LaThuile in the Summer

Things to do in LaThuile in the Summer

LaThuile has the most beautiful walks. You can find a map at the Tourist Information but this is relatively unhelpful as the walks are miles and miles long, and are more serious hikes for serious hikers than the sort of walk that’s actually enjoyable. However, it is possible to cheat, and drive part of the way.

I write this after a beautiful 2-hour walk through a valley, a short drive from the town.

  1. Leave LaThuile on the SS26 towards San Bernardo pass. After passing Ristorante Lo Riondet, start to look for a parking place on the right—it’s at the next big corner.
  2. Follow the track through pine trees, catching brief glimpses of the most beautiful valley in the world (see previous blog).
  3. When you see a bridge over the river on your left, turn off the main track and cross the river. If you look up, you will see a cave above you. (If you venture up there, let me know what was inside.)
  4. Follow the track to the left. It goes uphill slightly, but nothing scary. You will pass some derelict houses and some cows, and depending on where the farmer has laid his electric fence, you might need to cross it. (Note on electric fences: If you touch the wire, it hurts. A lot. However, the stick securing it to the ground is not usually electrified—so test this theory by touching it with a blade of grass, then you can lift the stick, shimmy under the wire, replace the stick in the ground.)
  5. When the path forks, take the left fork, which heads down towards the river.
  6. Cross the river on the footbridge.
  7. Either turn left, and follow the track back to the car, or continue right for a while until you reach the farmhouse/viewpoint, then retrace your steps.

Another good walk, that’s slightly shorter, is to Lake Arpy. Take the SR39 from LaThuile, and park at the top of the mountain, where there’s a pub and a couple of car parks. (The car parks are easy to find, a space is less easy, so you might need to abandon your car on the road somewhere.) The footpaths up are clearly marked, and relatively easy (though slightly steep in places). The lake is very pretty, and in the summer people sit up there, reading or chatting. Some (silly ones?) even swim in the icy water (but not for long!) There are good views of Mont Blanc as you walk back down. It takes about 30 minutes to reach the lake from the car park.

If you fancy a drive rather than a walk, then going to look at the glacier in Courayeur is fun. You never manage to get especially near to it (unless you’re a climber) but the road, Via Val Veny, rises above the town to opposite the glacier. You have a good view of the Mont Blanc tunnel.

There is a little church on the hillside: Notre Dame de Guerison. Inside are lots of votives left by climbers who are thankful to still be alive. There have been icons there since 1753, and a chapel since 1781. When we visited, there was a service, and a surprising number of people had driven up the mountain to attend it. Opposite is a small gift shop, for people who want to buy a fridge magnet with a saint on it.

Looking down on the Monte Bianco tunnel!

You might enjoy Courmayeur itself. I didn’t. It was okay for a quick stroll, but there were too many designer shops and designer people (the sort of people with matching socks and weekly pedicures and a touch of plastic surgery). I enjoyed our first visit (see previous blog) but was disappointed when we went back. Perhaps it’s better in the rain, when you just want a cosy café and a decent coffee (those, it has).

Hope you have some fun days this week. Thanks for reading.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

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The Prison Camp in La Thuile

At one end of La Thuile, away from where most tourists would wander, is the remains of a prison of war camp. There are a few worn signs, which are all in Italian, so I photographed them and typed them into Google Translate. It seems that the camp was in use during both wars, and the prisoners worked in the local mines. During the second world war, prisoners came from Yugoslavia. I’m not sure who they would be, though I have read elsewhere that Jewish prisoners were used as slave labour in Italy, for things like keeping the mountain passes open, and in mines. I guess it’s possible they were also part of the camp in La Thuile, and used in the mines here.

There’s not much left of the camp, and it’s hard to see whether the buildings were barracks for guards or dormitories for prisoners. Most of the buildings are on private land, so it wasn’t possible to get very close. Below are some photos, and the translation of the information signs. It’s hard to glean many facts from either.

Translation of Prison Sign:

First World War

Already during the First World War it is known that over 50 prisoners of war were employed in the work of the mines. In 1918, “the 31 prisoners of war were awarded a wage of just under 1/3 of the normal worker, ie 3,400 lire per day. By making a downward calculation it is possible to establish that, at the end of the First World War, the prisoners of war who find employment in the anthracite mines of La Thuile amounted to about one hundred units. They were guarded by military personnel and housed in special barracks in the Villaret region.”

