We had enjoyed a fun filled morning on the zip line, flying across a 340m deep valley at super fast speeds. For the remainder of the day we had planned a hike to the summit of Mount Spalavera, and the start was a short drive away from the zip line station. Luckily the zipline office had hiking maps so we could easily plan the route. We parked our car at Colle, the starting point for many hikes in the area of Verbania. Mount Spalavera is one of the higher summits that can be reached in a day, with the top reaching a height of 1534m. There was an information map and plenty of signs to the different walks adjacent to a hut, which I imagine serves as an information point to hikers and cyclists during the warmer season.
Start of Our Hike
There were a few other cars parked besides ours and we had just seen a man leave on the route up to mount Spalavera before us. We were glad to have brought our hiking boots as the track was still covered in ten centimetre deep snow. Jerome was thrilled to be going on a proper walk in the snow, he had never been on a proper hike up a mountain with snow before, nor had Chris and I in a very long time. The snow was crunchy underfoot, in parts already wet and slushy and we could see in a few spots where the sun had already melted the white cover away. The first part led us along the trail through a birch forest, the green leaves already out, they had been surprised by the snow as much as the rest of us. The bright green of the leaves looked stunning against the white of the snow though and it was a truly unusual sight.
Stomping through the snow was much harder than we had anticipated, especially when walking uphill as well. We found it easier to walk in the footsteps from earlier walkers and followed their lead. Jerome was busy rolling snowballs and then letting them run down the hill, until they hit one of the birch trees and exploded into a puff of snow. Despite the snow on the ground, with the sun beating down on us we got hot hiking up the mountain. We had to take our jackets off and were able to walk in just our tops without being too cold. Bringing our sunglasses along proved to be useful, without them we had to squint our eyes from the brightness of the sun and the snow reflection.
Remains of World War II
The hiking trail was snaking itself up the side of the mountain and clearly visible, even from further down, we could see the other lone hiker further on above us. The track is part of military road, which was part of a strategic defensive system built during World War One to prevent the possible invasion from Austro-German troops. It is part of the Italian-Swiss border known as the Cadorna Line, a unique example of wartime architecture, which today is used for civilian purposes only, like hiking and cycling. We had soon left the forest of birch trees behind and were able to see the valley, which Jerome and I had crossed on the zip line that morning. The higher we got the better the views were. We even started to get a glimpse of Lago Maggiore, stretching its many arms between the hills below. Just before we reached the top we could see a path going off to the left, into a forest of beech trees and some footsteps of a human person with his dog. This route had not been marked on our map but we kept it in mind as an alternative route down.
The Top of Mount Spalavera
From there on the wide track stopped and a narrow path led us along the ridge towards the mountain top. We noticed remains of trenches from WW One. We had to be careful of our steps now as the snow had accumulated in some parts and it was difficult to work out how deep the snow might be. This slowed us down but also made the last stretch of the hike more interesting for Jerome. He enjoyed jumping across the trenches and did not really care if he got stuck knee deep in the soft snow. Ahead we could see the summit cross and we were definitely up for a break when we finally reached it. Someone had put colourful bunting onto the cross and it had a sign showing the height of mount Spalavera. The vistas from the summit were incredible. 360º, with snow covered mountains, green hills and the lake visible below. The sky was very clear and we could see for a long distance. There also was a plate displaying the surrounding mountains and villages. We then sat down at the bottom of the cross and had a simple lunch of bread, cheese and tomatoes.
Change of Our Route
We had originally planned to hike a circular route from the summit point of Mount Spalavera. However due to the large amounts of snow we could not see the path, despite the signs pointing into the directions of where it should have been. We then made the group decision to head back the way we came along the ridge and follow the path we had seen on our climb up the mountain where the man and dog tracks were and a sign pointed to the same col as the other path. From there we would make a circular route back to our car.
When we reached the point where the footsteps went into the forest we started to follow them. There were also red and white stripes on the trees, which made it easier to find our route along the track. The snow was still thick between the trees and covered in the beeches’ brown pollen. Walking downhill was much faster but we kept sliding down the slippery leaves underneath the snow, every now and then. The path was winding through the forest and we had no sense of directions anymore, but it was an amazing descent with the snow, green leaves and glimpses of the mountains through the trees.
On the Road Back to Colle
After about half an hour we arrived at a fountain and a crossroad, and back on our original route. There were the red and white signposts again, telling us to turn left along a dirt track back to Colle. We passed some teenagers on their motocross bikes, they obviously had fun riding through the snow and the icy patches on the road. Once we had left them behind us we were one again alone, with just the snow and the peaceful forest surrounding us. Jerome noticed some long icicles that had formed along the wall next to the road, the dew water dripping off their pointy ends. Jerome broke one off and tested its tip for sharpness and then carried it along, melting in his warm hands until it was almost gone.
End of Our Hike
The forest ended and we passed the starting point of the zip line, walking back the bit of road that we had driven along in the back of the van to our flying experience earlier in the day. We passed some lonely houses on the way, most of them looked shut up until the summer season. In a few places we saw melt water running down the side of the mountain, some almost turning into mini waterfalls. The road had turned into slushy mud and we made a game of trying to avoid the puddles. We finally reached the end of the dirt track and our car.
Tips and Information About the Hike up Mount Spalavera
The hike is probably not very strenuous under normal circumstances and can easily be walked with a child that enjoys a longer hike. It is estimated to take around 2.5 hours, I would add another hour if you are hiking with smaller children. There are no major obstacles and the walls and trenches from the World War I give the hike an unusual feature, which most likely will appeal to children of all ages. The route is very well signposted and the paths are clearly visible during snow free conditions, you might even encounter some cyclists on the way. I recommend to wear proper hiking footwear and to carry a map of the local hiking routes. Take plenty of water and food with you, there are no opportunities to buy anything to eat or drink on the way. It is also advisable to wear a hat and use sun protection cream as there is no shade once you have left the forest. The views from the top are spectacular and I would recommend walking the walk on a clear sunny day for full enjoyment of the vistas. Do not set out on this walk if there is the chance of bad weather especially thunderstorms, this can be a threat to your life, there are no shelters or huts on the mountain.
Our dinner that evening was in the main square in Intra, at a wonderful little delicatessen, La Casera, that has a restaurant on the side. It has the most wonderful selection of wine, cheese and local anti-pasti, with great service and a friendly atmosphere. It gets busy so booking would be a god idea. To settle our dinner we took a stroll along the lakeside and watched the car ferries coming in and out with a Gelato for dessert which Jerome said was just reward for climbing a big mountain.