Prior to this journey, Huckleberry B and I had never heard of Breuil-Cervinia.
However, it is fair to say that it is one of the most spectacular places we have ever visited.
Breuil-Cervinia is located in north-west part of Italy, not far from the junction of the Swiss and French borders. At 2000 odd metres above sea-level it is well into the Alps. What they tell you about the thinning of oxygen at altitude is true. Notwithstanding the fitness attained by several months of dragon boat training, we found even climbing a flight of stairs in our hotel arduous, leaving us somewhat out of breath.
Breuil-Cervinia is typical of many postcard-perfect Alpine villages. Nestled amongst majestic snow-capped peaks, the township looks cosy and welcoming. However, what sets Breuil-Cervinia apart is its proximity to the Matterhorn, which rises sharply, yet elegantly in its familiar triangular shape, above the roof-tops of the town.
Around the edges of the village, there is an abundance of activity, mostly snow-related. Indeed, most of the ski runs bring those who dare the slopes, right into the heart of town.
Cable cars seem to head off in all directions, taking skiers and sightseers alike to the peaks. Along one street runs a magic carpet which allows learner skiers to return to the top of their moderate slopes, although even those runs looked daunting to me.
The thing which struck me the most about Breuil-Cervinia, however, other than the majesty of the Matterhorn, was that everything was pure white. Once I became accustomed to the absence of colour – any colour – I came to appreciate the beauty of this winter wonderland.
As far as we could tell from our short stay, Breuil-Cervinia features two local identities.
One is the `dancing happy girl’ at a small café featuring gorgeous hot chocolate which we slurped with a spoon. `Dancing happy girl’ – or `Sophia’ as I will call her – was just as likely to break into a beatnik dance and overpower the song on the radio with her husky, yet melodious singing voice, as she was to serve you. It is fair to say that Sophia was not very attractive in a physical sense. Indeed, if she were ever minded to audition for the role of Ugly Betty, she would be a strong contender. However, her vibrant, joyful and utterly uninhibited spirit endeared her to us. She made us laugh.
The other local identity, was Spaik, a small dog of uncertain pedigree. Spaik had the head of a Jack Russell and the body of a Bassett.
Little Spaik appears to enjoy legendary status in the town. Breuil-Cervinia only has one main street and Spaik owns it. It belongs to him. All day long Spaik can be observed alternating between patrolling his domain or basking in the winter sun. As people wander by, they call out to Spaik and the little pooch looks up and gives them a friendly wag of his stubby tail.
However, he’s a little scallywag, our Spaik! Huck and I happened to witness Spaik attempt to – allow me to put this delicately – `romance’ a pretty little Yorkshire Terrier. Not even little kicks from the Yorky’s owner were sufficient to dissuade him from his endeavours. By the time we left, however, Spaik had not yet achieved his obvious ambition.
On our first full day in Breuil-Cervinia, B and I decided to leave our comfort zone and take some ski lessons…for the first times in our respective lives.
From my observation, I did so with more trepidation than my fearless wife.
In any event, we caught a cable car from the township of Breuil-Cervinia to Plan Maison. Once there we booked a two hour lesson with `Gigi` and hired some skis, ski boots and ski poles.
Prior to this day, I had no idea how hard it was to walk in ski boots. If you can imagine having your ankles bound so that you have no range of ankle movement in any direction and, additionally having magnets fixed to the soles of your feet, you may have some idea how difficult walking becomes.
However, as we found, if walking in ski boots attracts a degree of difficulty rating of 5, actually skiing is rated at 50!
My trepidation – borne of a nasty roller-skating accident as a youngster – was well founded.
During our lesson, the Huckmeister fell down twice whilst in motion.
I, however, managed to tumble over whilst standing still.
One minute, I was upright – the next I was eating snow!
And once down, I found no workable method of getting back up again.
After attempting a number of possible techniques – mostly involving waving my arms in windmill motions coupled with rather inelegant pelvic gyrations – I decided that the obvious thing to do was also the right thing to do. I simply unclipped my ski boots from my skis and, once freed, stood up in the traditional method.
It was a very sobering experience; being deprived temporarily of the ability to stand and traverse even a short distance without much thought and even more physical effort.
At this stage, Gigi suggested that as an hour had passed, we might like to have a rest and take our second hour some other time. Crestfallen, we agreed.
Our egos took a further blow when, upon returning to the village, we were met with the sight of a young fellow – who suffered from an obvious developmental disability – slinging his skis confidently over his shoulder before prancing happily towards the slopes.