Mont Avic, less known than Gran Paradiso
In the Aosta valley in the northwest of Italy you can go hiking. Most people do this in the Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso. A wonderful area, but busy in the high season. Especially at weekends many Italians visit that region and go out. Much less known is the equally beautiful Parco Naturale Mont Avic, slightly more to the northeast. The area is ideally suited for a hut trip of a few days on a not-too-difficult path. We did a 5-day hike here and enjoyed the beautiful nature and wonderful silence of the area. We often met the first other travellers at the accommodation.
Start in Champorcher
Our starting point for the hut tour was in the small town of Champorcher. Here we stayed in the beautiful Bed & Breakfast La Maison de Grand Mamam. The owner has beautifully renovated and decorated this house from his grandparents. All the woodcarving in the house is by his hand. The rooms are comfortable and look great and the breakfast, served in the old cowshed, is overwhelming with many very tasty local products. The owner knows the area like the back of his hand and took us walking through the beautiful nature to the starting point of the hut tour. Meanwhile he told us a lot about all the plants that grow in the area. You can also book him as a guide for various hikes through the area.
Rifugio Dondena in Mont Avic
The first day, we walked from Champorcher to Rifugio Dondena. In total this means about 650 altimeters, which are mainly in the first part of the hike. Here, you walk through a forest area to eventually reach a mountainous and open terrain. You walk over hilly terrain, but it isn’t very complicated anywhere. The route indications are good but it is certainly useful to have a detailed map with you. Rifugio Dondena is a large mountain hut with a total of 80 beds, divided into private rooms and dormitories. We had a private room, which is neat but soberly furnished. In the evening, a nutritious meal is cooked, simple but tasty. The next morning there is a good breakfast that gives you energy for the next hike. You can also get a packed lunch if you have chosen “full board”.
The second day, we went on a hike from this mountain hut to the various lakes in the area. Our first goal was Lago Miserin. On a slightly ascending path, which was never really difficult, we climbed to an altitude of about 2600 metres. At the lake, there is a small, photogenic chapel. A little further on there is also a Rifugio. That is a lovely lunch spot where you get a fantastic view over the mountains and lake as well. After that we walked a little further to two other lakes, Lago Nero and Lago Bianco. Because we slept that night in our first mountain hut again, we took the same path back to our Rifugio Dondena. Of course, you can also choose to spend the night in Rifugio Miserin near the lake of the same name.
From one Refugio to another
The third day, a trip from Dondena toz Rifugio Barbustel was on the agenda. This was a long trip that occasionally ascended and then descended again. It contained a few steep climbs, where we also had to walk through the snow. It was not dangerous at any part. What was annoying was that the directions in the first part were not clearly visible. We doubted for a long time whether we were walking the right way, but with the help of our map we were able to follow the right path in the end. What’s more, we hardly saw any people at all that day. Once in a while we saw a group walking in the valley far off in the distance. On the way we once met a trail runner, who ran up the mountain at a good speed, what an athlete! What’s more, during this hike, you can see a few beautiful mountain lakes, where Gran Lago, as the name suggests, is the largest.
The finish was Rifugio Barbustel that day. A cosy mountain hut that is not too big. We were here with a French couple, the only guests, and were delightfully pampered by the friendly owner. When he found out that it was our wedding anniversary that day we were surprised with a delicious dessert, specially made for us. The rooms here are simple. All four-bed rooms with two bunk beds. Because it was lovely and quiet, we had a room to ourselves. The showers are shared and you have to pay a small amount.
Back to Champorcher
The fourth day, we were woken early by a helicopter right above us. As it turned out, the Rifugio was getting provisions. Under the helicopter was a huge bag full of food. The helicopter came back twice to deliver a new load and take back the waste and all the crates. Because the mountain hut is so remote, the owner regularly has to get provisions in by air. That day, we mainly explored the immediate surroundings. The mountain hut is beautifully situated and offers a great view of Mont Avic and surrounding mountain peaks. It is also wonderful to sit with your feet in the water at the various rivers that flow past to cool off.
Our last day was dedicated to the descent from Rifugio Barbustel to our Bed & Breakfast in Champorcher. On the first part of the trip we walked through open area, with a view of some other beautiful mountain lakes. Gradually, you get more into the woods and the long descent to Champorcher begins. The path is easy to walk, but descending is hard on the knees. Support via walking sticks can reduce the pressure on your knees. In total, you descend some 600 metres and gradually come back into the inhabited world. You also see other people walking. Back in our cosy Bed & Breakfast it was time for a delicious glass of wine in the garden. We had experienced a beautiful five-day hike in an amazing, completely untouched environment.
Use of a good map of the area
A good map is indispensable on the trip. We had a map with a scale of 1:25000 with us, entitled “Valle di Champorcher Parco Mont Avic”. This was detailed enough. The map is for sale in the area but also in the Netherlands at specialised travel bookstores. We also used the ANWB Walking Guide Aostadal, written by F.R. Scheck. This handy booklet describes several one- and multi-day hikes in the Aosta Valley, including our hut tour in Mont Avic. Unfortunately, this book does not seem to be published anymore.