Today was Dan´s day. The night before we discussed our plans and the seven hour hike had been kyboshed. Instead he suggested a four hour hike, with a stop at one of the crottos for lunch afterwards. Ah, this was a much better sounding plan to me. Saturday morning came, but Dan didn’t stir from the bed. The hours passed but he only said “it feels good to just do nothing”. I was also ok with this because, hey! We´re on vacation after all! But by 10 am I was feeling a little antsy and made my own suggestion: Let´s take the motorcycles up the mountain behind us and then hike the rest of the way to the cross we could see at the top. To me, this was a good compromise: a short hike, but not an impossibly demanding one. Dan agreed and we were soon on our way.
Google Maps showed me that we should be able to reach the village of Dalo, and then it would be a short walk across a meadow to the edge of the mountain – and the cross. We followed the road to Splügen for a quick seven kilometers before turning off and heading up the side of the mountain.
Heading for Splügen
Road to Dalo
We didn’t get far: there was a locked gate just a couple of kilometers up the road. Only residents were granted access beyond this point so we parked the bikes and prepared to make our way on foot. So much for my sneaky tactic to get out of a full hike today!
The path was well marked and well maintained. Unlike most hiking trails that I have been on, this one was frequently paved with native stones and the steeper parts were actual stone steps. All of this was built into the side of a mountain that was covered in stone wall terraces and derelict stone huts. It was a mountain of stone, hiding under the cover of the forest. And it was getting warm.
End of road was just after these buildings
This one’s for sale!
Because it was a short ride to the hiking trail, we had simply worn our jeans on the motorcycles. Unfortunately this also meant that we were now hiking in our jeans and, with the rising temperatures (and the rising trail), it was getting uncomfortable. Shortly after we started our hike the trail crossed a road, undoubtedly the road that I had intended to ride up. But the trail kept going up the side of the mountain and so did we. It was quiet and peaceful. I stopped periodically to take it all in. Oh, who am I kidding? I stopped periodically to catch my breath. And drink the water I brought. And take photos. This is what I do on hikes.
Looking across the valley shortly after leaving the bikes behind
Stone steps – lots of stone steps
Lots of abandoned stone huts
Something else I normally do on hikes that I was not doing this time was complaining about my feet. If anything, I was doing the opposite. Two days before we left on this trip I bought a new pair of hiking boots. I went into the store, told them exactly what my needs were, let them measure my feet for the correct sizing and tried on a few different pairs. The ones I chose were excellent from the moment I put them on. Even now, after three hours of hiking around the woods on various surfaces my feet weren’t even on my radar. As anyone who reads about my hikes and explorations (especially my recent trip to Berlin), knows that I am often complaining about sore feet. Today I felt like I could have done a seven hour hike and never even noticed. Finally! They are big and they are blue, but they are like soft clouds supporting my every step.
We eventually reached what I thought was the top, but instead it was just a clear spot that gave way to an amazing view across the valley. Small villages with their ever-present bell towers spotted the other side of the valley and I could hear the rushing of the river down below, as well as the not-so-infrequent motorcycle as it made its way towards the pass.
Dan was ahead of me and waiting on a boulder in the sun. We had reached another meadow – still not at the top, but much closer. There were some homes and outbuildings here, some of them surprisingly new. Goats obviously made up a large percentage of the population based on the fencing I saw to keep them off of the roofs of the houses.
Anti-goat fencing on the roof
We walked along the path between the buildings, refilling my water bottle at the icy cold fountain set behind a swing set with one of the best views in the world. Another small meadow led us up a slope to a slightly larger cluster of buildings and then beyond that: the cross at the edge of the mountain.
It was perfect weather and some people were already here, enjoying the day and each other’s company. A couple was cleaning out their small house while grilling a hearty lunch on their porch. Mmmm: lunch. It would be a while before we would be able to sit down to eat. We walked out to the cross which was much larger than I expected. But then again, we were much higher than I realized we would be. The view to the town below us was fantastic. My eyes followed the valley to the east, where we had come from just a couple of days ago, as well as the wider valley that led south to Lake Como. And in between were the buildings, streets and people that make up the town of Chiavenna. The air was a little hazy and I wished for the clear weather we´d been enjoying in previous days. Even so, there was no way photos would do this justice, so I took a short video. Warning: slight wind noise.