Unfortunately there is no other news, it is not known where they were housed, where the special barracks were, but the presence of prisoners and their work in mining are attested in the first as in the second world war. Surely it was a place near the mouth of the mine, perhaps the place was already this … [sic]

Second World War

The set of buildings that insist on this area were born between 1941 and 1942 when the Cogne, “for exceptional needs, had to undertake the construction of barracks for housing prisoners of war, militarized workers from the army and military surveillance personnel at the concentration camp for prisoners” who will work in the mine. The building project is dated November 1941 and the request for the concession is presented by the Cogne Society to the Municipality of La Thuile on May 28, 1942.

The document shows that the constructions are “partly carried out and partly to be carried out. […] These are temporary barracks raised to a single floor above ground and will be built in timber with walls covered in” Eraclit or Populit “slabs. 2 cm thick, plastered, with a roof covered in Marseilles tiles on a timber frame.” The camp consists of the dormitories, the refectory, the prisons and a small infirmary inside the fence as well as the building for the guard, offices and lodgings of the Commando, non-commissioned officers and troops. From military archive documents it is clear that this is the camp for prisoners of war called Campo P.G.N. Porta Littoria.

The opening date is not known but on 1 March 1942 there are 250 ex-Yugoslav prisoners of war, more precisely 131 Serbs, 113 Montenegrins and 6 annexed Italians; in the following months the number and the provenance will be constant. The P.G. 101 and a mandatory work camp in the mine. The prison camp was closed on August 8, 1942 ‘following the cessation of use of labour by prisoners of war in the mines of the Soc. in Cogne.

Consequently, they are probably sent back to the camp, where the interpreters return. It is therefore open for a few months, a part planned on the south side will not even be built. [sic]


If you happen to know anything about the prison camp, please let me know. It doesn’t quite fit with the beautiful village in the Alps that is La Thuile today. I suspect in a few years, all remains will be removed, as the new houses being built are gradually getting nearer. LaThuile is beautiful, but I wonder what secrets it holds.

Thanks for reading. Have a great day.
Love, Anne x

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Having a Laugh in Turin

Continuing my travel blogs, written whilst in Italy.

Taken from next to the Roman wall. The big dome with windows is part of the cathedral.

Some friends from England were staying just across the border, in the French Alps, so we arranged to meet them in Turin. It was such a fun day.

They were arriving by train, and we drove from La Thuile, so I used Google maps to search for a nearby car park. It directed us to one very near the station. As we approached, it was difficult to find, then at the last minute, we spotted a ramp descending under the buildings, advertising parking. We took a ticket, went through the barrier, and disappeared under the building. It was all a little scary. There were spaces, and nothing to indicate they were reserved for residents, so we parked. Checked the prices on the pay machine (just in case) and it all looked fine, so we left and hoped the car wouldn’t be clamped when we returned.

Met friends and wandered towards the old part of town (which was very near to excellent car park). We came to a square, with two nearly identical churches (this seems to be a thing in Italy) and found the cathedral, Cattedrale di San Giovanni Battista. This is where they keep the Shroud of Turin, the shroud that some think wrapped the body of Jesus after he was crucified. I knew that it wasn’t on display, but I was interested to see where it was kept. There is also a replica shroud, in another church, so I hoped to see that too. Just out of interest. I am not sure what I think about the shroud (other than that it’s interesting). Some people claim the shroud is miraculous. Others say it’s a hoax, and dates from mediaeval times. I understand that several universities tested it, and all found it dated much later than Christ, but it was also thought to have been in a fire at some point, which would mess up carbon dating. Personally, I have no idea. If a shroud was ever used (I’m not sure how bodies were wrapped in those days) then it’s possible that it never decayed because Christ was holy—but it’s equally possible it did, as I don’t think everything he touched still exists today.

Anyway, the cathedral had a special side chapel where people could sit and muse the idea. I think the shroud was in the box in an alcove, but I’m not sure—the signs were all in Italian.

Then we went for lunch. We found a café in a square, and ordered focaccia. Some ordered enough for six people, and then ate them all. (No judgement.)

Our next stop was Galleria Sabauda which was accessed via Musei Reali Torino and we had to buy a ticket that included several different things. Our friends were keen to see a particular painting (Passion of Christ by Memling) which none of the guides seemed to realise was there. We found it eventually (it looks smaller in real life than online!)

Lots of different scenes from The Passion of Christ, all in one painting. By Hans Memling.

