January 2021: Giorgio de Chirico; Leonardo; and a fabulous weekend in the shadow of the Matterhorn

Friday, 15 January 2021

Events in January 2021

Events in January 2021

The Torlonia Marbles:  Masterpieces.  Capotiline Museum, Villa Caffarelli, Rome; www.museicapitolini.it.org; until 29 June.  After almost fifty years of being locked away in warehouses (the result of argy-bargy between Prince Alessandro Torlonia and the Italian government), one of the most important private collections in the world is finally open to the public – it has never been seen publicly before!  The Torlonia collection of Greek and Roman marble sculptures was accumulated by this fabulously rich Roman banking family during the 19th century (mostly from financially distressed nobles).  The 92 statues on display (which includes a number of undisputed masterpieces) represents less than 15% of the total collection, which is awaiting a permanent museum.

Jewish Museum, the Ghetto, Venice; www.museoebraico.it.  It has taken over three years of work at a cost of over 9 million euro, to complete the restoration of this fabulous museum, which celebrates nearly one thousand years of Jewish life in the heart of Venice.  The project also included the revamping of the five historic synagogues, amongst the most beautiful in Europe.

Exhibitions in January 2021:

Exhibitions in January 2021:

Giorgio de Chirico and the Metaphysical (Palazzo Blu, Pisa; https://palazzoblu.it/mostre-in-corso/; reopens on Jan 31 and runs until 9 May).  Giorgio de Chirico was the greatest Italian painter of his day.  He was known as the Pictor Optimist, his haunting poetic images capturing poetic paintings capturing the malais of the 20th century.  This important exhibition brings together eighty-three of his most celebrated works borrowed from some of the major Italian and international galleries.  It also includes fifteen works by some of his contemporaries who followed his path at various stages of his career, including de Pisis, Sironi and Carlo Carra.

La Scapiliata; Leonardo da Vinci; National Gallery of Parma; https://complessopilotta.it/.  La Scapiliata is a glorious portrait of a young woman with messy hair (hence the nickname) which is generally attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.  The painting has been admired for its captivating beauty, mysterious demeanour, and the mastery of ‘sfumato’, a technique developed by Leonardo for a highly illusionistic rendering of facial features and for atmospheric effects.  “La Scapiliata’ has been given a dramatic new setting in the National Gallery in Parma.

Lilac: Alessandro Casagrande.  Galera San Soda, Milan; http://www.galerasansoda.com, until the end of February.  Alessandro Casagrande is a painter/photographer born in Milan in 1987.  The exhibition, in the key of Lilac, is a personal interpretation of the disruption that Covid has caused.  It is hosted in Galera San Soda, a new contemporary art gallery based in Milan.  The exhibition space is in Palazzo INA, an eighteen-story monolith on the outskirts of Milan, designed in 1957 by the visionary rationalist architect Piero Bottoni at the height of the Italian post-war economic boom.

Hidden Italy weekend in the Court of the Giants

Hidden Italy weekend in the Court of the Giants

Chamois is Italy's only car free municipality.  It is a delightful traditional village sitting above the Valle d’Aosta on the road to Cervinia, or the Matterhorn as it is known in neighbouring Switzerland.  Chamois is linked to the rest of the world via a cable car from the town of Buisson down in the valley or by a steep old mule trail that climbs secen hundred metres and has ninety-three turns.  On sunny day in winter, Chamois’ stunning location perched on a precipitous cliff overlooking the valley, is perfect for quiet contemplation, delicious food and a spritz or two.

With its abundant snow and breath-taking scenery, skiing is a popular pastime in Chamois, even if the lifts are old and a tad slow, however, the best way to really experience the silence and charm of this unique area is on foot, snowshoeing across the wide-open fields, through forests, past tiny hamlets, surrounded by the highest peaks in Europe.

But if you are also looking for the excitement of some really serious skiing, you can just head up the valley a little further to Breuil-Cervinia, one of Europe’s premier skiing areas, under the majestic profile of the Matterhorn.

