easy hike in italy rifugio bonatti courmayeur monte bianco alps

Courmayeur, Italy Makes List of Easy Hikes with Big Rewards.

Easy hike in Italy -Rifugio Bonatti Courmayeur

Rifugio Bonatti, Courmayeur, Italy

Easy Hike in Italy

Courmeyeur, Italy's hike to Rifugio Bonatti makes National Geographic's list of  the 10 Best Easy Hikes with Big Rewards.  For those seeking a high return on their uphill investment, consider this easy hike on the Italian side of Mont Blanc. (,Or Monte Bianco as it is called on the Boot side of the border).

Short, long AND WINTER options, Food and Lodging

The shorter version of the hike, includes a shuttle which lets you start up higher on the trail for a total time up of about an hour to cover the 274 meters (900 feet)  of vertical gain. The longer option starts in the village of Courmayeur  for total climb of 853 meters (2.800 feet). If you want to hang out up high, you can book a reservation to stay the night. Also open in the winter, visitor's can access the rifugio on snowshoes or backcountry skis.  And last but not least, even just an hour's hike with great views still still deserves the opportunity to recharge yourself with the delightful food and drinks found in the Italian rifugi. So if looking for some easy hikes in Italy, check out the trail to Rifugio Bonatti.

image credits: tapazvaldoten.altervista.org  & montblanctreks.com.au


The links below contain some information in English on Rifugio Bonatti and the trail to reach it. These links may not have the most current data, but they can help you to learn more about the rifugio and how to reach it. For the most current information, conditions and reservations, you may want to contact the rifugio directly. 

Autour du Mont Blanc

Joannas Travel Blog

Trail Running and the Mont Blanc Region: 40 Routes in the Chamonix Valley, Italy and Switzerland  Excerpt from ebook by Kinglsey Jones


A Small World in Piani d’Erna

2016-04-10 16.26.29 The trails in Piani d'Erna above Lecco offer choices offer rifugi, views and vie ferrate

Lecco is located on the lower right corner of the the upside down Y shaped Lake Como. Rising aggressively over Lecco are the  peaks of Monte Resegone ( in the local  dialect, resegà means saw and named for its saw like appearance due to its 11 summits of similar height ) a part of the Prealpi Bergamasche, a southern range of the Alps found in the region of Lombardia. Our all important lunch destination was Rifugio Capanna Alpinisti Monzesi. 

There are  a number of vertical rock faces that draw climbers and also options with vie ferrate, ladders, chains and cables to aid climbers requiring  you to bring a vie ferrate kit of harness and helmet and a distinct comfort  to be up high on vertical walls, plus the bonus to test out your flying Wallenda skills on the  route  named Gamma 1 one of the vie ferrate routes. ( you can harness yourself to the upper cable but the balance and gumption is still up to you)

The April Sunday I was joined by Luciano, Anna  and her son Zeno as we explored  a non harness required trail. Driving up a few switchbacks from Lecco we arrived at the base of the funivia  (cable car) for Piani d'Erna. You can take the funivia that starts at 600 meters above sea level to the Piani d'Erna 1325 meters above sea level, or you can walk the mulatierra (mule path).

We walked the mule path towards Rifugio Stoppani. There was a range of outdoorsy people some burly and hard core with climbing ropes , jingling carabiners and bulging muscles, then a smattering of trail runners and the rest hikers/walkers, dogs and kids and families and the winner for the trail person of the day was one lumberjack looking fellow with a log, jogging down the path.  Not sure if he was training for some sort of log carrying competition or just was in a hurry to carve a chainsaw bear. He was nevertheless determined and the path parted for his bulk and his log.

Photo 10-04-16, 12 01 32

There is a sign at the bottom of the funivia that describes the mountain fitness routes offered in the area. The sign not only shares  info on the types of trails but gives varied times to complete these trails based on your level of fitness. The terms are:

  1.  non allenato
  2. .trekker
  3. atleta
  4. best

I would say these could be translated into:

  1. Somone whose workouts consist primarily of remote control and bowl of chips lifting
  2. Someone who moves a bit, but their 6-packs are more likely be beer than abs
  3. Fit, someone who probably consumes kale smoothies regularly
  4. This is someone who likely irritates us in some way  due their magnificent levels of fitness and athleticism and we may console ourselves when encountering such quasi-mortals as how happy can they really be with such a rigorous exercise and diet regime, but we won't dwell on the negative.

I wonder what lumberjack's time would be with and without log?

Like many Italian trails there are shrines along the way to Virgin Mary, so if you see signs for the Madonna, don't think you will be encountering mobs of wannabes ( are Madonna fans still called wannabes, maybe that was abandoned in the 80's) . There is something pleasing though about sculptures and art in the woods.

