Path(s) to Lunch

We love to walk to a meal. Those who read our blog at www.Girovaga.com know that we have made a habit of walking to lunch especially when traveling. Sometimes we walk miles to lunch.

This trip we have taken many paths to lunch but a couple of them were less-traditional. In fact, one was not a path at all, but a journey nonetheless.

Ivan and Sabina found the abandoned villa while walking in the woods. Lucky find.

Villa Pizzini

High above the Italian town of Stresa on Lago Maggiore is a restaurant one could walk to, if one were about 30 years younger and in better condition than I am. I found out about Villa Pizzini thanks to this article in The Guardian. I figured it would kill Ric and me to take that hike: It is about 1300 meters/4265 feet in altitude gain. We opted for the much easier gondola from lakeside to the mountaintop.

Small, rustically elegant, dining room.

One does not, however, simply exit the gondola and walk into the restaurant. Oh, no! It is a bit of a hike uphill, almost to the top of Monte Mottarone. Just when you think you have taken the wrong road, the driveway comes into sight. Then a descent through the woods e voila an elegant palazzo appears. We were warmly greeted by Ivan (whose English is not only better than my Italian, but it is also better than my English) and were ushered to the terrace for a glass of fine Arneis with a view of the lake.

Love the marble rests for flatware.

In the village they served pasta, lake fish, salads, panini. The usual suspects. Here the cuisine was beyond fine dining: An amuse bouche profiterole with gorgonzola cream and starters such as a perfectly poached egg with black truffles or my goat cheese and basil horn with sundried tomato mousse. We enjoyed entrees of a duck breast with orange mayonnaise for Ric and veal wrapped in a cabbage leaf and served with a pink peppercorn sauce, crispy polenta, and mushrooms gathered from their

Veal with crispy polenta, and mushrooms from their own foraging.

garden for me. Each course was paired precisely with a wine to bring out the best in the dish.

Arriving before our reservation at 13:00, we were shocked to be the only guests, however before we left there were 3 more tables of diners embarking on their own culinary adventures. You can walk in out of the woods and find a table, at least in the offseason.

Our hiking lunches are usually not so grand. This was the best lunch-while-traveling since we hiked the Gourmetweg in Zermatt a few years ago. Luckily my Fitbit recorded over 13,000 steps that day despite the use of the gondola.

Ligurian Tunnels

A family strolls between two segments of the Ciclopedonale Maremonti.

We’ve visited and hiked the Cinque Terre four times: 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2014. Each year the little towns became more crowded to the point that we could hardly get on the trains by late afternoon some days in 2014. (See “The Silver Lining Trip”.) It looked like the Tokyo subway at rush hour.

After a four-year absence, we returned with thoughts of calm seas and amazing Ligurian cuisine. We cannot get fresh anchovies marinated in lemon nor octopus salad in Lincoln City. Nor trofie al pesto for that matter. However, we based ourselves in Camogli, a bit north of the five overcrowded villages and just south of Genoa.

Tunnel sections, interspersed with light, look like a cathedral.

It’s a great little town. Camogli gave us access to explore an entirely different part of the Ligurian Coast. We had only been as far north as Portofino before, and that was in 2012. (See “More Postcards from the Cinque Terre”.)

There are some very challenging hikes in this area, beyond what we are willing or able to do with cranky knees. But there are also some reasonable ones. The  Ciclopedonale Maremonti was carved out of an abandoned railway during the past decade. It is only about 6 km long and most of it is in tunnels, but it is flat, safe, and the vistas are lovely. It is perfect for a day that is rainy or hot and wonderful for children on bicycles.

The Italian Riviera is known for mild weather. Locals enjoy the stroll to-and-from shopping.

The day we went was overcast with a high probability of rain. Good day for tunnels, but at the end of the first section, we arrived in delightful Bonassola at just the right time for late morning coffee. (You know how we love a coffee stop when walking.) It was market day in Bonassola — and a Saturday — so particularly lively.

Part two of the trail brought us to Levanto, a larger town just north of the Cinque Terre.  This section of the trail was very busy with locals, where the first section we were almost alone. The locals were walking and chatting, some with shopping, some with children. Two fathers were teaching their children to skate.

As luck and good planning would have it, we arrived in Levanto at the perfect time for lunch, so it truly was a path to lunch.

In Bonassola, it was not exactly beach weather (although it would be the next several days), but the chairs were still deployed.

Local bicylcists stop to greet neighbors returning from shopping.

Well marked lanes for cyclists as walkers.

 

 

 

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Promising Pontresina

Hello from Switzerland where cleanliness is a national sport and paths criss-cross the landscape like scribbles on a child’s drawing, enabling transportation the old-fashioned way: walking. We see octogenarians with trekking sticks making their journeys alongside the extreme-sports crowd.  Walking here is a way of life and Pontresina offers some great easy-hiker options.

The funicular to Muottas Muragl was built in 1907. Luckily it has been upgraded since.