How to get there:

By car:  Take the A5 autostrada that links Turin with Aosta.  After 90 kms, take the Chatillon exit, and follow the SR 36 up the valley for twelve kilometres to Buisson.  Park here and take the cable car that goes up to Chamois (www.funiviachamois.it; 5 euro pp).  By train:  Chatillon is on the Chivasso – Ivrea – Aosta line.  There are buses in Chatillon that take you to Buisson (www.savda.it).  By air:  The closest airport is Turin-Caselle, one hundred kilometres away.  On foot:  Hump your bluey and hike the old mule trail that leads up from Buisson.  It is a steep (700 mts) climb and takes around two hours.  Only possible from May to October.

Where to stay:

Hotel Maison Cly (Chamois, Locality Corgnolaz).  This four-star hotel is set in an elegant stone and wood building and has a wellness centre and a celebrated restaurant.  Doubles with breakfast from 80 euro.

B&B La Ville (Chamois, Locality La Ville).  This B&B offers two large, self-contained apartments is a restored barn.  Double with breakfast from 110 euro.

B&B Maison de Suis (Chamois, Locaity Suis).  Three recently renovated self-contained apartments in a traditional building in the most isolated hamlet.  Double with breakfast from 50 euro.

Hotel Dama Bianca (Valtournenche, Locality Maen).  A charming three-star hotel with eighteen rooms in a strategic position with access to some of the most beautiful excursions in the valley.  It also has an excellent restaurant.  Double from 90 euro.

Where to eat:

Chez Pierina (Chamois, Locality Corgnolaz).  Polenta concia (the traditional porridge style polenta with melted cheese stirred in) is the signature dish of this simple but welcoming trattoria.  Dinner from 25 euro per person.

Le Gourmand (Valtournenche, Locality Pecou).  This very good restaurant offers a refined cuisine based on local produce.  It is set in a wooden chalet overlooking the Matterhorn.  Their dishes include gnocchi of polenta with snail ragu and spatchcock stuffed with prunes.  Dinner from 40 euro per person.

La Maison du Coq Rouge (Valtournenche, Via Roma 24).  A family-run osteria that offers classic dishes such as pierrade (thin slices of meat served on a hot rock with a variety of dipping sauces) and rebochonnade (a fondue made from local cheeses).  Dinner from around 35 euro per person.

Rifugio L’Ermitage (Chamois, Locality Lavore).  This lovely mountain lodge is twenty minutes walk from the centre of Chamois (or less on the chairlift).  It is renown for its meat salad with apples and walnuts, its ‘rustic’ stew and its crostata (a fruit flan).  Dinner from 22 euro.

What to do:

Friday evening:  Settle in.

The village of Chamois is a labyrinth of narrow alleys and wooden and stone houses.  It is not by chance that it was nominated one of the Pearls of the Alps.  With its timeless and unspoilt aspect, visiting seems like entering an episode of Heidi but grazing cows instead of goats.  It has a permanent population of one hundred and six people, far removed from the madding crowd.

Once you have checked in to your hotel, go for a stroll around the lanes of Chamois.  It has a few attractions such as the parish church of San Pantaleone whose current form dates back to 1838 but the real pleasure is wandering around soaking up the atmosphere of the village.  Have an aperitivo and dinner and get an early night and get ready for some fresh air.

Saturday morning:  Snowshoe 1

Despite its perfect location, Chamois is not renowned for its skiing - the municipality chose to limit access and services, leaving that to their more famous neighbours up the valley.  Snowshoeing is the best way to explore the area.  The trails are marked and it is possible to hire snowshoes from the tourist office (www.lovechamois.it).

The best known route leaves from Moulin, the recently restored mill on the edge of Chamois.  The thing you come across is the ‘altiporto’, a small and very challenging landing strip that is only open to occasional propellor driven emergency flights.  Beyond this, you shortly come to Suis, a hamlet of ten houses, only one of which is currently inhabited.  Until recently, Suis was the home of Emilio Lettry, one of the great characters of the district, to whom the local barley beer is dedicated:  Biere de Chamois Emilius.  The hamlet takes its name from an escapee from nearby Switzerland who apparently took refuge here.  The legend goes that he was able to confuse his pursuers by wearing boots which had the soles reversed….

