Airolo to Lavorgo 29 km
The unstated rules of trail designers are keeping trekkers off of paved roads as much as possible, generally avoiding large towns (unless the trek is a religious pilgrimage), and maximize opportunity for amazing views. Following those rules closely can produce uneven success. Avoiding pavement can at time lead to unnecessary detours up badly made paths while a perfectly good road remains in sight. Sometimes avoiding towns requires long climbing detours to uninteresting places. Today’s walk was a little of that, but also, in parts, the classic example of why those rules apply. The climb out of Airolo was steep but quick, and I soon found myself on Strada Alta which, when it didn’t dwindle into a narrow path and then a field of nettles, was the perfect path for the day. I found myself walking 3/4s of the way up a ridge, looking down onto the narrow river valley, and across to snow capped alps. The treat though was not the spectacular views but instead the little villages gathered around that high road. Their access was a road no wider than a compact car, as were their main streets, but each had magnificent beamed houses, some in stone, the obligatory water trough with constantly flowing water, a bar/cafe, and a church. Every three km, another would appear. The economy here is less certain. There are farms, but it seems clear that many of the people living in these towns are not farmers. Almost as evidence for this observation, for once I saw as much wildlife as if did domestic. Along with the cows and sheep, I almost stepped on a five foot snake– looked like a black snake but held it head up while moving. Later I scared up a chamois who looked at me for a moment before diving into the bushes. Perhaps the village houses could be vacation homes, or even places for commuters. All very puzzling but beautiful nonetheless. In the town square of one, a young girl sat blowing bubbles that drifted across the trail. I stopped at 1:00 for a pint in a restaurant in one. At first it seemed closed, but on entering I was greeted by a table of locals, already hoisting their day’s second pints and speaking in Italian, a language I love to hear. The bartender had a baby in his arms, and served me a pint of Gottardo, an excellent local lager. Everyone was so happy. I wish my afternoon had been as happy, but as often happens on the trail, a combination of small but significant problems makes for a difficult time. My interlude with the nettles, coupled with some wrong turns– some my fault, others because of the quick change in trail surface (road to overgrown field)– and a long final descent on a sharp rock trail made for a frustrating end of the day. Something remedied by an excellent plate of gnocchi for supper.
T. Hugh Crawford