The Sparkling Diamond of the Ossola Valley

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How to brighten up a cold, wet and miserable day in the Italian Alps

In the unlikely event that an extraterrestrial were to land in front of my house, driven by the need to find out what earthlings found so recreational by walking from one place to another and demanding the briefest possible explanation of this mystery from me, I would tell him to fly his UFO straight to Lake Antrona.

"Lake Antrona: Sparkling Diamond of the Ossola Valley"

I would not say that this was the best hike that we ever did: the list of candidates for that title is long, but it is certainly the one that packs most variety into the smallest possible package. Lake Antrona is small, and you will be able to walk around it in little more than an hour. But you are going to experience majestic mountain scenery …

"the Ossola Valley"

… as well as peace and tranquility …

"Lake Antrona: The Sparkling Diamond of the Ossola Valley"

… you will pass enchanted buildings …

"abandoned house along the hike around Lake Antrona"

… over narrow bridges and through dark tunnels …

"trail around Lake Antrona of the Ossola valley"

… do a bit of climbing …

"a climb on the trail around Lake Antrona"

… and, in the end, walk underneath a waterfall.

"walking under a waterfall by Lake Antrona in the Ossola valley"

In fact, the entire lake looks as though it had been laid out by Walt Disney, as a new attraction for one of his mouse-eared theme parks which is called Alpine Wonderland or something like that. Lake Altrona, it must be said, hits all the spots.

"Lake Antrona: The Sparkling Diamond of the Ossola Valley"

Still, one reason why we loved it so much may have had something to do with what had happened earlier in the day.

For the morning, a hike around another lake – near-by Lake Cheggio – had been planned, but this had to be cut short drastically due to torrential rain. We only had the briefest of looks at the lake …

"Lake Cheggio in the Ossola valley"

… and at the near-by village…

"village around Lake Cheggio in the Ossola valley"

… but that was still enough to drench us, if not to the bone, then to whatever comes right before it. All that at temperatures of around 5° (Lake Cheggio is located at an altitude of approx. 1500 m) – in September, mind, on the southern flanks of the Alps. I don’t remember ever having been this cold and miserable so early in the year.

But then we had lunch just underneath Lake Cheggio in the Rifugio Citta di Novarra, which is run by the charismatic Mariano.

"Mariano of the Rifugio Citta di Novarra"

Outside it was cold and wet, like a bad day in January, but inside it was bright, homely and friendly, and there was an oven where we could warm our hands. And then Mariano started to serve: cold cuts on crispy pancakes, …

"local ham and pancake served in the Rifugio Citta di Novarra"

…mushroom risotto, beef with different types of heavy sauces (alternatively milky and tomato-ey), home-made polenta, and finishing up with venison as his piece de resistance, all brought to our table with copious amounts of red wine. (Mariano’s Rifugio, like all the best Italian restaurants, serves wine in water glasses.) It was a near-religious experience.

Let’s be honest: how difficult would it be for our readers to replicate this?

Well, for one, to get from one place to the other, we were driven around in a chartered bus. You can, however, follow our route by public transport, up to a point.

There is a bus from Domodossola to Antronapiana from where it is about 3 km to Lake Cheggio (aka Lake Alpe dei Cavalli) and the Rifugio, then another 3 km to Lake Antrona on a different route which runs slightly to the west.

Just pray for rain – so you can arrive all wet and cold at the Rifugio. Then and only then can I guarantee that this will be one of the best experiences you are going to have all year. Failing that, you may have to settle for an extremely pleasant walk and a very good lunch. Which still is, if you think about it, not a bad way of spending a day.

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14 comments to The Sparkling Diamond of the Ossola Valley

  • That is indeed a great place for great views, Jo. Aah, wish we were back there too for a picnic.

  • Jo

    Another wonderful recommendation from you – and another wonderful day’s hiking in the area. We took a picnic lunch with and it made the perfect place to stop and admire the views. Thank you!

  • The hike itself was sadly cut short, Miranda. And yes, the best part was lunch!

  • Thanks, Priscilla. That red umbrella picture was pure chance. One of our companions just stood there with her bright umbrella and we just had to have a shot of that!

  • Leigh, the lunch we had at the Rifugio was a revelation! Never thought Italian cuisine could get any better.

  • Sometimes the brightest moments cane result from the greyest of days. Glad you were able to finish off your rainy hike with a warm, delicious meal served by friendly folks. The architecture in the village by Lake Cheggio looks like something out of the Princess Bride!

  • From start to finish this looked like an amazing hike. From the enchanted buildings to the scenery and the food oh my! I especially love the photograph with the contrast of the green, mist and red umbrella. So pretty!
    Cheers,
    Priscilla

  • Magical pictures in this post. I think rainy days and the unexpected are the real gift. Lunch looks divine and I thin being soaked to the bone was entirely worth it.

  • So very true, Meg. We’re still laughing about it weeks after the trip. Definitely one for the list of most remembered holidays.

  • Oh no, so sorry to hear you got caught in the rain, though I do think that these kind of days generally end up being the most memorable :D! We went on an amazing hike in Iceland, and out of the many amazning things we did there we really only remember the times we got caught out in the bad weather :D Makes it more of an adventure and story to tell afterwards!!

    But your phtos are stunning, and the lake really does look like it belongs in a Walt Disney fairytale. I would love to get there to replcate this experience for myself. Perhaps though aim for a sunny day :D!

  • You need not change the way you travel, Emiel. Just find the nearest hiking or walking trail wherever you visit and have a day just for hiking. The hike need not require more than half a day, as most of our hikes are. It will add a new dimension to your visits, I can guarantee!

  • You got me with that introduction! I am a big fan of scifi so anything related to UFO’s always draws my attention! :)
    But again you impress me with those wonderful pictures. I feel I have to give up our current way of traveling and just start hiking…I don’t want to miss out on these great places. And yes, then even a cold and miserable day can turn into a beautiful one. Great post.

  • It is always very rewarding to hike on a trail with such variety and this one is doubly fun because it’s short. Thanks for dropping by Brooke!

  • I’d love to be on a hike with so much variety of scenery! The waterfall, mountains, and bridges look gorgeous and green. Lovely photos! You’ve inspired me to discover more hikes like this.

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