The call of the mountains

For our last couple of days in Italy, we’ve chosen to stay right near the border with France in Susa, in the Piedmont region. I’m so excited, because I’ve been feeling the pull of the great mountains for days, having not gone near the Alps in years. On the day we drive there it is overcast and many of the peaks are hiding behind clouds, but even from the motorway it’s beautiful. We’ve chosen a bed and breakfast in what turns out to be a super remote hamlet about fifteen minutes up the mountain from Susa; when we park up the car, we find ourselves surrounded by a sheep herd all tinkling with bells around their necks, on the way back from the fields.

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That’s the B&B!

The B&B is totally wonderful! We’re welcomed by Alberto and Michela into their home, a big chalet-like wooden building which is covered top to bottom in mementos, posters, artwork, and photos of their many travels. It feels interesting, homey, welcoming. We’re given a great big room with a huge set of windows overlooking the village and the distant mountains, and Zaza has her own bed! Because it’s so comfortable, we decide to stay in and I depart a couple of hours later in search for takeaway pizza. Tea and chats (all in Italian!) with our hosts follow, somehow the conversation feels easy despite my shitty Italian and Hev’s complete absence of Italian, and Alberto and Michela’s halting English. We learn that she’s a primary school teacher and he’s a wedding photographer, we meet their elderly dog Lulu who’s jealous of the attention that is paid Eliza. We’ve planned to go to Turin on the train tomorrow.

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When the morning comes, however, we discover a rainy day, so we ditch Turin and laze about looking at the cloudy mountains appearing and disappearing through our great window. Breakfast is a late and rather extensive affair with home baked croissants. By then Eliza is exhibiting the classic signs of cabin fever, and as soon as we spot a break in the weather we’re out the door to explore the village.

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The view from our bedroom!

The air is fresh and fragrant with green smells (that’s a thing for me!) of vegetation and earth, there’s a point of wood smoke in there too, it’s the smell of the mountains which I love very much. Above the village in all directions are snow-capped peaks, and lush forested slopes below. The village itself is a jumble of slightly haphazard coarse buildings with wooden balconies, there are a few well-tended gardens and many flowers line the two or three streets. As always where there is clover, I almost immediately spot a four-leaved one (they’re really not that rare, people) but the baby is not impressed.

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There’s a little white chapel fronted with a bubbling fountain, and beyond this we can hear the sounds of a rushing river, which is where we’re directing our steps next. As the sound grows louder we find ourselves in a sort of tunnel of greenery (Zaza is loving it!) and at the end of it is the river, a great lively white water torrent jumping over stones. Heather is overjoyed at this, and we have fun showing Eliza the water, climbing on the side of the riverbank and breathing in the glorious mountain air. We’re so taken by the place that we immediately book an extra night here!

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For lunch we decide to venture into Susa – the weather is holding, but it’s super windy! We bravely sit outside on the deceptively sunny terrace of a café on what looks like the main square, but all around us tables and chairs and wooden menu boards are clattering to the floor in the wind, and the harassed-looking waitresses are running about chasing paper serviettes and little salt and pepper pouches around. From the relative shelter of the front of the restaurant it’s not too bad, though, and it’s nice to see the snowy peaks behind the colourful houses.

Our lunch finished, trying as best we can to cover the baby’s ears, we cross the angry and muddy-looking river next to the church to find ourselves in a main shopping street. Hev is delighted anew! Typical products! More typical products! Apparently, and contrary to my impression, one typical product shop is not identical to the next typical product shop and therefore they are all worth a visit. One of them, a sort of mini-supermarket, is absolutely chockful of middle-aged French tourists on a binge booze shop (it’s somewhat reminiscent of a Calais supermarket with Brits on a booze haul), and we’re elbowing past Monsieurs and Madames with their arms full of discounted whisky and funny-shaped pasta for presents, in between towers of local biscuits and liqueurs and what not. After this hellish experience, Hev puts in an extra couple of visits to similar, but not as crowded, shops, before we end up at the local supermarket buying stuff for presents, too.

The wind is still howling most impressively, though, and Zaza is showing signs of wanting to sleep, so we decide to go on a “small loop drive” along scenic roads which Heather has noted on our map. Great, I think, we’ll see lots of gorgeous scenery this way! the “small loop” is gigantic. Think a good two-three hours. We’re headed towards the border on the very road we’ve planned to take in just a couple of days, but nevermind, it’s beautiful, truly stunning.

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We pass sleeping ski resorts still off season, sweeping mountain vistas, rushing blue rivers, fields of the brightest green dotted with yellow and white flowers, it’s all very “Sound of Music”, I’m ecstatic. So is Hev! She’s now decided, after years of “not getting mountains”, that the Alps are the shizz, and I’m now hopeful we might take my parents up on their yearly offers of going skiing with them! With the sleeping baby in the car, we’re still driving; we’re looking for the turn off to the littlest road in our loop, a mountain pass that will bring us back to Susa – lo and behold! Here it is! We found the turn! But oh, there’s a giant sign informing us that the pass is closed due to snow. So we turn around and drive right back where we came from! Fortunately as Heather points out philosophically, in the mountains the view is always different when you face a different way, so the road is brand new really.

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Zaza wakes up. She’s been in the car seat for ages by now and is due a feed and a change – so after placating her for a while, we decide to stop in one of the villages along the way. We have a little walk in its sleepy and windy streets, have a drink in a friendly little bar in which the owner is blatantly just offering rounds of coffees to his family and friends, and the whole lot of them have a good coo over Eliza, and we’re even treated to pics of the owner as a baby and stories of how enormous he was when he was born (I can’t remember the number, but it really was impressive, and his mum nodded energetically in the background so I believe him).

Back on the road, Heather amuses me greatly by failing to take pictures of the scenery from the car and getting pics of the windscreen, the dashboard, lorries at crazy angles and even my personal favourite of in between the roof of the car and the roof box in an attempt to eliminate the windscreen reflection.

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Nice one, Hev

We finally make it back to Susa as the sun is setting and decide to stop for a well earned dinner. Zaza is in her buggy, a fact rare enough to be worthy of note, the city is pretty, we’re enjoying the streets of the historical centre and we’ve even located the restaurant recommended by our hosts. All is well, and in our enthusiasm we order the three course menu, in the rapidly filling restaurant, in the rapidly increasing temperature. Of course this is a large mistake, one we keep making (why?), and before long we stop enjoying our evening and I’m desperate to just be done with the meal and go. One of us is always up and marching Zaza up and down the restaurant to try to quell the excited screeching; there is much humming and low voice singing to try to put her to sleep (ha!), the neighbouring tables are a mixture of forgiving / cuted out smiles and trying not to look too exasperated.

Finally we get to leave the restaurant and return to our lovely B&B where we enjoy tea and chats with our hosts, and two of their friends, while the most bewildering talent show thing plays in the background – it appears to be a show in which ageing celebrities get to watch clips of themselves in their youth while smiling in a slightly pained way, and people at home get to comment on whether they’ve aged well, or whether they look washed out. Heather gets to meet the love of her life, a dog called Bruno who looks like a cross between a St Bernard and an Australian Shepherd. Tomorrow, it’s decided, we’re going to Turin!

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