From Suis you carry on, passing a small stone building that until the middle of the last century was where the village’s cheese was stored and aged before being taken down to the valleys for market.  A little further on you pass the cylindrical oratory of Mt Tabor, which has a number of local miracles associated with it.  From here you climb up to the Novalles mountain hut, from where you get spectacular views of the distant peaks of Becca di Nona and Mt Emilius.  The trail then contours around the mountain to Lod, where the chairlifts arrive from Chamois.  Here you can have a lunch sitting on the verandah of the rustic Bar/Restaurant Fontana Freida, which overlooks a small blue lake.

Saturday afternoon:  Snowshoe 2:

After lunch, you could take the chairlift back to Chamois but we would recommend walking up to the Col Cheniel for the breath-taking views.  There is no marked trail but the route is popular and simple to follow.  It starts at a birch and larch forest above Lod.  Once through the forest, you continue up the hill until you arrive at Col Cheniel, 2270 metres asl.  The view of the Matterhorn in the distance makes the effort very worthwhile.

To return to Chamois, follow your steps back to Lod and go right, passing the Rifugio L’Ermitage at Lavore (also a good place for lunch) and go downhill to Corgnolaz and then on to nearby Chamois.  The whole circuit takes from three to four hours.

Sunday (option 1): Cheniel (more snowshoeing)

The hamlet of Cheniel is another car-free hamlet further up the valley.  There is a path that connects Chamois directly, running under the mountains but it is exposed and subject to avalanches so it is necessary to take a guide (who can be engaged via the tourist office).

Otherwise, to visit this other little gem, you’ll need to take the cable car back down to Buisson, pick up your car and drive up the valley following the signs to Cheneil, finishing on a zigzagging road that climbs to a parking station.  From here you take an escalator up to the lovely little village, which in a natural amphitheatre, surrounded by some of the Alps highest peaks.  Most striking of all is to the north, the southern face of the Matterhorn, which sits on the border to Switzerland.  A marked trail takes you up the chapel of Notre-Dame de la Guerison and back to the village via a small stream.  This takes between 1.5 and 2 hours return.

Cheneil has about twenty houses, only one of which is inhabited but the hamlet has a grand history.  It was from here that the first attempts to climb the Matterhorn in the mid-1860s were made by the likes of Englishman Edward Whymper and locals Jean-Antoine Carrel, Jean-Baptiste Bich and Amé Gorret.  The latter grew up in Cheneil and later became a priest and confidant of Margherita, the first Queen of Italy, who was a keen mountaineer.

Sunday (option 2):  The bright lights and serious skiing:

If you have a hankering for some bright lights and serious skiing you can continue up the valley Breuil-Cervinia, which was one of Italy’s first ski resorts, built in the 1930s as part of Mussolini’s drive for a healthy nation.  In its heyday the ski lifts, soaring to 3500 mts, broke all the records, and its grand hotels ensured the patronage of Europe’s wealthy.  Today it is a functional, modern resort.  It does have a couple of good restaurants (such as the Bucaneve and the Hermitage) and some exclusive shops but people come here for the skiing.

Plateau Rosa (3480m) and the Little Matterhorn (3883m) in the Breuil-Cervinia ski area offer some of Europe's highest skiing, while the Campetto area has introduced the Valle d'Aosta to night skiing.  A couple of dozen cable cars, four of which originate in Breuil-Cervinia, serve two hundred kilometres of downhill pistes.  Ski passes covering Breuil-Cervinia and Valtournenche cost €46/129/265 for one/three/seven days.

Contact Breuil-Cervinia's Scuola di Sci del Breuil Cervinia (www.scuolascibreuil.com) or Scuola Sci del Cervino (www.scuolacervino.com) for skiing and snowboarding lessons, and its mountain-guide association Società Guide del Cervino to make the most of the Matterhorn's wild off-piste opportunities (www.guidedelcervino.com).

Between July and September several cable cars and lifts to Plateau Rosa continue to operate, allowing year-round skiing on the Swiss side of the mountain. A one-day international ski pass costs €59.

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