Italian Mountains, Art and Architecture

Tessin, the Italian part of Switzerland functions like a Swiss clockwork in Italian style. We entered via the Gotthard Pass and checked out the newly renovated Hospice, now a modern Hiker’s Hotel. The Tessin region has some beautiful valleys to explore, mountains to be climbed, lakes and rivers to swim in. The Verzasca Valley is a stunning place offering a multi day high mountain trek along a ridge line. We were amazed to find the huts empty and stocked with beer, wine and food, all based on a honesty system. It was like walking into someone’s home! Hard to believe this works in a place so well populated like Europe and what an example to the world!

After this little warm up we crossed the border into Italy, the region of Valtellina, and went to Valmasino and Val di Mello, ‘Butterfly valley’. Just the name would want me to go there. I love butterflies, paint them, called my bike Mariposa, and am generally fond of them, as they are a symbol for passion. What else does one need to know! It’s a valley well known to climbers for its shear granite walls, but otherwise mainly very popular for day trippers from Milan. Yet it has a lot to offer: luxurious hot thermal springs with healing attributes, a crystal clear river to swim in, a cute little village, the best Pizzaria, day walks and a multi day high alpine trek called ‘Sentiero Roma‘. I attempted it a few years ago, but too much snow had stopped me and I made a vow to come back one day.

Mission completed and we carried on to the Dolomites, visiting the Basilica della Madonna de Tirano on the way. She is known for healing many sick people, so I lit a candle for a friend. We than drove over the Passo de Stelvio with great views to the Ortler Mountains and visited the Messner Mountain Museum Ortles in Sulden, which is all about snow and ice. I have been twice before to his MMM Firmian Museum in Bolzano and love the synthesis of modern and old architecture, art and culture. He’s as much an artist/architect as a mountaineer and a businessman. We made a point of also visiting the MMM Ripa at the Bruneck Castle, dedicated to the mountain people of the world.

And of course in the Dolomites there are plenty of via ferratas to climb and blessed with a week of fine weather we managed quite a few of the harder ones…not without a few coffee and beer stops, as well as some culture and history thrown in.

Bolzano is a great place to stay, a lovely town to explore and centrally placed to access the different regions of the Dolomites. Only a short distance away we visited the Plattner Bee Museum and I learned a lot about these little creatures: the bee can sense the magnetic field of the earth and from there determine the time of the day. They have a dance floor of about 100cm2 at the entrance of the hive to communicate via vibrations the destination of the food source, etc… Humans only would survive about 4 years should the bee disappear. Another place worth visiting in Bolzano is the new Salewa Headquarters and climbing wall.

We left Italy via the Timmelsjoch, once a smugglers road and a mule track, linking the Passeiertal valley and the Ötztal valley. Architectural sculptures located at several stopping places along the road, enlighten travellers about the natural surroundings, the history, the culture, the communities and the economy of the region….expanding our horizon. I also learned that the substances deep embedded in Swiss pine (Zirbel) wood, typical for this area, reduce our heart frequency. That in turn increases our physical and mental abilities. If we sleep in a bed made of Swiss pine, our heart is saved some 3500 beats, the equivalent of an hours work, every single night. It also has antibacterial properties and fights of mould.

Chalets, Refugios and Alpine Architecture

As always my favorite subject – in art and architecture – are mountain huts and architecture in the alpine region. They are the inspiration for my latest series of paintings and I hope to one day get the opportunity to build or renovating one. I have been keeping an eye out for derelict chalets and buildings in the Alps during my visits over the last few years.

After leaving the coast we traveled north, following the french Alps up, we visited Alexandra David-Neel’s House in Digne. She was the most famous french explorer and first woman visiting Lhasa, an inspiration of one in a kind. We than explored some valleys in France, paid a visit to Chamonix with its new state of the art Gouter Hut, and drove over many passes before we took a turn east and arrived in Switzerland.

After visiting the Matterhorn and the new state of the art Monte Rosa Hut, we discovered another kind of mountain hut, the Anen Hut in the Loetschen Valley, probably the most exclusive hut in the Alps. It’s a privately owned and designed hut by a local mountain guide, and takes hiking, ski touring and mountaineering to yet another level. The hut is located just below the glacier and has access to 4000m peaks all around. After a nice day out one can than enjoy a spa, a sauna, a delicious meal and sleep in luxurious bedding…. all for a reasonable price. And last I have to mention the Baeregg Hut in Grindelwald, also privately owned by a trust, and offering a fantastic view and great service in a more traditional style.

By now I was looking forward to my second visit to Ballenberg, a Swiss open air museum with more than 100 century-old buildings from all over Switzerland. It’s a stroll through the past but for one building, my favorite one, the House Matten from 1570, which has been modernized with style inside and sustainable technology has been introduced. This is an example to show case to the visitors of the museum how tradition and innovation come together in the renovation of a historic building. Ballenberg also has presentations of old trades such as cheese making, charcoal burning, shingle making, etc….and many more throughout the day.


Next destination Italy……

La vie en rose….LA PROVENCE en Cote d’Azur

Well… it’s been a while since my last update and I will try to catch up and fill you in on what’s been happening: A LOT!! I’ve seen so much inspiring things and had some fantastic adventures, that after returning home I needed a wee while to settle back in and digest it all. I must admit that Wanaka felt a little small to start with…., but soon the lovely vibe of a wonderful place with a fantastic community had me enchanted again.

But lets look back where I left off:…..FRANCE, la Provence. We first visited my sailing friends. Once upon a time I sailed from NZ to New Caledonia with them in their 34ft boat ….and I was hooked. After living on a boat for more than a decade they now live on land, close to Aix-en-Provence, and renovate what they call a vertical boat, a 20m2 ‘Cabanon’ for their family of four. They are masters of the Tiny House Movement, the simple but good life.

We than visited my family’s luxury retreat in St Tropez. Two houses, one a modern renovation of a ‘Provencal’ stone house, the other a contemporary modern lodge, style ‘provencal’.  My father has done a fantastic job with the design and development of this place. He has a very good eye for design, uses only the best materials and enriches the spaces with his favorite artists work. I’m happy to spot a few of my works too! This place is a culmination of his experiences gained while building Art/Design Hotels in Germany. The gardens also need a special mentioning for their beauty. Both places are available for rent untill sold.

And France wouldn’t be France if not for the foods…., the choice of cheese, the markets and the pleasure of eating, etc…..yummy!!

St Tropez itself is famous for its fancy launches and yachts, as much as for the well known ‘Pamplona’ Beach, which Brigitte Bardot and many other famous people used to frequent and still do.

After a few days of indulgence we had to tear ourselves away from such luxury. We drove through the  ‘Gorge de Verdon’, a famous rock climbing area with stunning dramatic scenery and than entered the french Alpes….not before camping the last night in a lavender field!

More will follow soon……