One of the fixed points on this trip was being part of Garth’s crew for the Ultra Trail Monte Rosa, a race across three days and at least five mountains, from Breuil-Cervinia in Italy to Grachen, Switzerland. It’s country we weren’t planning on exploring, but being a part of the race support team gave us a chance to see some amazing places and sights. Here’s the breakdown.
This is a ski town, pure and simple. And in summer, where there’s still glacial snow on the peaks but everything else is a grassy, sculpted landscape punctuated by rocky outcrops, it’s clear that it really caters for adventure sports when the snow’s disappeared. We got here a day before the race kicked off, and spent some time exploring on foot. We found animals (marmots!), abandoned huts, stunning views and dolce cafes with more sweets than you can jump over! We had a few fun moments (such as our waiter bringing four full meat platters instead of one meat platter for four!) and prepared for the next few days of exploring, driving and adventure!
Race day one – Cervinia to Gressoney La Trinitee
The race kicked off early, and the enthusiastic participants were soon off on their first day, which was about 27km and over one mountain. We watched them start, then went back to bed for a while, then packed up the car and drove from Cervinia down the mountain roads to the freeway, looping around to a little town called Gressoney La Trinitee. Those Italian mountain roads can be pretty thrifty with space, and a few times we had to squeeze past enthusiastic local drivers and trucks, but we made it in the end! We had lunch watching the racers come in, then once Garth and his running mate Neil had made the finish line, we explored a bit before dinner. The country around Gressoney is beautifully mountainous and very clearly ready for ski season.
Race day two – Gressoney to Macugnaga
Day two was a more serious run for the runners, and a much longer drive for us. Scything down the mountain via narrow, stony roads, we enjoyed some amazing scenery before stopping at a little lakeside pizza place for lunch. Macugnaga was also at the far end of an Italian roller-coaster of a road, so the cautious drive up there gave us plenty of time to chat and enjoy the scenery. We made it to Macugnaga well ahead of Garth and Neil, so had some time for a wander and hike down the trail to cheer on some other racers. It was a beautiful spot, and once the runners were in, we had a big group dinner in the tent to prepare for the final day. Sarah and I went for a walk around the town as sun sank beneath the mountain peaks, then turned into our little hotel room.
Race day three – Macugnaga to Grachen
We had a brisk pace out of Macugnaga the following morning, with the goal of meeting Neil and Garth at one of the race checkpoints before the finish line. We crossed the alps and drifted into Switzerland, a fact which became immediately clear by the quality of roads and mountain tunnels! We stopped at the checkpoint town that resupplies the runners, cheered Garth and Neil back onto the final leg then made our way to Grachen, a mountaintop ski town where the race ended. Our hotel included free use of the cable cars, so we caught those to the local kid fun park at the top of the mountain, which turned out to be a checkpoint for the race! We waited with the belled-cows and saw the boys run by, then took the cable car back to meet them at the finish line – our route was far easier than theirs! We ended the night with drinks and dinner with the whole race crew, capping off a great few days of travel and exploration!