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Publisher of Busy Bee Trader, Destination Guide to Antiques, Uniques & Southern Lifestyles magazine for the Southeast.

Chamonix, France ~ June 2019

From Courmayeur, Italy to Chamonix, France

We loaded up the car for our final leg of the trip, three nights in Chamonix, France on the other side of Monte Bianco/Mont Blanc. From our fabulous little airbandb in Aosta, we made our way towards Courmayeur, where I wanted to stop off at the Cave Mont Blanc to pick up some wine. Sadly, they were closed and I was very disappointed! There was a lovely meadow of wildflowers next to them to cheer me at least.

You never know what you might see on the road in Europe! IMG_1364It was chilly and rainy for the drive, and we had planned to stop off in Courmayeur to shop and explore a little while. However, once again, everything was closed! A glowing Cafe Relais de l’Ange sign lured us in for an espresso and to warm up a bit. How charming! http://www.relaisdelange.com/

Time to drive through the tunnel to Chamonix – goodbye Italy, hello again France!

We were through the tunnel in no time and ready to get checked into our new place, Le Cristal de Jade, a MGM residences complex. What a fabulous apartment, and we loved our balcony and the view of the Aiguille du Midi lift and Mont Blanc. https://www.mgm-hotels-residences.com/en/residence-cristal-de-jade-chamonix

We wandered about in town and found a delicious lunch at one of the popular restaurants on the main street. We spent the rest of the afternoon unpacking and relaxing, followed by an evening walk around town.

The next morning we set out to explore the countryside around Chamonix. We had spent a few nights in the fall but didn’t have time to see much. After a delicious and filling breakfast at Omeletterie La Poele, we walked through town to find the tourist office and hiking information. https://www.chamonix.net/english/generic/La-Poele/5896

There was quite a bit of tourism info at the Tourist Office, however, not a great “hiking” brochure or map. Wally wanted to check out their golf course, so we drove in that direction. It was very pretty, but very pricey! It had begun to rain again, so he decided it wasn’t worth playing.

I navigated us to the Le Buet trail with the Cascade de Berard waterfalls. I had found trail listings on the https://www.chamonix.net/ website that listed trails and their descriptions. We parked next to the train station, walked across the street, through a scenic pasture, and up into the woods. This was a short hike that would be perfect for families with older children, or those that want a little bit of a challenge and adventure, but not too much. It does have some steep sections as you go up hill, but the waterfalls are worth seeing and there’s a little cafe next to them (if it’s open). I loved the cows in the pasture!

The weather was just all over the place that week.

Chilled, damp and hungry, we returned to our apartment to change and go in search of lunch. Elevation 1904 had a crowd and the menu looked good, so we grabbed an outdoor table and ordered – and it was a great choice! https://www.elevation1904.com/

We rested a bit and then plotted a drive in the opposite direction from our morning excursion. The Parc de Merlet (an animal park) caught my eye, so we decided to go that way. On the way up the hill, we noticed a HUGE statue in the woods, and later spotted signs for the Statue du Christ-Roi. So the road went up, and up, up, up, up, up to almost the top of the mountain. We began to see parking spots, but it still looked a long way from the park entrance, so we kept driving on a ways. We finally parked and then walked towards the entrance, which ended up being a long upward hike, only to find a parking lot much closer to the entrance and for handicapped parking. They have some amazing views up there, and there was a group of children there for a field trip. We decided to not to go into the park, wanting to find a moderate hiking trail instead, so headed back down the mountain. There is a trail head that begins right next to the park that goes over the mountain, but it was steeper and longer than we were up to doing. http://www.parcdemerlet.com/en/

On the way back down the mountain, we stopped off at a pull out to check out the Statue du Christ-Roi. This was a super cool little trail leading to the statue that had mossy rocks and slate, and Wally spied a porcini mushroom that had been nibbled on a little.

The sheer size of the statue is amazing!!

When we were back on the highway, the views along the valley were gorgeous and look at this glacier!

Driving back into Chamonix, we stumbled upon their local park and Lac des Gaillands, where there were rock climbing and mountain bike lessons going on. What a peaceful, scenic park to hang out in! There was also some kind of adventure park set-up, but it was not in operation that day. Find out more info: https://www.chamonix.com/lac-des-gaillands,34-151113,en.html

Back in town, we walked around some more and decided that our previous lunch at Elevation 1904 had been so good, we were going back for a burger and fries!! YUMMMM!