Dan for scale
It was time to go back. I suggested that since we had taken the trail up, we should do something different and take the road down. After all, I´d seen a couple of cars parked near that first meadow so I knew that they had to get up here somehow. And going downhill on trails is always difficult, especially with all of the steps that we had climbed. So off we went, down the wide, paved path to our waiting motorcycles. Two vehicles passed up going up the road and one stopped just below us. He stopped in the middle of the road (not that there was anywhere for him to pull over), jumped out of the cab of his truck and proceeded to unload materials from the bed. The stone houses on the uphill slope were obviously the focus of his renovations. I was sorely tempted to stop and ask him to see the inside of one of these buildings, and now that I´m back at home I regret not doing so. “Next time”, right?
Filling up the water bottle again
And then I began to worry. What if there were actually two roads? What if the one we were on didn’t go to the locked gate, but to some other connecting point at the valley floor? We’d have to walk along the busy road and then back up again to reach our bikes. It was a lot of walking already and that thought didn’t sit well with me. I voiced my concerns to Dan and he scoffed at me. But five minutes later he said “What if you´re right?” and pulled out his phone. A few minutes of zooming in to where we were, on a road that did not show up on the maps, confirmed that we were indeed on the correct path to salvation. Thank goodness! We could now continue our walk and enjoy the views and rocky geography of the area.
That was the first word out of my mouth when the large, furry grey cat leapt out from behind a boulder and dashed deeper into the forest. I called out to it and it stopped about 10 meters away and looked back at me. My first thought was “That´s not a house cat.” It was huge. The head was broad and the eyes were somehow different than any domesticated cat I’ve known. The cat itself was large, which is saying something considering the size of the house cats that I´ve had in the past. The fur was a rich grey – almost a slate grey – with dark markings. To my disappointment, the cat turned away and disappeared down the hill. And no sooner had it left than another one came bounding into view. This one was of the same size, but with a completely different coloring. It looked much more like an overgrown barn cat, but as it didn´t stop anywhere near me, I couldn’t compare the head and face like I did the grey one. What this cat did do, however, was to stop on a rock far below me, barely visible through the leafy branches. I tried to get photos, but the distance and obstructions made it difficult. We quickly walked through the next switchback, to see if the cat would still be on the rock when we approached from below and much to my surprise, it was! I tried some more photos, but again, the distance and leaves made it difficult. I wish that I could see the grey cat again. I believe that they are at least part European Wildcat, but as the images I find online do not match either cat I saw, I cannot be sure.
The excitement was over and we left the cats to do their cat thing. As we walked down the road in the sunshine I imagined the fun it would be to find the litter of kittens that must be tucked away in a den somewhere on the hillside. Little mewling balls of fluffy cuteness that I could somehow take home with me. And then other half of my mind pondered just how hard it would be to track the cats to their den. Maybe it is best to leave them where they are.
Finally after rounding the hillside I recognized some of the features around us and I knew that we were close to the motorcycles. It would be good to get out of the sun and get some lunch. We were too late to make it back to the Crotto for lunch – they have very limited hours – so we made alternative plans of stopping by the grocery store to stock up and make lunch at the apartment.
My artistic rendition of our hike:
Green spray: hike
Pink spray: road
Red: main road to Chiavenna
We hiked to the top of the highest hill
Ah, there’s the cross!
Shopping in Italy is cheap. Dan and I went a little overboard in the grocery store and ended up coming out with two bags of things we probably didn’t need. We somehow packed them on the bikes and made short work of getting everything home and up the four flights of stairs to our penthouse suite. Ugh – more stairs!
It was a late lunch and we ended up lounging around for the rest of the afternoon, enjoying the warm sun, the refreshing breeze, the warbling song birds, the barking dogs…. Wait, what? Barking dogs? Yes, and I heard them the entire time we were in Italy. Yappy dogs that barked at everything and nothing and no one seemed to care. Few things are as irritating to me as a barking dog and I think that Basel has spoiled me, as it is socially unacceptable to have a barking dog there and so I rarely hear them anymore.
Watching over the neighborhood
The bird that serenaded us during our visit
We were both tired and spent the evening doing nothing. I considered going for a walk around the neighborhood after dinner (Dan was having fun cooking up our fresh ingredients!) but the lack of sidewalks made the idea of wandering the streets not quite as pleasant as the initial thought made it seem. Beside, I´d done enough walking today. Instead, we sat on the balcony and watched the world go by, including a pick-up truck with a bed full of goats and a small raptor that attacked a mourning dove in mid-flight. I heard the attacking bird´s wings as it dove passed us, and then saw the feathers fly as the dove was hit hard. Ah, nature at its finest.