Engadine orchid

Orchis Mascula.We saw it on a hike up to the village above Sera Plana. Although it was late summer, there were still beautiful meadows of wildflowers, wild strawberries, butterflies, and a curious large fly with dark blue wings with bright red spots on them.

Visit to Sera Plana, Switzerland

After Italy we drove across the Alps to visit Karen Galindo in Sera Plana, at the holiday house of her parents-in-law, Laurie and Rueddy. Here is Amy walking with Karen’s daughter Lily; Rueddy and Karen (carrying the new-born Violet) are visible in the background. Karen had warned us that Lily can be an awful walking companion once she has decided she doesn’t want to be there anymore, so Amy and I jollied her along for the entire walk, singing songs, playing games with the “ant highways” (gutters across the path). It brought back such memories of doing the same for our own kids.

Laurie and Rueddy were wonderful. Laurie has all sorts of food allergies which mean she can barely eat anything, and is very small and thin, but has a lovely smile in an apple-cheeked face. Rueddy was a traffic engineer and invented traffic light systems used in Portland, Oregon, among other places. He rode the boom in cars in the late 20th century to a healthy retirement, including the lovely holiday house we were staying in, which was modern but blended well with the old houses there. Every window has a view of spectacular alps. He helps the locals with their haymaking (which we watched on the walk, small trucks on alarmingly steep slopes).

I worked on my talk for the AMS-PMS meeting in Poland, and left the next day, on a spectacular train ride down to Zurich. Amy stayed on to enjoy Swiss national day on August 1, when they lit bonfires on the surrounding trees, like the scene in Return of the King.


Endangered flower in the Engadine

I went for a hike with our host near the village Sera Plana in Switzerland, and he pointed out to me this flower by the side of the trail, which he said was endangered. I didn’t get the name, but I’m hoping he will add a comment to this entry!

We also saw a beautiful butterfly, orange with black spots, and some Eurasian Jays, which are brown with lovely blue black and white wings.


Amy and I had sworn we would not be going into Venice because of the crowds, but Maurizio prevailed. It was another lovely day. We had lunch at Ostaria Ai 4 Ferri, a small seafood restaurant. Delicious salty vinegary sardine like fish, pasta with squid ink. Maurizio had a digestif so we did too, which turned out to be Unicum of John and Marianna fame, that we sat around John’s kitchen making jokes about all those years ago. After lunch we saw the beautiful church of San Sebastiani where Veronese hid out from church authorities, that he filled with paintings. A lovely roof of the sacristy, with Matthew Mark Luke and John, fat rosy cheeked and rosy bummed cherubs, lots of small stories from the bible, Amy had fun reading the sign and pointing them out to us. Altogether a magical day, and no crowds because we stayed away from them.

Giorgione in Castelfranco

Amy and I arrived at Kate and Maurizio’s house on Monday. They were delayed returning from Spain so we had the house to ourselves. The trees have grown a lot since we last visited in 2001. We at blackberries from the vegetable garden and delicious cherry tomatoes, ate a ratatouille tahat Cecilia had prepared for the Nazaris, and took a swim in their pool. Cecilia and Stefano (Abby’s host parents when she was here) showed up to see how we were doing, but I had to disappear for a remote thesis defense.

The next day we lazed around reading books and catching up on email. Some cooling rain squalls came through. Kate and Maurizio and Nicci and Duccio arrived that evening and cooked pasta with hot peppers, delicious. On Wednesday Amy and I went for a drive, visiting Cittadella, the city where Abby went to school, Bassano, with a collection of Jacopo di Bassano in the Museo Civico, and Castelfranco, where we saw this wonderful Giorgone in the duomo. There is a wonderful hint of reserve in Mary’s face, a sense of maintaining an inner private life against the public one thrust upon her. The air was clear and the sky was blue and the mountains to the north of Bassano were lovely.

That evening we had a dinner for Cecilia, Stefano, Marta, and Chiara and thank them and toasted them and gave them the pewter bowl we had brought over. Kate recited The Man from Ironbark.

Day 5–Cabrespine to Castans

Via Fount Frejo, 13 km, 660 m of ascent, 290 m of descent. Much cooler weather, fortunately.

We climbed out of Cabrespine through scrub and heathland composed of completely different vegetation from the other days, more mediterranean, with grey, woolly, or waxy leaved plants. We reached the plateua de la Condamine with the threat of rain, jumped over the fence on a stile made of wooden stumps called plots. We meandered up a wide path along the ridge for about 3 km–lots of bird calls, never sighted. Then we branched off to the left, sidled along the hill, and stopped for lunch in a sheltered spot after the Fount Frejo–pate and ham sandwiches, tomatos with salt. We passed the hameau of Escandelle, then a steep descent down to the Moulin de Bru, and a final ascent to Castans. There we met Roland sitting on a wall, looking somewhat improved.

We took the car to La Tourette for our final night’s stay. A tiny remote village perched over a gorge, with a 13th-16th century towered church.

Day 4–Pradelles to Cabrespine

Via Bourdials, 16.5 km, 230 m of ascent, 840 m of descent. The hottest day.

