March 2019: snow-shoeing in the Alps of LombardyFriday, 15 March 2019
Exhibitions in March:
I Ciardi: Landscapes and Gardens; Palazzo Sarcinelli, Conegliano (Veneto), until 23 June; www.mostraciardi.it. This beautiful exhibition presents Italian art in the late 18th and early 19th century. It presents the ‘plein air’ landscapes of the pre-Alps in northern Italy produced by Guglielmo Ciardi and his son Beppe and daughter Emma.
Italian Art from Hayez to Segantini; Musei San Domenico, Forli (Emilia-Romagna); until 16 June; www.mostraottocento.com. Another beautiful exhibition which explores the evolution of Italian art from the Unification of Italy (1860) to the outbreak of World War I in 1914, a period of fervent nationalism when artists took on the responsibility of unifying and celebrating the new country. With styles evolving from Romanticism to Impressionism to Futurismo, it presents masterpieces from artists often not well-known outside Italy including Hayez, Pelliza di Volpedo and Segatini.
Animals in Art, from the Renaissance to Ceruti; Palazzo Martinengo, Brescia, until 9 June, www.animalinellarte.it. Hosted in a 16th century in the centre of Brescia, this exhibition presents eighty masterpieces documenting how animals had a central role in Italian art between the 16th and 18th centuries. Lots of portraits but also domestic animals as sacred and mythological subjects.
Events in March:
Peck City Life; Piazza Tre Torri, Milano; www.peck.it. Peck has been the temple of high gastronomy in Milan since opening its store and restaurant a stone’s throw from the Duomo in 1883. They have opened a second store and restaurant in ‘City Life’, a vast urban development in disused factory space on the edge of Milan downtown. It features three skyscrapers designed by ‘archistars’ Zaha Hadid, Arata Isozaki and Daniel Libeskind https://citylifeshoppingdistrict.it).
Palazzo della Cultura ‘Pasquino Crupi’, Via E. Cuzzocrea, 48, Reggio Calabria.
www.calabriatheotheritaly.com/palazzo-della-cultura-reggio-calabria/. In 2010, the police captured mafia boss Giochhino Campolo. Part of his 330 million euro wealth, included 126 works of art. These were confiscated and form the core of this fascinating museum (which now hold 400 works) which celebrates the victory of the civil society. It includes works by Dali, De Chirico, Carra, Ligabue and Fontana. It also includes an interesting section dedicated to forgeries (eg Picasso, Miro, Dali) which shows even professional crooks can be duped!
Leonardo a Vinci. The Origins of a Genius; Rocca dei Conti Guidi, Vinci (Florence); www.museoleonardiano.it; 15 April to 15 October. ‘Design 8p’ is the prosaic name given to the first work (a beautiful landscape) ever signed and dated by Leonardo da Vinci (5 August 1473 when he was 21). For the first time the drawing has undergone accurate scientific analysis at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence. The drawing will be the central piece of an exhibition in his home town (50 kms south of Florence).
Hidden Italy Weekend: Snow-shoeing in the Alps of Lombardy.
After a twisting thirteen kilometre drive up the Val Caffaro, a tight valley squeezed between towering mountains in Adamello National Park in northern Lombardy, the Piana del Gaver comes as a surprise: a small, high plain pasture opening up at the head of the valley, a verdant amphitheatre surrounded by soaring peaks: Mt Frerone (2673 mts) to the west, Mt Blumone (2830 mts) to the north and Mt Gelo (2665 mts) to the east, which, until 1918, served as the border between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
In the summer, the Piana’s green meadows are grazed by a few lucky cows, in winter it is covered by thick snow. There are a handful of buildings: a religious retreat hidden behind pine trees, a couple of farmhouses (abandoned in the winter), a ski-lift station and a small hotel beyond this. Three years ago, the ski-lifts were decommissioned and, in winter, the Piana has returned to the exclusive use of ‘sustainable’ snow sports such as cross-country skiing, ski mountaineering and snow-shoeing. The old station is now the hub from which a number of marvellous trails radiate. It has also become the cross-country skiing centre and a place to hire skis, snow-shoes, ski-poles and provisions for a day’s outing.
