Dinner and flowers

I had thought​ that the meal organised by a local bar for the people in the B&B would be the culinary highlight of the trip. I hadn’t counted on the fantastic festival in the nearby town of Girasole.

The dinner in Lotzerai was very nice – a starter of prosciutto and salsiccia, then culurgionis, pasta stuffed with potato and mint in a tomato sauce (a Sardinian speciality), and then roasted pork – but the festival was something else!

Dinner for the inhabitants of the B&B.

Girasole had clearly gone to town – there were stalls selling jewelry, sweets, toys, kitchen things…, And about 20 different food places, many of which were set up in people’s gardens. I went on the Saturday and the Sunday, and had two completely different meals. I (over two nights) had melted fontina cheese on flatbreads, deep fried pastry puffs, grilled tuna, Sea Urchin, pasta with mutton, the potato and mint things again, spicy octopus, and roast mutton. It was fabulous. At the same time, there was music, traditional dancing, and most bizarre of all, a group dressed in goat skins, with antlers on their heads, soot-covered faces and bones hanging on their backs that banged as they walked, that marched through the village and danced around a fire. Amazing!

Culurgionis, pasta stuffed with potato and mint. Yum!
Roasting mutton.

Since I know my parents will be interested, I’ve also put a few flower pictures in. April is a brilliant time to visit Sardinia as everything is in flower. The hills are full of rock roses and ??? with ??? under the trees. I still can’t believe how quiet it is.

Butterfly orchid?
Cyclamen are everywhere at the moment.
Masses of Asphodel.
A lake full of aquatic buttercups.
Some kind of bee orchid.

Seven days in the Parc National de la Vanoise

Having spent a week in April skiing in the Vanoise, we decided the scenery looked so good we’d spend a week hiking from hut to hut in the summer. Fortunately, there’s a fantastic loop – the tour of the Vanoise glaciers, with huts about 6 hours walking apart, and it’s relatively easy to get to by public transport too: we flew into Torino, caught the train to Bardonecchia, and then a bus through the Frejus tunnel to Modane to start the walk.

Day one saw us climb around 1600m from Modane, through pine forest filled with wild strawberries, and then across alpine meadows with flowers, to the Col de Chaviere, and then descending to the Refuge de Peclet Polset on the other side. The views were good to start with but as we approached the pass the cloud came in and it rained for a while. Fortunately we found an overhanging rock to have our lunch under, and by the time we’d finished the rain had too, although we still missed out on the promised views to Mt Blanc from the col.

Looking towards Peclet Polset from the top of Col de Chaviere.
Looking towards Peclet Polset from the top of Col de Chaviere.

Peclet Polset is a new refuge in a spectacular location, but we didn’t get to enjoy the views much as the rain came back shortly after we arrived. We did, however, enjoy the first of the fabulous four course meals that were to become a feature of staying in the Refuges: soup, followed by lasagne, then a cheese course, and fromage blanc avec myrtilles for desert!

Butterflies.
Butterflies.

Day two saw us travel down the valley from Peclet Polset to Refuge du Roc de la Peche before climbing 800m back up the side of the valley to the beautifully sited Refuge de la Valette. With better weather we were able to enjoy the huge variety of alpine flowers as well as watching bearded vultures soaring over the valley and a peregrine falcon hunting. The refuge came with a mysterious ruin that we never discovered the story of, a couple of attractive lakes, and friendly marmots, as well as lovely views down the valley.

The Refuge de la Valetta, with the donkeys used to haul all the food up there.
The Refuge de la Valetta, with the donkeys used to haul all the food up there.

On Day three we were up to watch the sunrise over the valley as we got our first clear day of the trip. We started with a series of ups and downs into glacial cirques hanging above the main valley, and views of the town of Pralognan far below. At the second cirque (Cirque du Petit Marchet) we decided to leave the marked path, scramble down into the cirque, then climb up to the col between it and Cirque du Grand Marchet. At the col we met a group of Bouquetins (Ibex) who kindly posed for photographs, seemingly unconcerned by our closeness.

Close encounters with Bouquetins.
Close encounters with Bouquetins.

From the col, we followed a faint trail down into the next Cirque, skirting an impressive band of cliffs, before traversing around the cirque underneath three magnificent waterfalls. We rejoined the main path on the way up to the next col (Col du Grand Marchet), and then had a precipitous descent featuring climbs with chains on them and scrambles down crags until we felt we were almost in Pralognan, before climbing all the way back up to the Refuge du Col de la Vanoise, another new refuge.

Rachel under the falls in Cirque du Grand Marchet.
Rachel under the falls in Cirque du Grand Marchet.

Unfortunately, day 4 dawned with rain and cloud to ground level. We set off down the East side of the col, with our initial plan to be to go to Refuge de la Leisse and then on an unmarked route over Col de Pierre Blanche to Refuge de la Femma. However, it rapidly became clear as we descended to the Torrent de la Leisse that we wouldn’t even be able to see the col in the cloud, so we opted instead to aim for Refuge du Plan du Lac for lunch and then on to de la Femma. Happily, the weather broke after lunch and we got views and some sun as we walked the rather nice path from Plan du Lac. The valley floor was absolutely filled with marmots and wildflowers, and we again watched falcons hunting as we approached the Refuge. Refuge de la Femma is an older refuge in a lovely spot with a large cliff behind it and a waterfall, and we thoroughly enjoyed adding it to our itinerary, despite the fact we’d have to walk back down the valley the following morning.

