Monte Bianco

Only the second time we rented a car, this time we could walk to the agency, book, and retrieve the car the next morning. The roads out of Turin and into the Italian-French Alps provided stunning scenery and plenty of bilingual signage!

The modern cable car at Coeurmajeur that climbed within a mile or so from Mont Blanc was an extraordinary ride--going a full 360 degrees around to take in all the rivers, green valleys, craggy foothills and spiky, snowy peaks. Temps went from the 80s at ground level to freezing levels at the top. Mont Blanc (Montebianco in Italian) was visible from the cable station, but we didn't take the next, ski-lift-looking ride directly to the mountain. Thanks, but no! Better to roost inside at one of the restaurants (though the stair and elevator levels were confusing and it took 10 minutes to go where we could see and hear but not reach!).

A fond memory of my first year abroad to Italy when I was a college junior was the montebianco dessert that was in many restaurants and trattorie in Rome back then, the early 1970s. It was a mound of chestnut puree topped with whipped cream, a mini mountain delight. Except, until way later, we always thought it was weird chocolate, not chestnut. Anyway, when I saw that the cafe at the top of had montebianco, and even though we already had had dessert, I had to have their version. Server claimed it was the original, but it was in a glass cup, in layers, not the one I remembered. Still. Pretty good!

Driving back to Turin from Mont Blanc, and approaching Aosta/Aoste, we saw an arresting medieval-looking castle along the highway. Wow, what's that? Cool! Let's find out! nBut, like a lot of places there and back home, it's not always easy to get to the place appears to be. Right. There. No easy exit that we could find, and getting confused with the French/Italian names on all the highway signage, we eventually doubled back through a tunnel and went around a garbage dump. And, there appeared to be no signage for what we thought was a remarkable find.

Not knowing what it was, we couldn't use the car's map function. Only assumed it was in Aosta. Somehow, we found ourselves in that city's outskirts, then in some kind of Franco-Italian rush hour in the hot, late afternoon sun, going west, then found a highway to the foothills and...finally...saw a sign on a mountain curve that had us make a sharp right and up until...finally...we were there. 'There' is one of the 19th C hunting lodges of the former Italian royal family of Victor Emmanuels. Slightly disappointed, but with a hey-we're here-might-as-well-see-it spirit, we got into the last tour of the day.

If the history of the old Italian royals is not very thrilling (except for a photo of a royal wedding in Rome with a certain Italian dictator present), the decor sort of is. Not a place for animal lovers, the walls and ceilings are covered with the heads and horns of whatever four-footed deer-like creatures once roamed those hills. Before anyone gets too upset--we found that activists in the early 1900s had petitioned the family to no longer hunt there and to turn the grounds into a reserve for the herds still left!