We passed by one of the shrines arrived at Rigugio Stoppani had some water to replenish with water, but decided to wait until the next rifugio, Capanna Alpinisti  Monzesi, to have lunch, we climbed through the woods a bit more and came to a charming spot with a name I can't remember and does not seem be indicated on any of the maps. Keep in mind signage is not a strength of the Italian trail system, though apart from this nameless but cute spot the trails are well indicated and traveled in this popular spot of Piani d'Erna.

WIth no food at the nameless  inn and only ten more minutes to Capanna Alpinisti Monzesi,  off we went, passing a tethered mule to the pink-halveded bottom rifugio where we on polenta seated outside on stone benches. If  you plan on eating in an Italian rifugio, you should develop a taste for polenta or you may likely go hungry. Cornmeal must be easier to store or cook than other foods, or  maybe alpine hikers are just crazy for corn. It usually comes with a choice of toppings, like melted cheese, or mushrooms or beef stew like beef and sauce or maybe sausage. There is also wine and beer and views.

We had our polenta and then waited for the coffee, as we were eating there were some inside,enjoying grappa in incongruous plastic cups. ( all else seeming so sturdy, permanent and natural).  Hearing my accent they knew I wasn't from these parts but the grappa glow made them generous anyway. At first i declined thinking I didn't want to be sleepy or stumbly on the way down, ( grappa goes right to my head) but I reasoned that with all of that polenta I could manage the small cup. The grappa guys fired a series of questions living in Italy vs. the US and the upcoming American presidential elections and asking why my Italian friends were not drinking too. ( they clearly were wiser, though I managed to stop at one small grappa).

A little further down the path we encountered our grappa buddies again who wanted to stop back at Rifugio Stoppani for more grappa, but we were taking another route back. Turns out they were from a town where the son of my friend was born and they knew people in common. The people of provinces of Italy can be  referred to as "provincial" in the pejorative sense, at least by the Milanese who often deem themselves as more worldly than their country neighbors. Perhaps they are more  closed to outsiders having lived in smaller communities  and known the same people their entire lives, with not much need to venture out. However our new  friends were quite welcoming (maybe the grappa helped) as they stopped and took pictures together  and talked about common connections. we parted ways and moved towards the top of the funiva which we would take down back to the car. the grappa guys thought the funivia people were coglioni  (literally testicles, used in the sense of saying idiots, dickheads) and helpfully suggested I call them such, as the funivia closed at 6PM, despite much day light left and  a lot of people around. They remained perplexed by the Italian insistence to close early when there could be more business. An added note on the coglioni of the Piani d'Erna funivia , while 6PM is not an unreasonable closing time ( think US chair lifts in the summer) they did shut down for lunch. In Italy food takes priority. I thought coglione was a  bit strong a term as the guy working the cable car ticket office seemed pleasant enough, but yes the hours of availability of things in Italy do take some adjusting.

As we left the grappa guys, we followed trail one to trail five and while described as rocky, and overall relatively flat, it did have some exposure. There were chains and cables to hold on to on the narrowest parts of the trail.  A couple of sections had steel rungs to be used as ladders to move up or down over rock faces and needing use of hands too, but even for someone like myself who is not a fan of heights it was manageable. Still I was surprised that the description didn't mention this part, but then I shouldn't have been as descriptions can vary quite a bit.

We made it back to the cable car before it closed. An easy to reach spot from Milan Piani d'Erna is worth the visit.


oops waiting for Twitter to fly back

Crazy Wind and White Out in Val Formazza


boden comparison

Yes it's the same spot: Rifugio Maria Luisa




The Italian word for blizzard is bufera, it is a good word for the storm that day which carried more wind than snow, as i definitely wanted to buffer myself against the wind which was laughably strong, so much so that at points I had to anchor myself and with trekking poles planted firmly in the snow to keep from being knocked over. ( added and less considered benefit of poles when walking)  While snowing heavily the wind made it white-out conditions at time so that it was not possibly to see the person in front  of you until I walked into them. The temperature at the start of the walk, at the bottom without was a refreshing -15C ( 5F). though before the wind set in and as we started walking up hill on snowshoes, it was not so bad. I don't know what the wind was blowing so I can't say the windchill but it would have been satisfying to know that and take pride in our short but intense time in the wind and cold. There are bragging and/or whining rights when telling the tale of the day after safely warmed up post "weather".