A young marmot pokes its nose out of its burrow.
A young marmot pokes its nose out of its burrow.

Day 5 was the best weather of the trip, with sunshine most of the day. The walk down the valley was just as nice as it had been on the way up, and the big climb back to the main path from Col de la Vanoise brought lovely views of La Grand Casse. The walk to Refuge de l’Arpont was fantastic, with glaciers looming above us, lovely lakes, and encounters with Bouquetin and Chamois. After reaching the refuge we hiked the hour or so up the hill to the beautiful Lac de l’Arpont, a glacial blue lake with the end of the glacier just above it – a fantastic spot to laze away a couple of hours.

Lac de l'Arpont with the Glacier de l'Arpont behind.
Lac de l’Arpont with the Glacier de l’Arpont behind.

Day 6 dawned with cloud in the valley and on the peaks, but clear skies at the refuge. Unfortunately, the trail immediately dived into the cloud and we spent most of the day without views as we traversed around La Dent Parrachee. After lunch the sun came out for a while, but by the time we reached Refuge de la Dent Parrachee the rain had started and it continued all evening. Dent Parrachee is another older refuge, but as it’s half an hour off the main track there were only twelve guests, and we had a very amusing evening talking in a mixture of French, English and German. The evening meal was great, and featured no fewer than five courses – Dent Parrachee really is an excellent place to stay!

Rachel walking through fields of wildflowers.
Rachel walking through fields of wildflowers.

Our last day started in thick cloud and rain, which didn’t let up for most of the day. We chose to climb over Col de la Masse to Refuge de l’Orgere, and then return to Modane. Sadly, we never got any views, and somehow we missed the main col in the cloud and ended up trekking along the ridge for a while looking for a reasonable descent before backtracking. We got to Orgere wet and cold, but fortunately they had a roaring fire going, so we sat and dried out before having lunch and descending in the now improving weather to Modane.

A Bouquetin checks us out.
A Bouquetin checks us out.

Overall, it was a great trip – we saw lots of wildlife, spectacular mountains and amazing wildflowers, ate great food, and generally enjoyed ourselves (even if it was perhaps less strenuous than most of our holidays). We’d thoroughly recommend the Tour de la Vanoise to anyone.

Flowers in front of La Grand Casse.
Flowers in front of La Grand Casse.

On the tourist trail at Milford Sound

After a big day in the mountains I decided it was time to enjoy some more relaxing activities and check out the tourist trail in Milford Sound.

So we drove down to Milford Sound and took a boat trip through the sound and out to the Tasman sea.

The Iconic Mitre Peak in Milford Sound (Photo Adrian Camm)
The Iconic Mitre Peak in Milford Sound (Photo Adrian Camm)
Seals sunning themselves in the Sound
Seals sunning themselves in the Sound
Dolphins (Photo Adrian Camm)
Dolphins (Photo Adrian Camm)
Curious Kea
Curious Kea
Camera's at the ready (Photo Adrian Camm)
Camera’s at the ready (Photo Adrian Camm)

We saw lots of wildlife and jaw dropping scenery, Milford Sound is definitely worth the hype!

After an amazing and relaxing day, we decided to watch the tourists from above, so we headed up to the Homer Saddle.

The main road to Milford Sound cuts through a tunnel, and above lies one of the most nauseatingly exposed ridges I have ever crossed- The Homer Saddle Traverse!

The Homer Saddle Ridge
The Homer Saddle Ridge
Don't look down!- The Milford Road
Don’t look down!- The Milford Road
Balancing on a knife edge!
Balancing on a knife edge!

The ridge was lots of fun, and a nice short day out, allowing us plenty of time afterwards to enjoy the long drive back to Wanaka

Hunstanton

North-west Norfolk is just a 90 minute drive from Rutland so on Saturday we visited the Norfolk coastline. We drove to Hunstanton and then got the local bus to Thornham and walked back along the beach.

The beach was empty, except for the large numbers of birdwatchers. We asked one of them what they were looking for and apparently there had been a big storm at sea, which meant that a wide variety of birds could end up on the beach. We couldn’t see any birds, so we carried on along the beach.

The beach of Hunstanton
The beach of Hunstanton

Along the way we saw some cool sand formations… and also some dead starfish and loads of razorshells on the beach

Cool sand formations
Cool sand formations

Soon we caught sight of the main chalk cliffs of Hunstanton…

Chalk cliffs
Chalk cliffs

But we also saw many more starfish, snails, crabs and razorshells. There were literally 10s of 1000s starfish on the beach.

A wreck of starfish
A wreck of starfish

A sun star starfish
A sun star starfish
A sea snail
A sea snail

After saving a few half alive starfish and snails by putting them in water, and after playing with a few crabs, we headed back to the car in Hunstanton, just before the rains came.

Back at home, I looked up the starfish phenomenon and apparently this happens about once a year when a large storm dislodges sea creatures from the ocean bottom and hurls them all onto the beach.