A weekend in a mountain chalet

July 29-31, 2017

Trasquera, Italy

Swiss National Day fell on a Tuesday this year which meant a four day weekend for most of the country. Of course, that also translates to Ungodly Traffic when returning home, so Dan and I cheated and planned for a three day weekend, returning home a day early to beat the crowds and have a day to ourselves at home.

Holiday traffic

We hit the motorway, fought our way through the traffic and only once we got south of Bulle did we abandon the motorway and head into the mountains. We passed by Gruyères and then delved further into the wilderness.

Castle at Gruyères

Sharing the road

I never get tired of this

Getting deeper into the mountains

The resort town of Gstaad – obvious by the numerous newly constructed chalets

Even the bus can’t ruin my fun

Our route now took us south into the Valais, but we had to get out of the mountains first.

A nice way to build a retaining wall

Heading into the Rhone valley

Château d’Aigle

We have reached wine country!

The dishes of Signalhorn

And disguised airplane hangars

We had made it to the wide valley of the Rhone. The sky threatened to rain on us, but considering the heat that we had left behind in Basel, I was ready for it. There was a long drone on the motorway between Aigle and Brig and the temperatures had risen. The rain had remained merely a threat. I was more than pleased to finally get off the main roads and start our ascent back into the mountains.

Beautiful but boring

Heading up to Simplon Pass

We were rewarded with a few sprinkles of rain, grey clouds and road construction. I was so happy to get out of the heat and bordom of the valley that I didn’t even mind.

The top of Simplon Pass

I sort of wanted to go over and see the giant concrete eagle monument up close, but that is one of the limitations of my motorcycle gear: I don’t like to walk around much in it. Add to that the fact that Dan didn’t really care, and the ever-changing weather blowing hard around us, and I decided that I could satisfy my curiosity as we rode past it.

Massive concrete eagle at Simplon Pass

Always great infrastructure around here

Southern Switzerland is gorge-ous (yes, I went there)

Just around the bend is… Italy!

Bonjourno!

I wasn’t really sure where we were going. There was no address given by our AirBnB hostess – she just asked us to message her when we got into Trasquera and she would come and meet us. I had studied Googlemaps before leaving home to get an idea of the route that we would take, so I was surprised when the GPS sent us on a random left turn off the main road…

The GPS suggested that this was the most direct route

The road we were on was obviously not used much – the weeds growing out of cracks in the pavement and the blackberry vines trailing into the road space was a good indication of this. But hey, the GPS said that this road would get us there and since we were ready for a bit of adventure, why not give it a shot?

Except that a few minutes later we ended up at someone’s yard and the road had become a stretch of gravel. Perhaps the road actually did continue around the corner and beyond the gravel, but the property owner happened to be standing outside when we pulled up and I felt more than a little embarrassed by our sudden appearance. Dan and I agreed to retreat back down to the main road and tell the GPS to try again. Oh, and in looking closely at Googlemaps from the comfort of home, the road did NOT go through to our destination. It did not appear to go through to anywhere, for that matter. Always question your GPS!

Under the overpass

When the GPS directed us to head for Varzo I knew that we were on the right track. But what surprised me was how big and prosperous Varzo looked and the buildings were so well-tended. I had planned for us to ride to the AirBnB, drop off our gear and then head back to Varzo for dinner. It definitely looked like there would be some good choices!

We passed through the town and then switchbacked our way up the side of the mountain and eventually followed the valley further into the mountains, crossed over and then rode parallel back down the other side of the valley. It was a beautiful ride, but it was by no means fast.

On the road to Trasquera

The road narrowed and we found ourselves behind a local. This wasn’t a problem because they knew the road and maintained a good speed. Plus, they ran interference on all of the blind corners for us – we could hear them honk their horn at each bend in the road to warn any oncoming vehicles. It was like having our own advance party paving the way for us.

Our hostess had said that when we reached the town square to give her a call. We passed the sign for Trasquera and immediately came up to this old church. There was a nice place to park and I thought that surely Trasquera (population 247) could not be much bigger than this.

Chiesa dei Santi Gervasio e Protasio (Catholic church)

I was wrong. When we messaged her where we were, she said no, we hadn’t reached the town center yet and to keep driving a few more minutes. Whoops! We got back on the bikes and continued up the road for a few more minutes and there it was: Trasquera. Not that there was much to it.