There was another painting, which Husband said was called ‘The Shocking Spectacle Following Unexpected Gust of Wind’ but I’m pretty sure he was lying.

We then wandered back towards the royal palace (because we had tickets). On the way, we popped into what we thought was a chapel, and it turned out to be an amazing part of the cathedral, where originally they had kept the shroud. There was a massive dome, with a dove at the top (which Husband said was a leftover Christmas decoration that the caretaker had refused to get down because it was so high). We considered the possibility of smuggling a helium balloon in and releasing it before running away. It was very opulent, with lots of black and gold. It didn’t feel very holy, I didn’t feel inspired to pray, but it was impressive.

A really cool dome. There is a glass dove, right at the top.

The royal palace was the same as every other royal palace that allows tourists—lots of interconnecting rooms, lots of gilt and dusty curtains. The sort of place that makes you feel glad you’re not royal and forced to live there.

We were then at saturation point with museum/galleries, so went in search of ice creams. I ordered a bicerin (pronounced ‘bich-er-in’) which is a traditional drink in Turin. It’s basically very rich hot chocolate with a shot of espresso and topped with cream. It was delicious.

Bicerin. Delicious.

Then we sat near the river and chatted, very lovely. We had a quick McDonald’s (very nice, but probably not what you should do when in Turin) before our friends left to catch their train back to France. We found our car (not as easy as it sounds) and it wasn’t clamped, so we paid (17 euro) and drove back to La Thuile.

Turin is a lovely city, and there’s lots more to see. Definitely worth a second visit, would make a good weekend away.

Hope your day goes well. Thanks for reading.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

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Best Lunch Date, Ever…

I have just had the most amazing lunch. Not the food perhaps (though there was nothing wrong with it) but the venue? Wow! We have just arrived home, and I have a slight headache (you will understand why in a minute) and I am bursting to tell someone.

We had lunch at the top of Mont Blanc!

Preparing for the descent.

It was such fun. First we drove to Courmayeur. Well, strictly speaking, first we went to the local Pharmacy in a panic because we read on the website that it was essential that we wore the correct type of face-mask—but after that we drove to Courmayeur. We followed signs for the cable-car (the funivia) and there was plenty of parking underneath. Italy seems to do parking very well (either that, or we have been very lucky so far).

There was then some confusion, with a ticket office, and several different queues which didn’t seem to lead anywhere and no helpful signs, and loads of people. We had already bought our tickets online, so we joined a line that looked promising, and managed to get the piece of paper we needed to walk up to the cable car. I don’t like heights (as you know if you read my blogs regularly) so I was extremely pleased to find a seat, in the middle, where there was hardy any view through all the standing passengers to the scary plummet as we ascended the mountain. Hardly anyone wore masks, I think only the foreign tourists, who had also read the website, were wearing them. The website should perhaps be updated (I write this in August 2022).

The cable car stopped midway. There were amazing views, and paths you could walk along, a little botanical garden, and deckchairs. The deckchairs were full of lounging bronzed people who had stripped down to their underwear. I don’t think any will make the cover of Vogue, so I will spare you a photo!

We then caught another car up to the top of the mountain. Again, not too scary if you kept your eyes shut the entire time. It was crammed full of tourists, and athletic looking people with climbing gear, and dogs. I love that in Italy, dogs are welcome just about everywhere.

The top of the mountain had various viewing platforms, but we went straight to Bistrot Panoramic. It sits on top of Pointe Helbronner (which I understand is one of the peaks of Mont Blanc). The views were amazing. The restaurant walls were glass, and the seats were transparent, so wherever you sat there would be views. We were slightly early, and managed to have a corner table. After a quick gin and tonic, this was fine, and I rather enjoyed it. I had some red wine too to prepare for the descent (hence the slight headache now).

The meal was a set menu: a potato dish (like Dauphinoise potatoes but with bits of ham), a soggy-bread-and onion dish (nicer than it sounds) and a vegetable soup over pasta dish. We chose a mushroom dish and a sausage in tomato sauce dish, to accompany the cheesy polenta (which all went together very well, but would have been not great alone, as the mushrooms were a bit slimy and the polenta needed more salt). Dessert was apple cake (which was apple pie!) and tiramisu. We finished with coffee. All very nice, and when put together with the view, completely fabulous.

The table next to us had a huge dog curled up asleep. Next to the door of the restaurant was a bowl of dog water. I now plan to return, with my dog (maybe not Kia, as she’s a bit old now and would snarl at everyone).

