A lot of people think I live in Sweden. Or near it. Or at least on a snow-covered mountain located very far north in Europe. In reality, Geneva is fairly far south–just an hour’s drive from the Italian border. So on a whim last week, we decided to drive through the tunnel running under Mont Blanc and camp in the Italian Alps. What we found was lovely.
Having spent so much time in the neighboring Swiss and French Alps–skiing and eating raclette–we were curious how the Italian side would differ. Although the natural beauty feels a lot like Switzerland’s, the pace, the people, even the architecture feels entirely Italian as soon as you cross the border. We set up camp at Campeggio Lo Stambecco in the heart of the Gran Paradiso National Park.
We chose the campground because like many countries, wild camping–or pitching a tent wherever you find a spot–is illegal. My husband would definitely prefer camping in the wild away from the comforts of a hot shower, but we ended up falling in love with the kooky campsite.
The laid-back, decidedly hippie atmosphere at Campeggio Lo Stambecco transported me back to a Berkeley student-run camp my family frequented throughout my childhood in northern California. Reservations at Lo Stambecco were lax, we had to track someone down to actually pay our bill and there was a tiny, teenager-run cafe. I happily adapted from “roughing it” to “camping with benefits” as I call it. The aperitivo hour in the afternoon was heavenly.
Although it was raining the two days we spent camping in the park, it was a welcome respite from the bizarre Swiss heat wave we’ve been experiencing. There is almost nothing I love more than enjoying a cup of campfire-brewed espresso while surveying a cool, foggy morning.
When the rain started coming down a bit harder, we caught the local (free) bus into the nearby town of Cogne. We ducked into a restaurant for a warm lunch of local specialties. Turns out what fondue is to the Swiss Alps, polenta is to the Italian side. The grits-like dish around Cogne was prepared absolutely slathered in a strong, melted mountain cheese. Which seems to suggest that no matter what part of the Alps you’re in, cheese is the main course. Of course, the antipasti was equally delectable…
We’re headed back in the fall and I’m already mentally packing my sweaters for cozy evenings by the fire. I hope you’re still in a summer frame of mind today…but for now, a few links:
- Wild Camping in Europe: How and Where to do It (The Guardian)
- Travel Advice: Train Ride Italy via the Alps (The Telegraph)
- The Real Rules of Making Italian Polenta (Serious Eats)