Elevation 1904 was also handy for our next excursion departure, which was taking the scenic Montenvers Mer-de-Glace train up to the glacier. We just missed the train, so wandered down the trail along the tracks to kill some time until the next one – and discovered the community gardens! https://www.chamonix.com/montenvers-mer-de-glace,81,en.html

Back at the station, we wandered around checking out their old train and surroundings. Aren’t the murals on the building neat? There are several scattered around Chamonix.

Here’s our train and here we go…amazing scenery along the way!

Once you disembark from the train, you can hang out on the terrace, check out the crystal cave, get snacks or a meal from their cafe, or walk over to the historic Grand Hotel du Montenvers and Restaurant. We didn’t realize that the glacier had melted, leaving just a small trail of ice in it’s wake. From this level, you can take a small cable car down to the next level to descend steps (way too many) to the ice grotto on the glacier floor. We took the never-ending stairs down to the ice grotto/cave, and although it was pretty cool, we would opt to do drinks and lunch on the terrace or at the hotel if we had to do it again. I do NOT recommend this for small children, the elderly or those that are stair challenged – we saw several parents having to carry their children down and up. Learn more at: https://www.chamonix.net/english/leisure/sightseeing/mer-de-glace

Going down the stairs and taking yet another breather (I’m stair challenged).

Into the ice cave,which is dripping and melting in areas!

And out and back up..

The terrace and view… I bet it was so amazing before it melted!

I loved the little local crystal cave!

Time to go back to Chamonix! So beautiful!

Back at our apartment, we rested, had some cocktails, and watched the Aiguille du midi cable car take passengers up and down Mont Blanc. We had taken it on our previous trip. https://www.chamonix.com/telepherique-de-l-aiguille-du-midi,48-156953,en.html

Time to take our late afternoon walk through town in search of new things.

We walked past the church and found a little park with a bee exhibit that was really cool!

We walked past the lovely church – I had to just stand and take it in…

IMG_1793We walked this way and that before asking someone if there were any nearby walking trails. And of course there was – and oh my heavens, it was past a herd of sheep and their dog shepherds! I LOVE sheep, having raised them when I was young, and what a backdrop!

We meandered along the meadow trail and back through town to Le Cristal de Jade. It was our last evening of the trip, and the sunset from our balcony was spectacular. I don’t think we could have asked for a better last day to such an amazing trip!

From the French Riviera, through the Italian Piedmont, to the Alps, it’s been an amazing two weeks! I hope you’ve enjoyed our trip too, and be sure and use the web links and our suggestions to plan your own future trips!

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Aosta Valley, Italy ~ June 2019

3 Nights in Aosta Valley, The Italian Side of the Alps

IMG_0991From Villa Tiboldi in Canale, Italy, in the Piemonte Region, we plotted our route to Aosta Valley for our next leg of exploration in the Italian Alps region. It was a pretty drive, transitioning from rolling hills with vineyards to meadows and hills, to mountainous terrain with medieval castles and fortresses dotting the hilltops

We arrived in Aosta and did a quick walk around the city’s pretty main street. Pictured below is the Arch of Augustus, an honorary arch dedicated to the Emperor Augustus. You can learn more about the history of Aosta at their  tourism website: http://www.lovevda.it/en/database/8/roman-architecture/aosta/arch-of-augustus/728IMG_0634The Tourist Office is beside the Porta Praetoria, the city’s main gates built in 25 B.C. You can spend the day shopping from their unique boutiques, clothing stores, etc., and of course so many restaurants, cafes and gelato and pastry shops to eat or relax. It is such a beautiful city! I loved all the geraniums and cool wood carved sculptures scattered throughout the city.

We wound our way up the switch-back roads to find our vacation rental that was perched high up on the valley side. Our Airbandb host Gian met us there, and was so friendly and nice! https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/22246590?eal_exp=1555023336&eal_sig=39ec16ba89a634e0ab6e16c745b320515628c58e617fb9ed0ab3e8c6fc6882ae&eal_uid=38773163&euid=64692fde-4041-ff06-61ea-8479dded1a02&guests=1&adults=1IMG_0639Gian opened the door to our little chalet-style house and WOW!!! Look at that view!! The house was perfect for us with one bedroom, comfortable living room, well appointed kitchen and a large balcony. We highly recommend this fabulous rental!