We spent some time taking millions of photos, then went back to the car. As lunch dates go, it was perfect.

Thanks for reading and have a great day.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

And we saw Maria!!!!
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The Best of Days, the Worst of Days…

Today has been a mix of highs and lows. Mostly highs, so I will start there.

As you know (if you read my blog regularly) we had booked a house in Italy for the summer, but popped home after a couple of weeks to attend my niece’s wedding. After the wedding, we returned to La Thuile for the rest of August. It felt like coming home as we drove from the airport, past ‘our river’ that races through the valley, to the view of ‘our mountain’ with the glacier that reflects all the moods of the sun.

Anyway, today I suggested that we should go to a café for an espresso (which is one of my favourite things about Italy—sipping a coffee in the sunshine, somewhere beautiful). Husband suggested that rather than walk to the nearby café (‘our café’) we should try somewhere new, on the other side of town.

He directed me along lanes, through the park next to the river, up narrow streets. We arrived at a pretty building next to the river, with a family sitting in lounge-chairs in the garden. At our arrival, they all jumped up, assured us that they were open, and the man showed us to a table in the shade. He then disappeared.

I looked around. On one side was the river, on the other was mountains—all very pretty, perfect for a leisurely coffee. The man then reappeared, carrying cutlery and glassware, and a basket of fresh bread. He smiled welcoming as he set our table. Lots of eye-contact between Husband and I, neither of us spoke. The man hurried away.

Now what? The man was so welcoming, the bread looked freshly baked, dare we say that we only wanted a coffee? Husband said we should just order something small (we already had dinner reservations for the evening at ‘our restaurant’). The man reappeared with the menu, and we chose a couple of dishes. Neither of us understand much Italian, so it was a bit random. What arrived were platters of cheese and meat, which went perfectly with the house wine. We finished, an hour later, with the espresso that we had come for. It was all very unexpected, and very lovely. A good time.

After our lunch, we discussed what to do, as I have hurt my leg and can’t walk far. Husband suggested we went ‘up the mountain on the cable car.’ I knew this was something he really wanted to do, and we had just enjoyed a lovely lunch in the sunshine, so I agreed. I hate heights. It was even worse than I imagined.

The ‘cable car’ is not a cable car, it is a chairlift—designed for skiers in the winter, and mountain bikers in the summer. I watched the chairs as they flew down the mountain, turning at the bottom, slowing for passengers, then continuing back up the mountain in a continuous loop, never actually stopping. I saw a few people nearly getting bonked when they stood up but didn’t move out of the way quickly enough, and I tried to learn from their mistake as we joined the line of young men with bikes. We fed our tickets into the machine, and stepped forward. A man appeared from his cubicle and hovered near the emergency-stop button. We stood in place, the chair arrived behind us, we sat back, a bar was lowered in front of us, and we rose towards the sky.

I decided it would be best to keep my eyes shut. This worked fine on the way up. It felt like flying, I could hear birds and smell the pine trees, and the temperature grew gradually cooler as we rose. We reached the top, Husband yelled at me to let go of the safety-bar, a man hovered near the emergency-stop button, I leaped off the chair, remembered to hurry to the side, the chair sailed past me and I was on solid ground. All great. I felt rather pleased with myself, and enjoyed looking at the views and watching the young men as they raced down the mountain on their bikes. Then we decided to go back down. Then it all went wrong.

As we fed our tickets into the machine, the man emerged again to hover near the stop-button. Obviously we looked incompetent. The chair swept behind us, I sat, the bar was lowered, I shut my eyes and pretended I was flying. Then Husband (who I have now forgiven) mentioned that the safety bar was raised and lowered by the passengers—in other words, him. That felt very unsafe. If you have a fear of heights, you will know that the fear is connected with falling, and the belief that somehow you might fling yourself over the precipice. I am not scared in airplanes, because I cannot fall out. I am terrified on cliff edges because I might fall over. Now I was being told that if I lifted the bar (yes, I know that this was entirely in my control and wouldn’t happen, but fear is not rational)—if I lifted the bar, I would plummet to my death. I took deep breaths. Then Husband mentioned something about the view below, and fool that I am, I opened my eyes. I was not flying. I was suspended on an insecure chair, miles above ground, with nothing but a moveable bar between me and certain death. My heart stopped, I thought I might vomit (pity the mountain bikers below!) and I started to shake all over. I think I whimpered.