The Refuge of the Rifugio

I like the variety of days like these, the cold and wind add to the feeling of reward and adventure. However on cold days I don't like to stop, because my hands freeze instantly ( note to techies, if you can replicate this instant freeze mechanism, it could be useful to chill room temperature beverages for impatient drinkers).  and today my hands remained consistent with their ability to freeze instantly during a pause. As we climbed higher there was grumbling in the group, and the goal of reaching the original lakes seemed to be unlikely especially as not much could be seen anyway, We trudged up heads down and snow forcefully piercing the foam at the top of my goggles and hitting my eyes ( at least the trail was wide so really didn't have to see. Our guide and accompagnatore recognize the general level of unpleasantness  was perhaps higher than it should have been and word from descending ski tourers and snowshoers as that a rifugio in the was a welcome refuge and fortunately way open and just about 15 minutes walk further. So we altered our route and headed for the rifugio Maria Luisa. A welcome respite where the group was able to thaw out though not sure of over the course of the not rushed meal I dried out fully. Yes I ate what else, polenta, though the menu offered a bit more choices than the typical rifugio fare. It may have been the only time I have ever finished an entire plate pf polenta, but fighting that wind took a lot of energy.

Eventually we had to leave behind the polenta and wood stove an venture out and back down again. Nobody was moving particularly quickly, but fortunately the wind had died down and there were even pockets of blue sky. There were some nice short cuts through some fresh accumulation, fluffy but due to the lack of snow everywhere we still bottomed-out on roots and rocks. Still the descent was decidedly more fun than the way up and the poles were used for balance more than anchors.

The sun and the group wind down

The group stopped at the Ristorante Albergo Aalts Dorf for a final warm up before returning to our homes. By now the light was soft and blue and the tea was warm. As the valley darkened the warmth and softness seemed all the sweeter after the wind and cold earlier. It was a good day.

English Language Links for Val Formazza

Val Formazza is a is the very northern tip  of Piemonte that juts up into Switzerland, surrounded on three sides by the Swiss. Riale is the town at the literal end of the road.  Especially popular for cross country skiing, the valley offers choices of trails and rental centers. English language info is lacking, but here are a few Italian links. 

Formazza Ski  ( this one is in English, the others no) 

Val Formazza Official Tourist Site 

Italian Lakes District Site ( Riale) 

Piemonte Neve




The Prevalence of Polenta

Alpine eats in Italy’s mountain shelters



Comfort food year round

If you are planning to take advantage of restoring yourself in the mountains in one of the many rifugi (huts) and you haven’t already, you should develop a taste for polenta. You may have your choice of toppings: melted cheese (usually a Northern Italian type such as taleggio or toma or maybe fontina), slow cooked meat with a gravy type sauce or perhaps mushrooms or sausage. It is a hearty dish and certainly will warm you as it fills you up so it is great mountain food. With it’s comfort food type qualities, you might be inclined to think that it is reserved for winter meals, but Italian rifugi seem to show no such seasonal distinction, important to note as food rules in Italy are quite rigid and some foods, despite their deliciousness, have been relegated to only being offered at specific times of the year .



The above image shows Polenta prep at  one of Italy’s the Sagra del Polentone ( Polenta Festival)  this one held every June in Roccaverono, Piemonte.

Humble origins

This tradition cornmeal dish comes from Piemontese farmers and montanari,  mountain people, and is also called pane dei poveri ( bread of the poor) since it was the daily meal of those with less disposable income, but now even those sporting 1200 euros worth of trekking gear will plunk down about eight euros for a plate of polenta.

While originally other grains may have been used, today the various recipes start with boiling corn meal and water, ideally in a copper pot and stirring, than adding the topping of choice. It can range in texture from creamy to grainier, I prefer a grainier texture, more like oatmeal than cream of wheat.  It can also be offered in the less porridgy, crispier form of grilled polenta but this seems to be reserved for lower elevations where Gore-Tex sightings are less frequent.

Love the one you’re with

While I love the whole rifugio thing they have going on over here in Italy, and the home made foods they serve, I admit sometimes I would just like a good burger. You may be able to find pasta, or pasta al forno, or maybe  soup, but a burger is hard to come by.  So polenta it is.

The portions of rifugio polenta are generous (more American sized than Italian sized) and should fill you up after a busy morning of mountain activities without a problem. At times, I find it somewhat daunting to think of finishing it all, but people do and as filling as it seems, it does not seem to sit uncomfortably while digesting. The one time I was able to finish my portion was on a particularly brutal day on a snowshoe to the Laghi di Boden , reminding me of the weather one not so infrequently encounters at the top of the Breckenridge T-bar. (Colorado, not Italy)

Beyond the rifugi: All you can eat polenta (within a half hour)

If you happen to develop a hankering for polenta, and like to eat at an efficient pace, I have heard about a new chain called Trenta Polenta. In Italian, trenta means 30, and the concept of this Italian version of fast food, is that you can eat all the polenta you want in 30 minutes. In the country with hour and half lunch breaks and that invented the Slow Food movement at a reaction against fast food (with a snail as its logo), the Italian chain has created an unlikely business model for this nation, but hey maybe they figured there was a group of people without much time wanting to wolf down large portions of polenta.

So if planning to dine at an Italian rifugio give the polenta a try, it is definitely part of the experience.



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