Getting out of Dodge (Italy) in haste back in March, it seemed a good plan for our Ski Editor, Jonathan 'Bing' Bingham and his wife yoga teacher Tracy, to return, post covid lockdown, and collect all their winter ski gear before heading back to the UK. But make a plan, make God laugh...
To understand how we got in our current situation, I really need to explain a little about what happened back in March. We had rented an apartment for the season as we have done the last few years (you may have read Bing's Weekend Warrior and Skyway to Heaven) in the beautiful village of Entreves, Courmayeur.
We left the UK on Friday 6th March for a week's spring ski touring and at the time, the travel advice for the region we were going to was good for travel and there were no concerns. How quickly that changed! Saturday we went to a party on the piste, Sunday a ski tour over the border in Chamonix and Monday the entire country of Italy locked down.
Worried that they may close the borders too, we decided to pack up the apartment, taking only our ski touring kit and hand luggage and book a hotel in France for the remainder of the trip. Italy was in complete lock down, everything closed not a person to be seen on the street, everyone in their homes, it was like a ghost town. We thought there would be extra checks at the border, however we drove straight through the Mont Blanc tunnel without even a passport check.
France was like another world everything as normal, no mention of Coronavirus anywhere. We skied the whole week, with tours including the Glacier des Periades, Glacier D'Argentiere, Col D'Argentiere, Vallee blanche and Vallee Noire. A wonderful week skiing with fabulous conditions and the perfect mix of powder, cold temperatures and sunshine on the last day in the Vallee Noire, we really were spoilt.
As the week went on, we noticed the odd Coronavirus poster appearing and hand sanitiser here and there. On the Saturday, they had reduced the number of people on each ski lift slightly. That evening we were enjoying a friend's stag do in the Kitsch Inn in Les Houches when it was announced that France too had to lock down and that all bars, restaurants and ski resorts were to close from midnight. With the landlord following that message with a half price drinks offer, it lead to a somewhat messy evening!
It was interesting to see the lockdown was not taken so seriously in France as it had been in Italy. Entrepreneurial restaurants, immediately started offering take away, our hotel remained open, although we did have to eat in secret in a back room at the hotel with the tables suitably distanced! The ski lifts were closed, but many people were ski touring.
So then on the Monday, the French president, Emmanuel Macron ,ensured everyone understood how serious the situation was by imposing stricter lock down rules.Borders were to be closed from 12 noon on the Tuesday and effectively house arrest in place. You had to be in your own residence and if you did not have a residence in France, you needed to travel home. If you left your home you needed an official paper with the reason why.
We abandoned our ski kit with friends
This created a mass exodus of seasonal workers, coupled with the holiday makers who had come to France for their ski holiday on the Saturday with the advice that France was open, only to get here and it be announced that now they were closed.
We abandoned our ski kit with friends, then it took us four hours to get over the border into Switzerland for our flight home from Geneva. This time with many checks at border control, we had to prove we had a flight home and as the flight wasn't the same day, had to prove we had somewhere to stay too. The airport was bedlam, families strewn across pavements outside having missed flights and police on the airport entrances, only allowing you in if you could show a boarding pass. Masks everywhere, no restaurants open, only supermarkets and tape on the floor to ensure two metres distance was adhered to. The Swiss were taking things seriously. From here we got our flight home, to our friends and family in the UK and again life continuing as normal.
A cabin must be taken even for a day crossing
As you will know the UK joined the lockdown party a couple of weeks after the rest of Europe and we were left wondering when we would be able to retrieve our belongings from both France and Italy. Keeping in contact with friends in Chamonix and Italy to discuss the various situations and monitoring the travel advice available in the UK, we decided to make the trip on 5th July. We were very lucky to have an understanding landlord in Italy who was very flexible about us moving out of the apartment and as soon as we had booked the ferry, it was announced the 14 day quarantine would be lifted from 10th July, so it seemed like perfect timing.
Well time for another adventure at least! The ferry was much quieter than usual, boarding time was longer to allow for social distancing, face masks had to be worn in all public areas and a cabin must be taken even for a day crossing. Access to the restaurant was restricted to certain times, depending on your cabin number and the same protocol for returning to your car.
It is glorious to see the pistes in full bloom
Driving through France was busy due to the start of the French school holidays, life seemed to be back to normal though, albeit with the addition of face masks. We drove straight through the Mont Blanc tunnel and received a six month extension on our pass.
Unsurprisingly everything was as we left it at the apartment and we have now retrieved our belongings from our friends in Chamonix too. Deciding we probably wouldn't be able to travel for the rest of the summer we have obviously made the most of this trip, planning to stay for the week and do some hiking and rock climbing, enjoying all the mountains have to offer in the summer. It is glorious to see the pistes in full bloom with so many butterflies and bumble bees it's like walking through a Disney movie.
Via Ferrata's have been explored and mountains climbed.
Easy to socially distance, we only saw one other person on our seven hour 15 minute climb to the summit of Mont Chetif! Of course face masks are now a common feature to enter any establishment and the cool Italians have them nonchalantly hanging from one ear, or from their car rear view mirror. I can honestly say though that everyone we have met, has been really pleased that tourism is starting to return, despite the changes they have had to make in running their businesses, they are cheerful and welcoming. Italy is definitely open for business.
And then, on a trip out to lunch yesterday our van broke down, the power steering belt sheared and we didn't want to attempt hairpin bends without, so we had a lovely couple of hours with a view of Mont Blanc waiting to be rescued, followed by a trip down the mountain in a flatbed truck singing Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This, while the tow truck man babbled along in Italian, showing us videos of him towing a 23m lorry.
The question now is we have our belongings, but the van is in Aosta so when will we make it home? Your guess is as good as mine! #thejourneycontinues
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