For the next few terrifying moments we sailed through the air. I shut my eyes and prayed very hard and tried not to think about how it would feel to fall. Then we arrived. The same man hovered near the emergency button (they didn’t seem to do that for anyone else!) and I managed to stand, to move out of the way, to walk to the nearest bench. I didn’t speak. Somehow, I survived. But it was bad, very bad.

I hope your day is full of good things, and that you cope with the bad things calmly.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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Italy: Angry Ice Creams and Absolute Beauty

Italy is beautiful. There are many beautiful places, but I have a personal favourite—do you?

You will remember from last week’s blog that we went to Italy for a couple of weeks at the beginning of August (returning for my niece’s wedding on the 18th, but you will have to wait until next week to read about that!) We stayed in LaThuile, which is a ski resort in the winter, and in the summer is a village of musical-box log cabins, and window boxes full of geraniums, and hot, hot, sunshine. The whole family plus partners came, and we had a happy time of reconnecting.

The Italian Alps might be the most beautiful place in the world. Even better than Scotland (which has some amazing scenery). I’m not a great lover of cities; I love big skies, and rushing rivers, and mountains, and trees (so Iceland wasn’t really my taste). Some of the mountains were still topped with snow, and snow is always exciting, even when it’s in the distance. (My family will correct me here, and tell me it’s not snow, it’s frozen glacier, but you know what I mean.)

We visited many beautiful towns and villages, and walked up mountains, and through mountain passes, and along valleys. There was a lake, high on a mountain pass. The water was so blue, and the sun was so hot, it was tempting to swim. Only the dogs were actually in the water, humans knew it would be freezing. As we walked round the lake we could hear the clonking bells of cows, and there was a herd of them with curved horns, drinking from the lake.

We visited Aosta, with its Roman remains and cobbled streets and carvings of wood. It was full of tourists when we were there, and there was a rain storm with huge drops of water soaking us all.

My dad played an accordion, so I loved this sculpture.

My main memory of Aosta is the ice cream parlour, where I had a stand-off with the assistant! The shop was busy, and while we stood in line we watched a man bring trays of chocolate-dipped lollies, and vats of fresh sorbet and creamy ice cream to refill the display. The counter was pretty, with fresh fruit, and coloured ices, and cones. But I also watched the girls serving, as they touched the money and credit cards, scratched an itch, then served the ice cream without washing their hands. I decided I would have an ice, placed in a cup with a scoop (no contact with those hands). All was going well, until I saw the assistant pick up a straw (touching the part that goes in the mouth) and place it in the ice. When it was my turn, I reached up, and took my own straw from the pot.

The assistant glared at me, and told me I shouldn’t touch. (Somewhat ironic.) I explained that I had only touched my own staw. She continued to scold me, then tried to add a straw from her own dirty hand. I told her that I did not want her straw, I already had one. I did not want a straw she had touched.

Oh the fury in those eyes! She returned to serving the rest of our order, glaring at me as she dolloped scoops of ice cream into cones. I have never been served ice cream with so much hatred! It did taste very nice though.

We also walked in Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso, strolling beside rivers and waterfalls, staring at huge rocks left by glaciers. Very pretty.

But there is one place more beautiful than all the others. You can walk there from LaThuile, but two hours is about my maximum for an enjoyable walk, so we drove up the winding road from the town, turning onto a track before we reached the hamlet of Cappella di San Bernado. The track was very narrow, with hairpin bends, the valley falling steeply away to one side. Not a comfortable drive. I was glad when Husband announced he wasn’t going any further, and parked on a slim patch of grass next to the track. If a bus came, we’d be in trouble. But it wasn’t the sort of place a bus would go.

We walked. The track rose gradually, gently taking us further from the valley floor. We could see a river, and guessed the speed of it. There were trees below, dwarfed by the distance between us, dark green pines clinging to the side of the mountain. Patches of grass were dotted with brown mud, dug out by marmots which scampered away when they heard our voices echoing round the valley. (I must say, I will never ever manage to see much wildlife, because my family is so noisy!) Streams trickled from the rock next to us, forming puddles before trickling down to join the river. As we stepped over the puddles, clouds of blue butterflies rose, dancing around us like a host of fairies with blue and gold wings. We could see cows with their clonking bells in the distance, and beyond them, beyond everything, there were the mountains, watching. It was truly beautiful.

I hope you see some beauty this week. Try not to annoy any sales assistants though! Thanks for reading. Take care.
Love, Anne x

Clonking bells wherever there are cows.