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Imagine a high, wide valley, the altar of an open-air temple surrounded by mountains like the tiers of an amphitheatre, an Alpine setting with lots of snow in winter, flowers and emerald pastures in summer, and not the faintest sign of a car. If you can’t get there with your imagination, it’s only a short trip from Domodossola, not far beyond Crodo, famed for its good mineral water and the “Crodino” aperitif. This piece of heaven is amazingly easy to get to – not through the needle’s eye, just a narrow valley that can be accessed without difficulty. And even the lost souls from the inferno of Milan can find their share of redemption with a two-hour journey on the convenient, relatively traffic-free motorway to Gravellona Toce.

We’re talking about Alpe Devero (1650 mt. a.s.l.), a lovely spot off the fashionable circuit, long frequented by intelligent walkers for whom climbing is a metaphor for the elevation of the spirit and an enrichment of the soul. In short, “Mens sana in corpore sano”. Alpe Devero has all the advantages of a place without cars but which can be reached by car (you can park a stone’s throw from the valley entrance). A quick overview of the activities on offer gives an idea of how enchanting it is. In winter, snowshoe walking, ski mountaineering in fresh snow among the extensive larch woods, Nordic skiing, downhill skiing on high quality runs (the lifts go from 2,300 metres down to 1650), off-piste snowboarding which the experts insist is among the best in the western Alps. In summer, climbing (both regular and free), hiking through meadows full of an immensely varied Alpine flora, with stops at high pastures where the typical cheeses of the valley are made. And throughout the year, if energetic pursuits are not to your taste, as much rest and relaxation as you can take. As in all concerts, there is the occasional off-key note. While the current administration appears to be working splendidly, we still can’t understand why the terrible humps in the road at the end of the two access tunnels have not yet been levelled, threatening damage to visitors’ cars. There’s supposed to be a sign – and in fact, there is, but visible only to those who know it’s there. It’s like putting up a notice telling you there are mines – wouldn’t it be better to remove them? Not all the tourists arriving from the towns down on the plain have a Land Rover. The latest news is that in May 2003 work will be starting on the construction of a covered multi-storey car park near the entrance to the valley, which will be extremely useful and (we have been assured) environmentally friendly. There are just a few interrogatives: where exactly will the road be closed? And what about the people who have to take heavy loads into the valley? Will the shuttle bus service be enough for them? And again: will the covered car park be free or will there be a charge? And most of all: how many years will it take to build?

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