GoogleMaps screen shot of Trasquera

I messaged our hostess again and she said she would be there in five minutes. Dan and I sat on our bikes to wait, since there wasn’t much else for us to do. But it was a busy place, with cars pulling in and out of the few parking spots there, and a steady stream of people going into the tiny grocery store. It was indeed the heart of the village. A Land Cruiser pulled up in front of Dan’s bike and they confirmed that we were ready and waiting. She turned around and led us out of the village and then further up the mountain side. I am glad that she led us – the turn off to the chalet was one that would have been hard to find on my own.

I might have missed this turn on to the gravel

The AirBnB ad had stated that it was an unpaved road to the chalet but that usually means something like a gravel road at the worst. The road she led us down wasn’t difficult but I am glad that we had our dual sports. She didn’t adjust her speed at all and I thought how embarrassing it would be if I dropped my bike here. Just a mile or so through the woods and we stopped in a small grassy clearing. Our hostess said that we could ride the rest of the way, but the path looked narrow and steep and our street tires would have made it more trouble than it was worth. We decided to walk the last few yards.

Looking up the path (which looks deceptively flat)

We unpacked the bikes and walked up the hill to our accommodations for the weekend:

Our chalet on the left

The view; the mountain in the middle is Italian – the ones behind it are Swiss

The chalet was amazing. Our host and hostess had done all of work themselves and it was fantastic. Such great talent and attention to detail. It was cozy and clean and absolutely perfect.

Front door

Inside

Looking into the curing room

The room upstairs

The grounds around the chalet were equally impressive. In addition to our chalet, there was the owner’s chalet, a cute little inflatable hot tub on a deck with a table and chairs and some outbuildings tucked up against the hillside. I was surprised to find that there were two mules, a calf, chickens and a fish pond.

Our hosts’ house

The little calf

The Egg-Team

This chicken coop has a better view than most houses

It was early afternoon and we had the rest of the day – and all of the next day – to do absolutely nothing. We unpacked, explored the property a bit and then settled in with our books. We made the decision not to go back to Varzo for dinner but instead just make something for ourselves in our chalet. It was going to be a relaxing weekend.

Evidence of wild boar where the ground is dug up

We spent our time reading our books, exploring the forests behind the chalet and the clearings below the chalet and relaxing in the hot tub. We had the delightful added bonus of a thunderstorm that rolled its way down the valley. The sounds echoed and the rain pounded down – it was beautiful.

Walking through the forest

Rain storm!

Clouds in the valley

How we spent most of the weekend

The chalet had a few interesting features. The hot water was heated by the wood stove alone, which meant that we had to wait a bit before our showers would be hot. Also, the “curing room” (if that’s what it was), was unique. I guessed that it was used in a past life to smoke and cure meats, as the central fire stand seemed to be very use-specific. Now, there were benches on both sides covered in soft deer hides and it made for a cozy little place to read and keep warm on a cold and rainy day. Here is a short video of building the fire in the curing room.

Custom-made walls of the curing room

All too soon, our weekend of leisure was at an end. We had read and explored and slept well and now it was time to go home. Our host and hostess had been beyond exceptional and had made us feel completely welcome. It was also fun knowing that we were their first guests!

Descending the driveway from the chalet

Leaving Trasquera

Still leaving Trasquera

I planned a new route home, this time swinging south and east before heading north again. We passed by Domodossola and then east on an amazing road simply called “SS337” on Googlemaps but named CentoValli on some websites I found. Whatever it is called, it was a lovely and greatly appreciated surprise.

Rough Italian pavement

We found some curves!

Santuario Della Madonna Del Sangue (Sanctuary of Our Lady Blood) in Re, Italy

SS337 was fantastic!

The village of Terre di Pedemonte, Italy

Back in Switzerland

Hey! The bus stop from the end of our hike last June

Entering the Tessin area of Switzerland

Instead of sticking to the motorway north from Lucarno to Gotthard Pass (even though it can be beautiful), I took us to the east and through the mountains. I thought it would be interesting to see it again, after having recently spent some time there and only being able to watch the motorcycles go by.

Just look at the road! It was all ours!

And the hotel where we stayed during that last hike

Lukmanier Pass

Awesome car

Goat crossing

Descending Lukmanier Pass

Ugh. Traffic

Switzerland at its finest

By taking the route that we did, we by-passed a lot of the holiday traffic and joined the main roads after the choke point of the Gotthard Tunnel. Good thing, too, as even the traffic in our direction was thick. But at least it moved at a good pace and we didn’t have too much trouble getting home.

Traffic backed up to pass through the Gotthard Tunnel – for over seven kilometers!

Another awesome car

It was great to still have one more day of “relaxing at home” before the work week started, especially after such a relaxing weekend in the mountains.