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Courmayeur
Courmayeur
All the charm of the low season
Invaded by wealthy tourists for four months of the year, this magnificent resort in the Valle d’Aosta goes back to being a quiet Alpine village in the other periods.
And it’s here, amidst little cafés and chats in local dialect, that the author – journalist and writer Franco Faggiani – is setting his new novel dedicated to “Comandante Colleoni”, a forest ranger involved in a series of adventures
by Franco Faggiani
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Courmayeur. Caffè della Posta. Photo courtesy of Omnia Relations

With all the ancient walled towns, the fairy-tale villages and the charming places that the Alps abound in, did you really have to talk about Courmayeur?”. The friends in whom I confided about this article in Bridge Puglia-Usa, gave me some strange looks. Firstly because the little town in Alta Valdigne is one of the most touristy in the Alpine area, and then because for about four months of the year – one in summer and three in winter – ‘Courma’, as the old gentlemen of Lombardy call it, corresponds practically to a piece of Milan shifted to the foot of Mont Blanc. Probably because all you have to do is get on to the highway just outside the centre of Milan and get off just in front of your condo or little villa – depending on the type of accommodation you have chosen in the architecturally confused geography of Courmayeur – where you can take your bags out of the trunk. In little more than two hours you go from the shade of the tallest skyscrapers in Italy to that of the highest mountain in Europe.

Actually, my friends were right. To an extent. I had often been to Courmayeur for pleasure; I used to train there when I liked to consider myself a mountaineer. To be honest the risk of bumping into my neighbours was quite high, as was that of not being able to avoid certain urban rites, like designer shopping or meeting up for the happy hour. But four months is only a third of a year. I mean, there are still another eight months. In which the town changes, closes in on itself and protects itself. It goes back to being an old Alpine village. The mountain guides and the ski instructors go back to being artisans, shopkeepers, montagnard, livestock farmers, cheese-makers and carpenters.

The courmayeurins, as the residents of the town are known, and of which there are fewer than three thousand, take back their territory, go back to speaking in local dialect, patoué, the old French Provence language that in this miniscule region even has different inflections from one valley to another. The little cafés are full of chattering again, washed down with the local wines like Blanc de Morgex and the red Fumin; Ciro, the affable patron of La Terrazza restaurant, is more available to sit down at the table with you; Ivan, of Savoye Sport, is ready to pull out the old instruments and equipment and tell you stories of music and the mountains. The surrounding areas go back to their isolation, and you can walk to the sanctuary of Notre Dame de la Guerison, just below the Brenva glacier, with no risk of being run over by the latest model of SUV. And Via Roma, the narrow main street where people stroll past designer boutiques, where you go to be seen rather than to see, goes back to being a quiet street with little drugstores and sports shops and cafés, an antique shop and a bookstore.

The curious thing is that, after visiting the town regularly for many years, I re-assessed all this after a few fleeting trips made recently out of season. I must make a little preamble first, however. In December last year I had published a novel, Il Comandante Colleoni, set in Trento and in the surrounding valley. My editor asked me to write my second one straightaway with the same protagonist – I’ve just handed it over and it will come out in December 2014 – and I decided to set it here, deep in the Valle d’Aosta. So, before getting down to writing it, I had to find a house, new friends and new enemies, places to eat and to get a coffee – Colleoni is single and can’t cook for himself – other unusual settings for the action and story. Colleoni, who is a Forest Ranger, gets involved, despite himself, in myriad adventures. And many of these, strange but often intense stories, spring from events which have really happened, in recent or more remote times. Stories that, in the case of the book just finished, came to me over a cozy weekend at the end of December while enjoying a beer at the Bar delle Guide, or slowly scaling the glacier with a local friend as far as the new Bivacco Gervasutti, below the spectacular face of the Grandes Jorasses, on a gelid and sparkling day in January. Or simply while I stopped to chat to two little women dressed in black, after the end of the hurried morning mass at the church of San Pantaleone, the patron saint of the town. The best stories are like that, born of chatting with the townsfolk, when no-one is in a hurry.

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