatives are available to invite the group into their home for coffee or grappa, or both. This year some of our walks were welcome repeats from two years ago but many were different. All are chosen from John’s collection of over 20 walks that vary from strolls through local villages to walking around lakes or tackling ancient mule tracks that take you to summer pastures high in the Alps, past spectacular waterfalls or to a riverside lunch spot where you can gaze at a nearby glacier. Approximately half the walks are in Italy and half in Switzerland and all chosen to start either a short road journey away or directly from the hotel in Chiavenna, Italy, our base for the 11 days.
Our first day’s walk started with what became the normal 8:15 gathering for an 8:30 start. After a short explanation of the day ahead, we walked out from our hotel following the River Mera through Borgonuovo and farmlands to the village of Santa Croce. Along the way John stopped at points of interest and told lots of stories of many aspects of village life and history through the years. In the afternoon, following a look inside some local houses and a lovely fresh lunch, we returned down the other side of the river, pausing at the magnificent Acqua Fraggia Waterfall. Back at our hotel around 3:30 to 4:00 pm, we had a debrief from John and a description of what to expect the following day. There was still time to further explore our picturesque village, Chiavenna, and make the hard decision of where to have dinner from the many choices available.
On another day we headed into to Switzerland. After a 30 minute drive in John’s nine seater SUV through the Maloja Pass, with too many hairpin bends to count we started our walk along the shores of Lake Silvaplana. The reflections of the Swiss Alps in the beautiful turquoise water are breathtaking. Following our fresh home-made lunch with typical Italian meats and cheeses (vegetarian options are also available) and tasty home grown tomatoes, we headed up the side of a mountain to amazing aerial views of the lake. At the end of the loop walk we eased back into the van for the trip back to our hotel.
Once back at the hotel and after a hot shower, there’s quick trip to the supermarket to purchase our choice of pre-dinner nibbles and of course the essential Italian wine. Then we reassembled either in the hotel bar and restaurant or on the rooftop terrace for some late afternoon relaxation. The terrace’s 360 degree views of the Italian Alps are a stunning backdrop and a fitting place to discuss the wonders of our walking day.
This area is also close to the railway of the famous Bernina Express train, which all our group chose to experience on our rest day. Although not included in the package John was very helpful in assisting with the ticket buying and also driving the group to St Moritz to link up with the train.
One of our later walks, again in Switzerland and close to St Moritz, included a walk along a fast flowing river to a small ski resort. At this time of the year it is a trekkers base. We walked a little beyond the resort and lunched by the side of the river with magnificent views up the valley to one of the many local glaciers.
Our personal favourite of the walks was in the Italian Alps. The 7.5km climb to the village of Orlo uses a stone laid donkey path and sees a rise of over 600 meters. After walking for most of the past nine days this walk didn't feel as difficult as it sounds and once at the top, the views over Chiavenna and the Mera River Valley were fantastic. Lunch was enjoyed at a perfectly placed picnic table overlooking the valley before we made our way down the winding roadway to a scenically placed café for coffee.
Another special thing about this holiday is the ease with which everything happens, from John’s smiling face greeting us when we alightm from the train at Chiavenna, through the dissemination of information and the smooth organization of each day’s activities, right up to the sad moment when it’s time to say goodbye. The fact that we can stay in the same place for all of the 11 days and still accomplish such a variety of walks is so easy to take. Although John is now a Western Australian, his links with family in Chiavenna are as strong as ever and his knowledge and passion of the language, geography and history of his birthplace is incredible.
Barry and Daphne Bastow