We’re about to cross back into France, after more than a month in Italy. As a farewell to the country we’ve asked Michela what her favourite walk is in the area, and she’s directed us to Bardonecchia, an Italian ski resort, and its Green Lake. It’s a small detour from our planned route through the Montginevro Pass, but we’re cool with detours and the day is beautiful.
After taking leave of our fabulous hosts we depart through yet more wondrous mountain scenery, through Bardonecchia where we go round and round the one way system looking (in vain!) for Ugetti, the bakery Alberto recommended – after fifteen minutes of this I am done with looking so we ditch the pastries and head up into the mountains, up a road that is getting progressively more destroyed (Italy, where goes your tax money?) and more stunning. Somewhere along the way we end up in France! It’s confusing though as the road signs seem to be in both languages randomly, goes to show borders are a silly construct!
We thought we’d have the place to ourselves, but as we park up we see that the whole valley (Vallee Etroite or Valle Stretta) is full of people enjoying walks, picnics, throwing balls about, it’s very nice to see a natural site so well used by people, and because it’s huge, it doesn’t impact us at all. We leave the car at the highest point we can leave it, right by the little huddle of chalets around the Refuge of the Re Magi. On our right is a lovely blue running river lined with larches, on our left high tree-covered slopes capped with snow at the top, and the valley ahead of us under a bright sunshine. We set off up the path between grassy fields dotted with giant white anemones and yellow cowslips. We have to ford two little streams (Zaza is looking at everything with wide eyes), then cross a bridge over the running torrent. At one point the path is obstructed by an old avalanche so we have to clamber over it and Zaza has her first touch of snow!
Then it’s up and up through the trees, and finally at the top we glimpse what we came for: the green lake! We excitedly make our way down towards it and take in its full glory: its colour is a deep turquoise on the right, and a vibrant green on the left. In its crystal clear water, many tree trunks are clearly visible like a strange underwater architecture, and between the submerged branches trouts lazily swim about. The colour, we learn, is caused by algae which grow on the trunks. We are not the only people who have come here today, and there are many people having picnics, admiring the lake, trying to control their kids and/or their dogs. In the corner, a few beers are sat cooling in the glacial water and I lick my lips with envy!
It’s a truly magnificent site. After this, the way back downhill is easy, Eliza receives adoration from many hikers walking the other way and we reach the refuge thoroughly happy, but very hungry!
Zaza meanwhile is in need of a nap, so of course she’s acting up; we order a very typical plate of polenta amid screeches and wriggles and grabbing of all things reachable. Unfortunately the polenta is finished, the waiter informs us, so we make sad noises and have sad faces… So sad, in fact, that the chef pokes his head through the door of the kitchen and says he’ll make us some polenta alright, he may still be able to cobble together a plate with cheese and a plate with meat. Yay! The plates arrive; one is covered entirely with melted mountain cheese, the other with a mixture of all the types of meat the chef had left: pieces of sausage, pieces of spicy salami, bits of venison, all in a delicious tomato sauce. It’s actually really delicious! Juggling Eliza and food between the two of us, we manage this lunch in good time, considering, and all too soon it’s time to head back to the car.
Now, we’re confused by the various maps we’ve seen of the area, both online and on paper, because they don’t seem to agree whether there’s an actual crossing into France proper here, or whether we’ve got to double back to Montginevro… but as we go down the mountain we see the road we need! It’s called the Ladder Pass (col de l’echelle), it’s a tiny road, and it’s magnificent.
The car is a brave and valiant machine, and it takes us up super steep slopes, through super tight bends, rock tunnels and past sweeping views over the Alps. Finally we’re well and truly in France, going through small villages which do look subtly different to Italian ones actually, and towards our destination in La Grave, in the Meije massif. The arrival towards La Grave through the Lautaret Pass is so sublime I’m struggling to describe it with words; on all sides are snow-covered peaks and impressive rock faces, and as we near the village we’ll be staying in, just before La Grave, we’re passing the most vertiginous black slopes of slate, and in the distance the narrow gorge on the side of which perches La Grave fades into deep green then black. Wow!