A weekend in the mountains: Alagna is a cult destination

The smell of the first snowfall awakened a desire in me to spend a weekend in the mountains. Mountain holidays in Italy: what are the best places to visit?

Christmas shopping is not one of my strong suits, and I would gladly avoid the 80x80m2 changing rooms where you have to remove 3 layers of clothing just to try on one! I hate crowded places and after a stressful autumn I really need to wind down. I work on the PC and as always, I check out google, uncertain whether to click on the “I’m feeling lucky” button on the homepage or do a search for a personalised destination. Opting for the second choice, I type in “slow weekend” which, in a way, is my motto and it leads me to alagna.it.

It is not a winter destination I am familiar with for a weekend in the mountains but one look at the wooden chalets and snow, and I immediately fall in love. But what strikes me is a close up of a small village taken by a drone; this is how my weekend in Alagna begins. Now, let me tell you a story.

Where to go for a weekend in the snow?

Of all the places in the mountains to visit for a weekend in the snow, I had yet to experience Alagna and I chose the location for the name:  Relais Regina in the hamlet Ca’ d’Janzo in the Vogna valley.

Imagine a charming hotel immersed in the snow, where roe deer, deer and chamois are a familiar presence. I discovered that Queen Margherita of Savoy stayed there in 1898 and I immediately felt like a princess. My breakfasts were served in a restaurant where the atmosphere of that era remains intact, and no doubt, I would be on the look-out for lingering memories. My nights on the other hand, were spent in the comfort of the modern bio-architecture of the Perello bedrooms!

The FIRST DAY was a surprise: Alagna has magnificent wooden houses, unique architecture that is so harmonious it seems unreal. There are cobbled streets and monolithic fountains everywhere. The Walser villages are really cozy and welcoming, and life flows slowly and relaxed. I wandered aimlessly through alleys and meadows. In the main square, my attention was drawn to the restaurant Ca’ Nosta. A name that certainly sounds like a guarantee, I think. And so, it is! My first dinner in Alagna was just perfect. Armando welcomed me like family and made me taste the most delicious Gattinara Travaglini. I might be banal, but a warm and fragrant polenta concia revived my smile (which was frozen in the cold!)

On DAY TWO the glare of the sun on the snow dragged me out of bed early in the morning. I decided to explore the Vogna valley on snowshoes. My walk started from the hamlet of Sant’Antonio, a gentle uphill to the hamlet of Peccia and the bridge, which is called "Napoleonic" in this area. From there, I decided to continue on a hiking path that is a little steeper; a chance to walk off my dinner! The hike made me short of breath, but I quickly reached the hamlet Montata, walked past it and found myself in a beautiful larch grove where the snow was bathed in yellow sunlight. I continued to snowshoe up to the road sign for Larecchio and decided to follow the deviation. After 15 minutes, the trail lead me to a splendid meadow where the snow was untouched and the only sound was the soft gurgling of a stream flowing across the plain.

Just me, the snow, and a few Walser huts. I was filled with wonder and awe! Two and a half hours of hiking to reach 1895m, a little tiring, but well worth the effort!

I returned to the hotel completely satisfied and I allowed myself to be pampered in a sauna with spectacular views of the mountains at the Spa in Relais Regina. I relaxed in my surroundings while waiting for Giuliano, the hotel’s trusted taxi driver, who took me to Alagna town centre for dinner. Jennifer, Relais Regina’s receptionist, booked a table for me at the restaurant Edelweiss, promising me a meal fit for a queen and I blindly put my trust in her.

At Edelweiss I met the manager Graziano, born and raised in Alagna and I asked him to recommend some local dishes. I tasted the capuneit, typical Valsesian roulades with a filling of meat and milk-soaked bread, a fragrant stew of mixed meats served with the typical “green” sauce and fruit mostarda, a candied fruit condiment and a glass of Ghemme from the Cantaloupe “Signore di Bayard” cellar. Need I say more? I didn't want to leave anymore.

THIRD day: By now I felt at home at Relais Regina. I thought of Sibilla Aleramo who spent a whole summer in this Relais in 1916. My thoughts bounced from Giovanni Cena, Pellizza to Volpedo, Dino Campana and her, the femme fatale of the 900s as I walked along the Sesia, on a track called Schenine (the beautiful places in Walser) that faces Monte Rosa. The cold air and my walk made me feel like drinking a heart-warming hot chocolate to lighten my thoughts and after leaving the historical gossip behind me, I entered the pastry shop der Gourner where I discovered a world of sweet desserts. Of all the places to visit, I just couldn’t skip this one.

pasticceria Alagna

Pietro Stainer, chef by family tradition and pastry chef for passion prepared me a plate with tasty bite-sized samples of "Salam d'Alagna", chocolate salami with dried fruit, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, figs, and dates, a mouthful of flavour and energy, produced only in winter to retain the "freshness" of the chocolate. He also gave me Pastiera Valsesiana which is made with sheep's milk ricotta and left to rest overnight with sugar, saleggia (wild thyme) and blueberry jam, for a mix of true mountain flavours, excellent quality of traditional and modern pastry expertise. Pietro is a true artisan!

And after satisfying my tastebuds, he told me about Capanna Margherita, the highest refuge in Europe, which I did not know about. The name Margherita is in honor of the queen whose traces I was following. It is perched at 4554 m on the Gnifetti peak and is a coveted climbing route by mountaineers from all over the world. At first, I thought he was teasing me, describing it as: a hut clinging to a 1000 m rock face with a restaurant, 70 beds, with a Uni En ISO 14001 quality certification, internet connection, a library, and a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountain splendour. But then he showed me a picture and now I have an objective: training to go hiking! Next summer the hike to Capanna Margherita  will be at the top of my to do list. And Alagna will be my weekend destination in the mountains in both summer and winter.

If you are in two minds about where to go for your weekend in the mountains, my suggestion is Alagna. Of all the beautiful spots in the mountains, Alagna has captured my heart.

Alagna surprised me, pampered me, caressed me, and gave me a dream to realize. I can say with certainty that my long weekend in Alagna was simply amazing!

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