Day 5 - One To Forget?

That headline is a shade harsh, and it refers only to the weather, which is wet and windy for much of the day. Graham and Lesley make their customary early exit to walk along Val Ferret, but everyone else catches the 8.30am bus to the road head at Arnuva, thus avoiding a good eight kilometres of walking on tarmac while gaining 400m in elevation.

Our objective is to cross Col Grand Ferret (2537m) into Switzerland and descend to our overnight stop at La Fouly. Adrian and Jo lead the way along a narrow path through rain-soaked banks of flowers, across steep snow patches and over rushing streams, earning themselves a coffee at Rifugio Elena. We four don waterproofs and pass by, zigzagging up through the mist and driving rain. The wind chills us, and we agree to stick together and get over the top out of the weather. It is a climb without views or pleasure, our only reward the grim satisfaction of a job done.

Farewell, Italy! A wet retrospective down the Italian Val Ferret from Rifugio Elena

Descending into a new land and a different, bleaker landscape, we meet several parties on their way up, many of them English-speaking. They’ll have the wind in their teeth as they near the Col, whereas we are happily lengthening our stride as far as Chalet la Peule. We buy coffee and hot chocolate, and then we squeeze into the small marquee and find seats at a trestle table, along with three dozen booted bon viveurs, all tucking into their lunch. Whilst our grub looks primitive alongside theirs, it will see us through the day, and shortly after resuming our descent the rain stops and the sun gives a feeble wave before collapsing back under its grey blanket.

Switzerland’s houses come straight out of ‘Heidi’, the book my sister read when young. Impeccably maintained wooden chalets with flowery window boxes sit beside the road, from where pastures for cattle and sheep slope steeply up to forests and rocky mountainsides. The way to La Fouly is easy, and we are the first of our party to arrive. We decide to eat later at a local restaurant and content ourselves in our hotel bar until the appointed time to brave the elements, which have now resumed their water-cannon attack.

Before we arrived at East Midlands Airport, Alec mentioned that Bill and Martin were picky eaters: in Nepal they regularly declined the food on offer, despite the need to fuel their systems for each daily hike. So far on this trip I haven’t noticed this facet of their behaviour, apart from the pig-cheek evening, when they were not alone in turning up their noses.

Tonight we sit down with menus and try to understand what is on offer. Alec decides on braised rabbit, whilst the rest of us favour beef with tartare sauce.

So far so good. But will the beef be cooked?

‘I do not want any of that raw steak tartare stuff,’ Martin insists.
We establish the meat won’t be raw.
‘I don’t want blood all over my plate,’ he states, and Bill agrees.
The waiter explains that he won’t have blood all over his plate.
‘I want it brown. Not red.’

The waiter says it is not possible, but the meat will be cooked, so we go for the beef, and another bottle of that final local red wine, please.

The main course arrives: a plate of thinly sliced beef and a huge helping of McDonald-style chips, a side order of tartare sauce, and a salad. It looks wonderful, but the beef is rare. Oh dear! Alec and I persuade the others to eat their dinner, which they do to a point. Bill enjoys the chips but not the meat, and he leaves the salad because there is dressing on it. Martin does little better. Despite all this, the waitress gets a hug and a kiss as we leave.

We amble back to the hotel and sit in the bar. A couple of drinks later I hit the sack.

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