However to get to the apartment, and really anywhere in this region, you need to be a BRAVE driver and have a good navigator. We’ve learned to “free style” navigate as many times the GPS doesn’t catch up with you, will miss turns, get confused on switchbacks,  and start spinning in circles. Experiment with setting your route on Google Maps, start the route and then exit it. It should continue to show your planned route and will have a little circle with you on it and a beam facing the direction you are going. Instead of having the navigation running and getting confused, it just shows your movement in real time, so you can watch your route. Here’s a sample of driving to our apartment…

There are soooo many amazing castles and fortresses in Aosta Valley that you could spend weeks visiting them all. The valley was a historic crossroads through the mountains throughout history. We drove around the valley a bit to get oriented that afternoon, then back to the apartment to enjoy sunset over the valley with some excellent wine.

IMG_0680And sunrise… Again, What a view! IMG_0681So peaceful – here’s a quick video view.

Time to get out and explore – back down the mountain road – so glad Wally’s a good driver! He has fun driving these roads!

Our destination on this clear beautiful day was up on the Mont Blanc/ Monte Bianco Skyway. Some sights along the way to Courmayeur.

Time to go UP the mountain! We got our tickets and waited for the next cable car to arrive. The car rotated 360 degrees and had cool music as you ascended. There’s a  panoramic terrace you can hang out or depart from for hikes, a cafe and bar, a crystal exhibition of crystals found in the mountains and some movies on the history of the Skyway. It’s COLD up there, so be sure and take a jacket or coat if you want to stay long.  We were so fortunate that it had been windy the day before, producing a clear day for our ascent. https://www.montebianco.com/en

Jamie and Wally, Mont Blanc

I got a Moscow Mule in the bar and was able to let it chill in the snow while taking pictures. It was so cold my hands started going numb (as usual in the cold). The crystals were amazing! Here’s a quick panoramic video view from the top platform.

Back down to the bottom, we were hungry and it didn’t take us long to find La Palud Ristorante Pizzeria and it was amazing! Ahhh… Italian food and wine heaven in the Alps! They had a fresh basket of porcini mushrooms awaiting selection from diners. http://www.lapalud.it/

After lunch, we drove just up the road to find some trails to hike and see the scenery. Here’s a link to an interactive website that has maps and information on hiking trails in the area, as well as hiker’s comments. https://www.alltrails.com/italy/aosta-valley/courmayeur/hiking

As we were walking on a trail by a stream, I spied the cow tourism mascot having a photo shoot on the bridge and got to get a hug.

We drove further up into the valley “Val Ferret”, where The Golf Course of Courmayeur and Grandes Jorasses, a 9-hole course is located along the Dora River. Find out more about Courmayeur at their website: https://www.lovecourmayeur.com/

Tired, we retreated back to our amazing little chalet to watch night fall…

IMG_1003We awoke the next morning to clouds and drizzle. I walked around our neighborhood, admiring the gardens and views. I just love those slate roofs!

Although it was yucky weather, castles and mountain meadows were on our agenda for the day. Our first stop was at the Castello di Sarre/ Sarre Royal Castle, located on the main road through the Aosta Valley. This building was built in 1710, and King of Italy Victor Emanuel II had it renovated and resided here while on his hunting expeditions in the Val d’Aosta. This was his “hunting lodge,” and several great halls featured his collection of ibex and chamois trophies he had hunted in the area, along with beautiful painted designs. There is a nice collection of family paintings scattered throughout the castle, along with memorabilia. Our guide spoke good English, and we enjoyed learning about the castle and King Emanuel’s family. This is a “manly” castle and men that like the outdoors and hunting will enjoy it!

You can learn more about this castle and all the others in the valley at: http://www.lovevda.it/en/database/8/castles-and-towers/sarre/sarre-royal-castle/1131

Leaving the castle, our next destination was up into the valleys where King Emanuel traveled to go on his hunts. It is now the Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso and nature lovers will enjoy exploring this amazing area. We explored the village of Cogne and walked along their meadow trail for a bit. There was a bike race going on that day and the town was full of racers and their families. Learn more about Cogne at: http://www.cogne.org/

The meadows were blooming with so many kinds of wildflowers!