Italy - warming our frozen swiss bones in Domodossola
Autumn was hitting Switzerland and with it coming the foggy, wet and rainy time. We love autumn when it comes to clear skyies, sun and coloured leaves. And we did have that this year a lot. But there was this specific weekend and the weatherforecast was exactly the „rainy, grey skies with lots of cold wind“. No thank you for us. As weh ad nothing planned we decided on Friday to give this weather a miss and to run towards Italy for some late summer warmth.
Well, by train it takes only 1,5 hours from our hometown Thun to Domodossola, the first city after the boarder in Italy. For whatever reason we never did this short trip. Reasons enough to go!
By looking for a cheap room for the night we realised that we were not the only ones in Switzerland having this idea. Anyway, we ended up with a cheap and excellent rated option. And we decided not to go by train (for the simple reason because train tickets are so expensive in Switzerland). We took the car which came out cheaper for 2 people and left us the freedom to go wherever we felt like. So, very early morning without breakfast, we drove up into the Alps to Kandersteg. Here one has to go with the car on a train that takes you through the Lötschberg to the Wallis. It is a quick affair. On weekends there are non-stop trains and the ride is about 20 minutes. You drive on the train and stay in the car – always a funny thing to do and really effecient. Otherwise, to get there, we would have had to make a detour of nearly 2 hours – not really an option.
Quickly after the train ride we arrived in Visp and desparately looked out for a little café to have our morning coffee and something to eat. Back on the road we drove to Brig and then further up to the Simplon Pass (in italian: Passo di Sempione), the famous pass to Italy. The drive up there is easy with stunning scenery. Up on top of the pass it was minus 4 degress. Well, the landscape looked so beautiful, like in a fairy tale. Blue skies, rising sun and all the trees and the grass was frozen und shining white. After the sun had appeared from behind the mountains the ice quickly melted and warmed us up. Despite the cold, we went for a short hike. Really a great place and lot of longer and remote hikes as well.
Then we drove down from the pass. It was less than 1 hour till we reached the city of Domodossola. We parked our car and got out. What a joy! It was pleasant 20 degrees, pure sunshine – welcome to Italy. Although Domodossola is still in the alps and gets snow in winter sometimes, the southern alps are much milder and have definitely more sunshine. So we put off all our layers of clothes, grabbed the suncreme and sunglasses and off we went to discover Domodossola. Domodossola is nearly always overseen by tourists. Just on Saturdays, all swiss people rush into town for the famous market. But the old city is small but really beautiful. It is just behind the boarder to Switzerland but it has a feeling like you are in the middle of Italy. Lots of streetside cafés, no-one speaks german anymore, gelato and pizza everywhere and also some really nice looking restaurants. And you have this typical italian vibe in the streets. As it was Saturday, the market was packed. Well, there is a lot of cheap standard stuff you can get. The fruit and veggie section is on the small. But in between one can find some great bargains. At least, we found some things we needed anyway and could get some nice fruit as well. What a shame, that the market covered so much of the nice old houses!
For lunch, the big surprise. Bang – in the middle of the Piazza di Mercato we found a vegan restaurant with nice outdoor seating. Sali&Pistacchi has a small, every changing, delicious vegan menu, vegan sweets. And it definitely has the best vegan cappuccino I have ever had. We enjoyed the food, the warm sunshine and the people watching. What a different lifestyle here just a stone’s throw away from home. And 20 degress warmer as well!
The afternoon we discovered another beautiful thing to do in Domodossola: Sacro Monte di Domodossola. In total, we found out that there are 13 Sacri Monte (Holy Mountains) in northern Italy around this region. The all tell a story about Jesus or a specific Saint and are places for pilgrimages. In Domodossola, one starts with the walk and the foot of a hill. By walking up one passes 15 little chapels. Each chapel displays a scene of the life of Jesus. The sculptures and frescos are huge and really amazing! As is the walk up the hill itself. With the warm sun, the coloured forest around us and only few people, it was a peaceful atmosphere in the middle of nature. Up on the hill is an amazing cathedral. Not because if the size (it iss mall), but because of the frescos, sculptures and architecture. But despite all this, we also had an amazing view down over Domodossola.
Happily and charged up with the warm sun and the amazing atmosphere from the Sacro Monte we walked back down to town, had some vegan ice cream and another cappuccino before jumping into the car. Weh ad to drive 20 minutes further down the valley to our accomodation. The B&B Boscotenso is in the middle of a nature park and part of an equestrian centre. Our room was super clean and pleasant with a little balcony overlooking the valley and a great heating for the night. As it is a bit remote, it is a great deal. Good luck for us.
We decided to end this perfect first part of our „escape“ on Lago di Mergozzo. This small lake is further south in the Ossola Valley. It is a pristine lake close to the famous Lago Maggiore, but not so packed with tourists. The little village of Mergozzo is really picturesque. We enjoyed the sunset over the lake before we went to look for some food. No vegan options , of course. So a veggie pizza was the only possibility. We finally found a restaurant that was not fully booked. Weh ad to sit outside though which was nice but a bit chilly after a while.
Spontanous trips are sometimes the best. Still we had no idea what to do and where to go the following day. But the first day of the little weekend "run away" was already worth it! More about it in our next blog.