We have seen people arrive on campsites with all manner of vehicles; on motorbikes with tiny tents and with caravans pulled by vintage tractors. Today, I saw my favourite ever – two men rocked up with all of their kit packed in panniers aboard two donkeys!
We had come to Monte Rosa once again, with the sole intention of renting an apartment for the winter ski season. The Residence at which we had stayed previously had changed hands – and doubled its prices!
An Introduction to Estate Agency Italian Style!
There are two Estate Agents in Gressoney. Both were closed for lunch but claimed to open at 3pm. We duly returned at the suggested time to find that both were still firmly shut! We to’d and fro’d between them until one of them opened, but were told that they don’t really start to do seasonal rentals until September. One Agent had a couple of apartments on their books but informed us that last year’s tenants had until the end of August to decide whether or not they wanted the apartment again for the following season.
Property rental is in Italy is very different from the 24-hour, sign-on-the-dotted-line, cut-throat competition that characterises Estate Agency in the UK!
However, our eyes had been opened. We had believed that last year’s apartment was a bargain. We had to ask the Agent to repeat the price. It seemed that the rental cost for a larger apartment in an equally good location by the ski lifts would be the same price plus bills for six months, rather than three!!!!!
Mark enjoyed my logic of having a beer to celebrate; we had determined not to drink until Friday since our booze budget had TRIPLED since we retired… Having been given this wonderful opportunity to travel, we are both keen not to ruin our health due to cutting the ties with enforced booze-free school nights. Spending months in countries where a delicious bottle of wine costs only a couple of Euros really doesn’t help either!
We drove up to Staffal to see if we could work out which properties were for rent. Kai had seemed off colour, however, he perked up when he realised that he wasn’t going on a drag around town on his lead! We walked up to Footpath no 7, past our home for last season. The pups remembered it and ran up the steps to the door!
We had a beautiful walk up the valley with a chastening look at the debris left by the huge avalanche that had happened over the winter. It was in the exact location of the commemorative plaque for Mimma and Guido, who had lost their lives there in a previous avalanche. It was difficult to capture the scale on camera but there were literally hundreds of fully-grown tree trunks strewn like matchsticks over a wide area. ABS float bag or not – you really DO NOT want to get caught in an avalanche. Ever.
We saw some serious weather rolling in, so we returned to the caravan and battened down the hatches. A stiff wind blew up the valley as a prelude to torrential rain and thunderstorms. We had four scared puppies to cuddle and felt sorry for the people in their tiny tents, all of whom were confined to their beds from 8pm.
We drank with relish our two-bottle allowance of Birra Moretti!
Once the weather cleared the following day, we walked up the Lys path from Trinité to the tiny village of Batt, just below Selbsteg. It was so picturesque. We had never walked there before, since in winter, that part of the Lys path is very avalanche-prone.
We had arranged to be back at the Estate Agent’s at a very Italian “around 3” to view an apartment in Staffal and two others just down the valley in Selbsteg. The apartments in Selbsteg were lovely, opening on to sunny terraces, but the avalanche risk would mean that there was nowhere nearby that would be safe to walk the dogs in winter. The costs were also pretty prohibitive; about €500 just for cleaning the communal areas and €60 for internet – plus bills on top of the rent!
We loved the apartment in Staffal, which nestled under the slopes of Telcio and had some land to the side. If we could park the caravan there for the winter, it would save on storage and a return ferry trip, so we asked the question. The apartment cost half of what we paid last year and was twice the size!
In previous years, we had rented a holiday apartment for the season. By organising a private rental through an Estate Agent, we discovered some way down the line that we needed to get ourselves a Codice Fiscale – an Italian Fiscal Number, in order to enter into a rental contract. No-one had mentioned that! The Codice Fiscale is a tax code, which would allow us to pay our council tax equivalent, however the Estate Agent had no idea how we went about getting one.
We researched it on the internet and found horror stories about the fabled Italian bureaucracy. One chap claimed that he had been to the Tax Office only to be sent packing and told not to return until he had several photocopies of his passport. Helping out a foreigner by taking a photocopy of his passport was clearly not in the job description of an Italian Tax Official.
Fortunately, in our caravan, we travel not only with the kitchen sink, but a printer / copier, so duplication of documentation presented us with no problem!
We parked at Tschemenoal and decided to make our way up to the traditional Walser village of Alpenzu once again, as we did last Autumn. However this time, we had designs on some rewards for our toil. It was a lovely ascent in the cool shade of the tall, historic trees. I saw tiny wild strawberries growing at the sides of the path but left them for the birds to eat. Delicious though they are, at this time of year, we humans had an open Rifugio to cater for our refreshment needs!
Butterflies and moths flitted among the flowers in front of stunning views over the green hills. After a café latte (€5 for two coffees and a bottle of water – not bad at 2700m!) we walked along the hillside to a couple of stadels, the traditional wood and stone Walser houses. Looking across, we could see the dam at Gabiet, the start of an off piste ski route that we have longed to do. A gentle symphony of distant cow bells accompanied our steps.
Yesterday, at Batt, we had learned a little about Walser architecture. The buildings were designed so that cows and other livestock would inhabit the lower floor to provide central heating to the living area above. The covered terraces around the houses were a design feature which came about due to a ‘mini ice age’ in the 1500s. The cooling of the climate made it difficult to dry hay sufficiently in the short summers, so wood and hay were dried and stored under the cover of the terraces.
Mark and I’s agreement that we would like to live in a Stadel must have been enough to encourage Lani to delver an authentic Walser experience to us back at the caravan. She rolled in a cow pat and despite rinsing her off in a stream, she doggedly clung to an odour that was very much of the barn!
Our Brush with Italian Bureaucracy
We drove down the mountain to the Tax Office in Chatillon to get our Fiscal Code. Our document wallet was bulging with copies of our passports in triplicate. We were expecting to be told “It is impossible!” or “Not on a Tuesday” or “You need to go to the main office in Aosta”.
Mark braved The Offices of Officialdom alone; we didn’t think that four dogs would add anything positive to our case in the disinfectant-scented Corridors of Power. Ten minutes later, Mark popped out briefly with a form for me to sign, before returning ‘subito’ (immediately) with two certificates for two fiscal codes. It was as easy as that!
We celebrated with a doppio café and a muffin!
Join us next time for tea and cake in Verona!
We are very proud to announce the publication of our first book, based on the travels that I describe here in my blog. ‘Year 1 – Fur Babies in France – From Wage Slaves to Living the Dream’ by Jacqueline Lambert is the first book in the ‘Adventure Caravanning with Dogs’ series. It is available worldwide from Amazon as both an eBook and as a paperback and would make a great present for anyone interested in dogs, travel or giving up work to Live the Dream!
Both books are available on Amazon platforms worldwide. The paperback version can be purchased on Amazon.co.uk by clicking here
The eBook is available to download by clicking here
Book 2, ‘Dog on the Rhine’ about our tour of Germany, The Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and Italy will be released on 1st March 2019. The eBook is currently available on Amazon for pre-order; the paperback will be available to purchase from 1st March.
If you would like to read my author profile on Amazon, please click here. If you follow me on my Amazon Author page, you will be kept updated on all of my forthcoming publications.