Fontane to Motto Di Balmo / Balmo

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Spring & Summer walk. Fatigue level: moderate. Distance: 3.3Km (round trip). Duration: approx 1 hr.

Fontane to Motto Di Balmo (Balmo, 1059m)

This walk follows an old mountain path that climbs from behind Fontane to the site of the old chairlift/ski-lift station and bar/restaurant (now derelict) at Balmo. This open, relatively level plateau at over 1050m altitude is covered in mountain flora in the summer and gives breathtaking views down the valley. There is a particularly nice cappella (tiny chapel) here, not far from the old restaurant, dedicated to the victim of a paragliding accident. When our own children were young, the plateau was a favourite place to go kite flying.

Fontane, Bannio/Anzino in PiemonteWell before that, when I hadn't yet reached my teens, it was from here that we would start collecting porcini and other delicious mushrooms. They still exist but it's much more difficult to find them now - you either need to be a local (they just know where and when to look!) or be lucky!

Motto di Balmo, Bannio/Anzino in PiemonteFrom the apartments, follow the path down to the road and then turn left, up the road until you are on the road behind our apartments. You will see the path signposted (see the photos here to the left and right).

It is a relatively steep but not especially long walk up, though in places the path is in fairly poor condition; though still in regular use, it is no longer in prime condition and sometimes difficult to make out the original stone steps. In some places long grass has overgrown the path, not necessarily to the point that you're not able to see where the path leads, but the coarse grass can be extremely slippery. It also sometimes hides small stones or branches, and if you place your foot on one of these you can find yourself in a 'reclined position' pretty rapidly - so take care where you step. It is easy to become taken in by the beautiful scenery and forget to check your footing.

Mountain walks in Valle Anzasca, PiemonteOn the subject of watching where you walk, and taking care what you're walking on, always be wary of coming off an established path. Experience has taught me to be very careful if you try to descend other than by a clearly established path. Short cuts can seem inviting, sometimes dangerously so. Not only can the long, coarse mountain grass become as slippery as ice, there is usually a huge build-up of leaves and these can quickly turn into a kind of surf board, taking you down the mountain side. If you do feel yourself going, whatever the reason, drop down onto your bottom - your weight and the friction will slow you down, and while you may suffer a bruise on your backside, it's far better than falling forward and hitting your face or head. A few years ago a father and son on holiday decided to go looking for mushrooms above Anzino. The father must have been attracted by a good find and probably, amongst the trees, didn't realise how close they were to a steep drop. It can be very deceptive amongst the trees, with your eyes on a target of some kind. Apparently he slipped on the coarse, wet grass and fell, coming to rest several tens of metres down. His son, trying to help, also fell. The father died. I recall this only as a sombre warning - the mountains are a truly beautiful place, but just as a swimmer must always recognise the power of the sea and the potential danger of its waves, walking in the mountains hides dangers too, and when we are on holiday, relaxing, we all sometimes switch off a little too much.

Climbing in PiemonteSo, back to the walk! You will pass through a couple of small groups of houses before coming to the lower edge of an open area of grass stretching to your right. Follow the path - there is a particularly steep little section where wooden steps and a handrail have been put in and this may be testing for anyone with limited movement - and it will lead you close to the old disused chairlift station, which you will see to your right. The path comes around the top and along to the capella, water trough and on to the old restaurant - if you are tempted to walk across the grassed plateau, take care of your footing as it can be deceptively uneven in places.

You have now reached Motto di Balmo, to give it its official name, or just 'Balmo' to the locals. It is a lovely place to have a summer picnic. That beautiful cappella is dedicated to Aurelio Faggi who died in a paragliding incident in 2005 after taking off from the gentle slopes of the Balmo plateau."Sei volato in un mondo migliore" reads part of the dedication on a plaque in the chapel - "You flew to a better world". As you look out from Balmo, across the valley on either side of the plateau, it's difficult to imagine a better place if that is to be your last sight of this world.

Chairlift ski-lift station at Balmo, Bannio/AnzinoOur walk ends here but the path continues up to Provaccio, where the second part of the ski-lift originally terminated.

The Ski-Lift at Bannio

You may be wondering why the chairlift closed, and it's a sad tale. It was built in the late sixties at considerable cost. A two stage chair/ski lift was put in, along with a hotel and car park in Bannio where the base station was (now flats) and even an access road to take traffic around the town to the lift. A nice restaurant was built at the top and for a few years I believe it did OK. Then the area suffered from a lack of sufficient snow fall for several winters - being some way lower than the ski slopes of Monte Rosa at Macugnaga - and the income wasn't sufficient to keep it going. In the end it was abandoned and most of the actual lift towers dismantled. The top station is partly still standing - but don't even think about going into it if you're tempted - and the restaurant is still standing but a wreck. It saddens me as I remember watching the people on the chairlift as I walked up, and occasionally went on it myself and loved it. At least there's still the one in Macugnaga, which is very nice and described in one of the other walks.

The Anzasca valley in PiemontePictures: hover your mouse cursor over each image and you should hopefully see a description.

The photo here on the right was taken in the spring of 2012 from just below Balmo as we took the path up. Part of Anzino can be seen down on the right. Bannio is immediately below - you can make out the spire of the church. Across the valley on the left, with the church at the centre, is Calasca. The river (toce) Anza snakes its way down the valley to Piedimulera.

In the foreground is a typical mountain dwelling and this one - in common with our own apartments - still has the original stone roof. A work of art! We had to have some repair work done to ours recently (2013) and it's good to know there are still a few local craftsmen who will take the work on, albeit they tend to use cut stone rather than the hand-worked rough stone of old. Newly built or renovated dwellings can now use a conventional tile but one designed to keep the traditional look. Unfortunately a few places were renovated before the introduction of this law and have corrugated or plain tiled roofs, but not enough to spoil the place.