For Christmas Eve, which is also Mitch’s birthday, we asked our host Luca to book a table at a special restaurant, La Tana Del Grillo. He’d told us about a place high up in the mountains, one you can’t drive to. It’s in Chiareggio, a town that’s cut off from the world by snow in winter. To get there we’d need to drive as far as we could, park, then wait for a snowmobile to pick us up and bring us the rest of the way. A perfect Christmas Eve activity.
We began the morning with a big breakfast, coffee, fresh cake and by giving Mitch his birthday presents – including an iron skillet. We were up and out by 11am, taking two cars up the mountain, beneath clear blue skies.
We drove out across the river, away from our sleepy town, going north and up, to Chiesa, then beyond to Valrosera, Vallascia and San Giuseppe. The occasional tight hairpin and steep gradient, the mountain road wound around and around, and up and up. Snow began to appear on the roadside, then on the trees, and then there were piles and piles. Our route brought us through “Serpentinoscisto”, a sequence of 18 hairpins and steep slopes, and up into a winter wonderland.
Luca’s instructions were to keep driving until we reached a stop sign, and it’d be obvious we can go no further. And he was right. The road ended with a car park, and beyond the sign the road was feet deep in snow.
When bringing Conway to the mountains for Christmas we’d envisaged playing in the snow – snowmen, toboggans, snow balls, snow angels, smiles and laughter. Conway had other ideas – he’d never seen snow before and he didn’t want any part of it. He refused to put his coat on, “I’m not cold” he said, and he wouldn’t let his feet touch the snow, let alone play. We wrestled him into his thick coat and hat. Daddy had to carry him.
It wasn’t long before our snowmobile arrived to pick us up. Like a blue jet ski for snow, towing two trailers with seats, we all clambered on. Conway sat between mummy and daddy, a look of uncertainty on his face. Mitch sat up front, on the back of the snowmobile itself.
A jolt, and we’re off. Somewhere between sliding and bumping, we bounced through the snowy wilderness, through pine forests and around the bottom of mountains, “bumpy”, Conway said. Chalets were boarded up and empty for winter, great mounds of snow clung to their rooftops. Small towns sat dormant. After half an hour we reached a place where the lights were on, and smoke billowed from chimneys.
La Tana Del Grillo is a traditional Italian restaurant, in a traditional alpine chalet. Pine wood lines the walls, a stag head watches over. We sat along a long table, and Conway was all smiles and laughter now we’re inside, in the warm, away from that funny white stuff. Through the windows we can see the snowy mountains, and then it begins to snow, and our idyllic Christmas Eve is complete.
We ordered pasta and meat dishes each, I went for the Roe deer steak, “who ordered bambi?” the waitress asked.
During lunch Conway began to look sleepy, and he soon nodded off in my arms while I tried to eat my steak around him. We transferred him to mummy to nap some more, and the rest of us ran out into the snow to enjoy it. I wandered up and down the path, looking for views down into the snowy valley where a river runs, while Mitch, Amanda and Nana fought with snowballs and fell about in the deep but soft snow. One wrong foot and you found yourself up to your knees in the snow.
We headed back down the hill on a different snowmobile, the return route faster and bumpier. When Conway woke he was sleepy and grumpy, and was in no mood for photos in the snow. At the bottom we took family pictures in the dying light of the afternoon, then headed back down the mountain, around the hairpins once more, just before dark.
Most of the evening was spent prepping for Christmas dinner – Samantha and Amanda made their list of dishes, with times that everything must come in or come out of the oven. Nana introduced Mitch to her Christmas ritual of watching Santa Claus: The Movie, the one with Dudley Moore.