The Italian Alps: Scenes from Chestnut Forests and Stone Villages

Stone village, chestnut door, Italian Alps

“Schilpario was one of the last villages to the north, which lay in the shadow of the Pizzo Camino, one of the highest peaks in the Alps, where the snow did not melt, even in summer. So high in the cliffs, the people looked down on the clouds, which moved through the valley below like rosettes of meringue … The mountain people were sustained through long winters by the contents of their root cellars filled with bins of plentiful chestnuts, which carpeted the mountain paths like glassy brown stones.” – The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani, an excellent novel, page 14

 

the Italian Alps
the Italian Alps

Italy is a country of many beautiful, varied terrains. To the far north, the Alps cross and form the border with Switzerland and Austria. Only one hours’ drive north of Milan, the Italian landscape changes from flat to mountainous. Milan sits like a jewel pressed flat onto the expansive plateau wedged between the sapphire Mediterranean Sea to the south and the crown of mountains, the Alps, to the north.

The terrain changes drastically in that drive north, from flat to rising and skirting Lake Como and Lugano to the jagged, steep mountains of the Alps. It was there, twenty-five kilometers north of Lake Como, in the mountains overlooking Valchiavenna, where my family and I spent a week in a rustic stone chalet for a vacation.

When we arrived, we knew we wanted to ski (which we did, link to the post here, over the pass into Switzerland), but we didn’t anticipate how much we would love the area surrounding the tiny village where we stayed.

the Chestnut Forest, Prato Camportaccio, Italy
the Chestnut Forest, Prata Camportaccio, Italy

One morning, we hiked up the steep slope above the chalet, and found ourselves thick in chestnut forest. The ground was covered in the spiny, round fruits which had fallen from the trees.

Palm Tree in the Italian Alps
Palm Tree in the Italian Alps

Amazingly, palm trees also grow in Prata Camportaccio and the mountain above, as well as olive trees. One man explained it was because of the thermal springs and heat which rises up through the ground in the area. It was surreal to see palm trees thriving in two feet of snow.

Centuries' Old Stone Villages, Italian Alps
Centuries’ Old Stone Villages, Italian Alps
An abandoned stone building high up in the Chestnut Forest, Italian Alps
An abandoned stone building high up in the Chestnut Forest, Italian Alps
Prata Camportaccio, Italy
Photos from a Foresting Booklet at the site picturing families living in the stone village, Prata Camportaccio, Italy

The cluster of what seemed to be abandoned stone buildings sat in a tight formation near the thermal springs higher up on the mountain.

An abandoned stone building high up in the Chestnut Forest, Italian Alps
A stone building high up in the Chestnut Forest, Italian Alps

 

An abandoned stone building high up in the Chestnut Forest, Italian Alps
A stone building high up in the Chestnut Forest, Italian Alps

 

An abandoned stone building high up in the Chestnut Forest, Italian Alps
An abandoned stone building high up in the Chestnut Forest, Italian Alps

A sign describes the process of drying chestnuts and preserving them.

Sign describing the process of drying chestnuts, Italian Alps
Sign describing the process of drying chestnuts, Italian Alps
Moss, Abandoned stone building, Italian Alps
Moss, Abandoned stone building, Italian Alps
Stone and Chestnut
Stone and Chestnut
A Fresco, on an exterior of a stone village building high in the Italian Alps
A Fresco, on an exterior of a stone village building high in the Italian Alps, Year 1828
Stone village, chestnut door, Italian Alps
Stone village, chestnut door, Italian Alps

The area in the Italian Alps is a place like no other. The people are friendly and helpful and welcoming, the food incredible, and the views beyond compare. Most impressive, to me, is how civilization has thrived among the clouds in the high Alps for centuries. The Italian Alps are a must-visit region of the world. The only problem is that once you have spent time there, it is almost impossible to want to leave.

 

the Italian Alps, the peaks above Prato Camportaccio, Lombardy, Italy bordering Engadin, Switzerland
the Italian Alps, the peaks above Prata Camportaccio, Lombardy, Italy bordering Engadin, Switzerland

Published by Jennifer Lyn Art

About Jennifer Writer Author Photographer Artist Corporate Marketer Happy Wife & Mom World Traveler Grateful.

7 thoughts on “The Italian Alps: Scenes from Chestnut Forests and Stone Villages

  1. Jennifer,
    I followed the link to your post on cross country skiing and then jumped to your post on the most beautiful drive–Switzerland. You are so smart to have taken so many photos on your journeys. I did not do as well when I lived in (and traveled) Europe. I re-live my travels through your photos. Some of them strike something deep within me and I am instantly transported back in time to many happy times and memories. Thank you ! I do have one question for you–Don’t you miss it? Does your soul not ache to be back there at times, or are you so recently returned that it hasn’t come to that yet?

    1. I’m often asked that question, Don’t I miss it? Yes, I definitely do miss Europe and traveling often through countries which have so much historic significance as well as aesthetic beauty. I’m also glad I took so many photos, because when I do begin to feel the nostalgia, I can go through and return there. I have thousands of photos to go through, still! 🙂 But the other honest side of the question is that daily life where we were and under those circumstances was very difficult. So though I do miss the friends there (who’ve also since moved) and the incredible travels, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for having lived it and now for being back home. It was a wonderful experience and I’m so glad to get to share it with you here! Thank you, Kim!

      1. I’m curious about the difficulties of your daily life and circumstances. Perhaps you could address that in a future post or send another “reply.” However, if you are too busy for either, I understand and am content to just wonder.

      2. I understand, Kim — certainly there is a mystique about the expat experience. Some are very cushy; I can safely say ours wasn’t one of those. But we all loved it and are deeply grateful for it all just the same. I did write a bit about it here. The rest will come later…

      3. Thank you, Jennifer. I lived in Germany for 3 years and had a wonderful time. That’s why I was curious about your experience. At least you survived and now have some colorful stories to tell. I hope they’re written down for posterity.

  2. Though I’ve been to Italy many times, I’ve never been to the Italian Alps. Thank you for taking me there through your incredible photos!

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