The point of departure for a visit to the Piana del Gaver, is, however, a bit further south at Bagolino, a marvellous little medieval town that guards the entrance to the Val Caffaro, thirteen kilometres back down the road.
Bagolino has a population of less than four thousand people. It was founded in 16BC by the Romans as a staging post between the strategic Brescia and Trento valleys. For three hundred years, from the 15th to the 18th century, the town thrived under Venetian rule until, in October 1779, it was virtually destroyed by fire. To survive, the locals had to sell their mountain pastures, including the Piana del Gaver, to the neighbouring town of Breno (a slight still remembered).
Despite this calamity, much of Bagolino’s rich heritage survives, including the gorgeous maze of paved lanes and pretty medieval houses in the town centre; a marvellous cycle of 15th century frescoes; and the impressive church of San Giorgio (known ‘Cathedral of the mountains’) which holds works by Tintoretto and Titian. With good food, a lively population and a couple of nice small hotels, Bagolino offers more than enough to make it an excellent base from which to explore this little visited corner of northern Italy.
How to get there:
By car: From the A4 Turin–Venice autostrada, take the Brescia Est exit and then the state highways 45 and 237 for Barghe, skirting around the Idro Lake. At Locality San Antonio, take the turn-off for Bagolino. By train: Possibly, the simplest way to Bagolino is to take the train to Brescia. From here, you can take the SIA bus to Bagolino (www.arriva.it/sia). By plane: the closest airport is Bergamo-Orio (136 kms away).
Where to stay:
Al Tempo Perduto (Via San Rocco 46, Bagolino). This lovely 3-star hotel in the centre of town has an artisan gelataria and a very well-regarded restaurant. Double rooms from 60 euro per night and a fixed menu dinner of 25 euro per person.
B&B El Piastrol (Via Moreschi 42, Baglino). This b&b is in the historical centre of Bagolino and has two very comfortable rooms with en suites. It also has a very good restaurant downstairs. Double room with breakfast included is 50 euro. Dinner is 25 euro per person.
Locanda Gaver (Localita Gaver). This simple ‘locanda’ is on the Piana di Gaver a short walk from the ski centre. A double room with breakfast costs 70 euro.
Blumon Break (Localita Gaver). An historical hotel which has been recently renovated. It has comfortable, practically furnished rooms and a good restaurant offering local specialities. A double room with breakfast from 70 euro.
Where to eat:
La Trattoria del Viandante (Via Moreschi 28, Bagolino). This warm and welcoming restaurant (the ‘Trattoria of the Wayfarer’) is in the centre of town proudly and offers local fare such as malfatti (roughly cut pasta) with mountains herbs and Bagoss (the local hard cheese); orecchiette with vegetables, cream and speck; roast venison; roast pork with potatoes; or veal bites with porcini and finferli mushrooms…. yum.
Malga del Re (Via Sant’Anna, Bagolino). The ‘Re’ (or king) in the name refers to the local hard cheese Bagoss, of which the town is very proud of. Most things in this small (twenty seats) family-run restaurant revolve around the cheese, which is hand-produced on the family’s ‘malga’ (farm). The menu includes roast meats, cold cuts and plenty of cheeses.
Rifugio Fabus (Locality Maniva/Fabus). In a panoramic position near the Maniva ski fields, this mountain lodge is renowned for its game, pasta, polenta, and fried mushrooms, as well as a delicious blue berry and ricotta cake.
What to do:
Friday: explore Bagolino
The check in to your accommodation, go for a stroll around the piastroi, the small, paved alleys and lanes of the historic centre that give you the possibly of admiring the porticos, wooden verandahs and frescoed houses of this once prosperous town. The Via dei Portici (the street of the porticoes was a bustling commercial hub until the beginning of the 20th century.
