We spent a week in Sestrierre and it really is a beautiful place to be but very lonely in the Summer months.
On the morning after returning from Turin and walking through the snow, we found that the roads had been ploughed and all the snow was piled on the sides of the road. We decided to walk down to our car and bring it back to our holiday flat. It took us just 20 mins in comparison with the 2 hours it had taken the night before!
When we got to the car, we were surprised to see that the snow clearers had made no effort to avoid burying it. All we had to clean the snow off the windscreen was a plastic magnifier, about 6 inches by 8 inches, so we settled in for a long job. Believe it or not, about 6 local vehicles past and offered no help at all. One of those even had a shovel stowed on its roof. The only car which stopped was one with an Indian couple, from India but spoke beautiful English, whom we had met briefly at our residence. They both assisted by getting down on their knees and clearing the snow from around the wheels. When sufficient snow had been cleared the gentleman guided Trevor back on to the road.
Trevor trying to scrape the snow off the car with a plastic magnifier
Being pretty exhausted after 2 hours of walking to the car, clearing the snow and getting back to our flat, we decided to relax and watch tennis. After lunch we took a drive across the Alps into Southern France which is absolutely beautiful. There were some real hairpin bends so it meant driving slowly giving time to admire the scenery. We travelled through a couple of villages but they were all boarded up for the summer as there were no skiers around. The town of Briaçon was on our map but, not knowing its historical significance, we turned back before getting to it. Once again, I had not done the research on the area where we would be staying and so this resulted in us missing visiting a gem of a town.
Chapel of St Anna in the hills
The next day, having arranged with Reception at our residence to do a guided tour of the Fortress di Fenestrelle or Fortress at Fenestrelle, a small town near Sestrierre, we drove down the other side of the hill to the Fort. Our guide, Luca, had a PhD in Law but could not find other employment so worked as a tour guide. He said that this is a common problem in Italy. Everyone wants to go to university and get a degree or a diploma and then they are told that they are overqualified for a job. It is a growing problem in SA too and the graduates want to be paid exorbitant starting salaries because they have been to university. Luca made this a really interesting tour and we learnt a lot about Italy and its history. Italy has only ever won one battle and relied heavily on the mule to carry weapons and other goods. To celebrate this win an eagle was painted on the ceiling of one room with the rear facing France, the loser. Until the 1990s there were a lot of mules in and around Fenestrelle but, when the Americans invaded Afghanistan, they arranged for the mules to be shipped there as they are stronger than camels. An interesting fact we learnt was that the old towns were built with the church in the middle of the city with its tower visible. This was because at that time, opposing parties did not drop ‘bombs’ on to churches so people were better protected. There has never been a shot fired at the fortress but it was used as a prison on various occasions. Also, the wall around it, is the 2nd longest in the world. Only the Great Wall of China is longer – 1000 times longer!
Entrance to the church in the centre of the Fort
Eagle painted on a ceiling in the Fort
Even though there was still snow on the ground, we followed this tour with a lovely walk through a forest which was very beautiful. On the way home we once again tried to purchase pizza for dinner but still all these shops were closed. For the 3rd night in a row we had spaghetti and sauce for dinner. This is one of the kind of things we have learnt over the years –if things don’t go as planned, go to plan B or C or D etc. One often has a lot of fun when going into the unplanned.
With just 1 more day in Sestriere we spent it relaxing and preparing to travel to Lake Como the next day. I went down to the Internet Café and, on checking my e-mail, sadly learnt that my AFS American father had died on 4 May. Hard to believe but it was the end of an era. He was a special person to me and I shall always be grateful that I had spoken to him just before we left home for this trip.