We spent a week in the Upper Engadin, basing ourselves in Pontresina on the banks of the Bernina River. Surrounded by rugged peaks and glaciers, we found a network of buses, trains, and lifts that take one from the highest ski resorts to the most charming valleys and offering something for everyone.

I came down with a cold and have struggled with coughing and wheezing all week, so we were not as active as we were in the Val Gardena for the prior two weeks. Even with six days of near-perfect weather we did not see every corner of this area, but here are some highlights for those interested in an easy-hiking stop in Switzerland.

The horse omnibus from Pontresina to the hotel at the Roseg Glacier.

 Best Single Day: Val Roseg

For a real workout you can hike both ways to the Hotel Restaurant Roseg Gletscher but if you are not up for the 8-mile round-trip, consider taking the horse omnibus out and returning on foot after lunch. The hotel is situated with a view of the glacier in a peaceful valley with a restaurant terrace designed to make the most of the view. We boarded our carriage with 8 other passengers and one well-behaved dog at 11:10 am. The scenery was spectacular. We shared the road with walkers and cyclists while engaging in limited conversation with our mostly-German-speaking companions. Once at the hotel, we enjoyed a lovely lunch of pasta and local beer. In about an hour we were ready to start the trek back along the flat valley trail. There is no need for trekking sticks nor even hiking boots. Just sturdy athletic shoes. Bring water (we now like to travel with collapsible bottles) as there is none along the trail.

The Val Roseg trail towards a magnificent but vanishing glacier.

The elevation change in the valley is only about 741 feet: all up on the way there and all down returning but, in either case, very gradual.

The return walk of four miles took us about 1.75 hours at a relaxed pace with frequent stops for photos. This walk could be done with a pram if you were willing to push it slightly uphill or if the omnibus (or a private carriage) would put it on board.

Options for extending your hike include going beyond the hotel to get a closer look at the glacier and as high as a hut at over 9000 feet. Not easy-hiker territory.

For an even easier outing, you can travel by horse omnibus both ways, taking a break for lunch at the hotel.

 Morteratsch Glacier Valley by Train

The Morteratsch hotel and restaurant come into view returning from the glacier hike.

We love a good outing by train that facilitates a walk and a fine meal. This one checks all the boxes. For a fine half-day trip, the little red trains of the Rhaetian Railway will take you to the on-request station of Morteratsch. We were a little unsure about requesting a stop, but it is as easy as doing so on a bus. At Morteratsch we found a classic alpine hotel with a large restaurant. The terrace is the place to be for lunch before or after your easy-hike.

Our little station where the train stops only on request. “Halt auf Verlangen.”

From the restaurant, follow the crowd (yes, it is popular) up the wide, well-groomed trail about 50 minutes to a glacier viewpoint. It’s about 450 feet of elevation going and all downhill on the return. Again, it is a pram-worthy hike if you are willing to push a little uphill. No sticks and just standard hiking shoes required.

This is not a touristy place. Many locals enjoy such outings on a fine day. On the day we visited, a Saturday, there were large groups of men – young and old – trekking together, drinking beer, eating lunch.

Watch the time carefully as the trains run each direction only once per hour. You do not want to be walking toward the hotel and see your train pulling away.

Muottas Muragl

The view from Muottas Muragl toward St. Moritz.

We had hoped to do the famous Panoramaweg from Muottas Muragl to Alp Languard, ending in Pontresina. My energy level with the cold just would not support it, but we rode the fabulous and historic funicular anyway and were rewarded by the views.

There is a very short Rundweg just above the Romantik Hotel Muottas Muragl with an art installation commemorating the 100th anniversary of the funicular, which was built in 1907. This walk is suitable for anyone, even small children, while the Panoramaweg is quite exposed along a ridge (with views of the Bernina peaks and glaciers) and takes 2.5 to 3 hours to complete.

Transportation

Train we’re not catching. We didn’t check the schedule closely enough at Diavolezza. We are descending in the gondola as the train we hoped to catch pulls into the valley station.

Most lodgings include a lift pass covering the gondolas and funiculars in St. Moritz and Pontresina. At the higher elevations, we found a stark, rocky landscape and trails we deemed too tough for easy-hiking but it was worthwhile taking the lifts for the views, especially with the included pass.

You can acquire an Engadin Mobile Card at the Tourist Info office. Load it with Swiss Francs and use it to buy your bus and train fares at a 20% discount from the full fare. If you over-estimate how much credit you need, they will refund the balance to you. Switzerland has an amazing public transportation system making it easy to avoid a car, another easy-hiker preference.

For more on this canton, please hop on over to Girovaga.com for my Postcard from Switzerland.

Bleak but stunning, the glacier at Diavolezza. We are at about 9700 feet.

File under “Hikes I am not taking.” See the narrow path winding along the ridge from Diavolezza?

A paraglider framed by a glacier as viewed from Muottas Muragl.

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