We started out going past the lake of Pradelles, where we saw a boy fishing for ecrevisses, then descended through a beech forest to the ruisseau de Mulet, where we wet our caps, and climbed back up to Bourdials. There we struck south to Cabrespine, crossing the Clamoux, climbing through the hamlet of Thérondels-Bas to the col above Serremijeanne. The trail became indistinct with lots of stinging nettles and brambles. Eventually we made our way to a lovely châtaigneraie, where we stopped for lunch. We continued our descent to the ruisseau de Serremijeanne, where we had a swim amid blue dragonflies.

We rejoined the D189, started cutting off its boucles by going down through the woods, passed a beautiful but unfortunately occupied house, with pool and manicured lawns. We joined the road again for the last stroll through Laval with its vegetable gardens, passed the cobwebbed virgin, to Caprespine.

We were greeted at the chambre d’hôtes l’Olivette by Elizabeth and local apple juice. The house had been in the family of Elizabeth’s husband Pierre and was full of historical photographs of Cabrespine, including a fascinating postcard in the toilet showing terraced farms and no houses. We were invited to Jane’s for a swim, boules, and rosé.

The menu: olives, saucisse de foie, pistou on toast, salad, chevre with miel, Cabrespine lamb stew and local rice, and tarte au figues à la mode.

Day 3–Castans to Pradelles

Via the Pic de Nore, 14 km, 590 m of ascent, 330 m of descent. Long but easy, another hot day.

We climbed gently through the woods on a dirt road, with beautiful butterflies and spectacular alpine wildflowers, reaching the Pic at 1 pm, and sat on a ledge for lunch with a large group of other tourists. The Pic is topped by a large tower that looks like a rocket set to launch. It was too hazy to see Carcassonne or the Pyrenees, but we did see Pradelles and the lake. After lunch we hiked around the back of the Pic de Nore, started down in much more open country, a fairly gentle descent, but uneven and painful for Bunion Bill.

We reached an old stone cross, “carrefour importan pour les sentiers Village Perchés”, with trails leading off to la Bastide, Haut Pol, and Pradelles. On the way into Pradelles we passed some old ice houses, deep dug and lined with stone, one with a slender arched roof remnant. The hotel were luxury in comparison to our previous accommodation: bath and toilet in the rooms, swimming pool. The proprietors were a Belgian couple who spoke Flemish with some of the guests.

Dinner was outside under a tree: creamy soup with figs, medallions of pork with lardons and red onions, leeks, potatoes, and creamed broccoli, followed by cheeses. The wine was Chateau Donjon 2004.

Day 2–Lespinassière to Castans

Via the Cun de San Marti, 10 km, 600 m of ascent, 440 m of descent. A hot day with steep climbs, the hardest day of the five.

Jane joined us for the day at the Fournil de l’Espic. We hiked down into l’Espinassière, overshot the turn-off, then hooked back for a very steep climb through the forest, which continued until lunchtime. Jez was the only person who continued to talk all the way up. We lost the trail once in the woods, and Rob found it for us again.

We had lunch at the Cun de San Marti, with baguettes, ham, cheese, and two tins of pate. The heather was in bloom, orange on pink. We hiked down into the Castans valley, past some horses which Amy smooched with, and dowsed ourselves at a laverie in the first village. We passed some marvelous ruined gardens at hameau de Quintaine where Amy and Bill ate wild cherries. Got our first view of the wind turbines above Cabrespine.

We had a final climb back up to Castans, where our food was delivered by a woman of the village who was helping Roland (who was sick). We “borrowed” some beers and white wine and sat out on the terrace, finishing off the delicious serrano ham from lunch. The menu was tarte au poireaux and roquefort, blanquette de veau in a stew on rice, cheese and fruit.

Day 1–Castans to Lespinassière

Via le Roc to Peyremaux, 14.5 km, 330 m of ascent, 500 of descent. An easy hike on a very windy day, as you can see in the photo.

We passed many ruins, but weren’t sure that we found the ruined village that Roland told us about. We crossed a beautiful bridge with a sign “Alga Fresca.” As we got higher the forest switched from chestnuts, oaks, and beeches to fir, spruce, and cedar, and there was a beautiful mossy beech forest at the top.

Seduced on the way down by a stele for two martyrs of the Resistance, we  missed the turning to the Fournil de l’Espic and had to climb back up from l’Espinassiere. The track to the gîte was long, with Nicolas, his spectacles, and Beebop the dog at the end. We had tea on the terrace with exquisite teacups, cold showers and a free apèro in recompense. Bill found wild strawberries on the path to the creek. We saw and heard buzzards mewing. The accommodation was unfinished, but there were beds, and a dry composting toilet.

Nicolas had owned a restaurant in Toulouse, and presented us with the meal of the journey: aubergines topped with grilled cheese, tomato and herbs; small red peppers filled with salted eel (morue) in bechamel sauce; guinea fowl and peaches; and tiramisu. The wine was chateau de l’Homs, appelation Minervois.