The church dedicated to San Giorgio is one of the star turns of the town. One of the largest in the area, it is known as the ‘Cathedral of the mountains’. It contains a painting of the Holy Trinity which is attributed to the Venetian master Tintoretto as well as several paintings of saints attributed to another Venetian master, Titian.
The other star turn is a short walk out of town, a 13th century church dedicated to San Rocco (a guardian against the plague), which is believed to have been built on the foundations of a Roman church. It has a marvellous fresco cycle painted in the 15th century.
After an aperitivo and dinner, you should get an early night, ready for the big day ahead.
Saturday: get your snowshoes on
Drive or catch the bus to Piana del Gaver. Here, you can hire ciaspole (small modern snow-shoes that bear no resemblance to the old rackets of yesteryear) and hiking poles. You can also buy provisions (snacks and lunch) necessary for the outing as the mountain huts are closed in the winter.
From here (1510 mts asl), you set out from the western side of the Caffaro River for Goletto di Gaver, heading up in the direction of the Crocedomini Pass. It’s a gradual incline that follows the route of a road, which is closed in winter. It’s possible to short-cut some of the hairpin bends by following trails through the forest. The walk takes around one hour. Once you arrive at the Goletto (1,783 mts asl) you have a two choices:
Mt Misa (2184 mts asl): From Goletto, you take a road on the left (closed in winter) which takes up to mountain lodge (closed in winter as well). From here you follow the line of the old ski-lift further uphill. At the top of the ski leif you are greeted with a spectacular view down over the Po River plain as far to the east as Lake Garda. On a clear day, you can see across the plains to Monviso and Mt Rosa, the second highest peak in the Alps and part of the border with Switzerland.
It is possible to stop here, however, you can also press on for another twenty minutes to the peak of Mt Misa following a clear path from the ski station for an even better view. However, this part does have overhangs with the risk of avalanches and it is advisable to only do this with a guide.
Asino Pass (2,200 mts asl): Another pleasant walk is to follow the road to the Crocedomini Pass. The drops down to Cadino della Banca (a small hamlet inhabited in the summer) and then climbs up a wide open valley, zigzagging up the slope with the Asino Pass visible at all times in front of you. It takes around an hour and a half return to Goletto.
Sunday: get your skis on
If you are still feeling energetic, you can head back to the ski centre and go cross country skiing. All the gear can be hired from the centre. There are two marked trails: a 5 km run for experienced skiers and a 3 km loop for beginners.
There are also plenty of opportunities for ski mountaineering (ski alpinismo) from the centre, including a 3 hour climb to Monte Bruffione, with a difference of 1,250 mts. There are also more challenging climbs from Goletto to the Cima Laione and Monte Frerone (both around 3.5 hours return). It is possible to do this on your own but advisable to engage a guide such as Andrwa Mutti or Guido Bonvicini of the Libera Avventura Association (www.liberavventura.it) at a cost of 100 euro for the day.
Otherwise, you can try downhill skiing at the Passo del Maniva (www.manivaski.it) which is a 12 km drive from Bagolino. It has 9 lifts and over 40 kms of marked ski runs. A weekend day pass costs 31 euro per person.
Sunday: go touring:
The provincial capital is Brescia, around an hour’s drive south of Bagolino. It is a large, wealthy town boasting valuable Roman remains, Renaissance squares and a Medieval city-centre juxtaposed with important 20th century architecture. It is an industrial town, famous for produce weaponry (there were large iron reserves in the nearby mountains) since Roman towns (it is still the home of Beretta, the firearms company, that has been run by the same family for over five hundred years). It is a very interesting town that is not on the tourist maps, which makes it a refreshing place to visit.
Bresica is also home to one of my favourite restaurants, Osteria al Bianchi (Via Gasparo de Salo; www.osteriaalbianchi.it) just off Piazza della Loggia, Brescia’s main square. It is an old-school restaurant (it dates from 1881) and is very popular with the locals. It merits a visit on its own (in fact we include it as a lunch stop our Venice and Italian Lakes tour in September, on the drive between Venice and Lake Como).