Piedmont’s vast Parco Naturale degli Alpi Marittime which runs contiguous with France’s Parque Mercantour is one of those few remaining places where nature is allowed to be itself. It is a place of blessing: snow and flowers, waterfalls and rock. Last week we saw more flowers than in the rest of our lives put together; more butterflies in a day than you will see in this country in a good year;
chamoix and ibex showing little fear of humans, masses of marmots. There are many other endemic species we didn’t spot like pine martens and ermine but there are so many other places for them to be. But what we did see was a wolf! Wolves were re-introduced to the Mercantour some years ago and it has been found that they are spreading out across Europe into the wilder places where they are safe.
Rifugio Pagari at 2627 metres is a little paradise, a micro-climate with tiny alpine plants in the crevices of rocks. Every metre matters!
Aladar, the manager of the refuge is a Buddhist and he runs the refuge as if it were a small unassuming temple, providing guests with home-made organic food/loo paper/soap. Even the Pagari beer he makes himself. He has labelled all the plants in his small botanical garden. A blessing greets you as you arrive and leave. It is truly an unforgettable experience to walk all the hours up the path to his eyrie above the clouds: your whole life is touched by this place and this man.
This reminds me of what George Monbiot has to say about re-wilding. But this place doesn’t need to be re-wilded. It has remained wild, partly because the laws do not allow cycling on the paths, nor dogs (except on leads and that only one or two of the many routes & not to Pagari),and most importantly no hunting. Wandering off the paths isn’t really possible…. If you stray far you might fall to your death. It makes you realise how denuded practically the whole of our country has become, even in the reserves and parks which are designed and managed to cater for sheep!
George Monbiot writes: I see the mass restoration of ecosystems, meaning taking down the fences, blocking up the drainage ditches, enabling wildlife to spread. Reintroducing missing species, and particularly missing species which are keystone species, or ecosystem engineers. These are species which have impacts greater than their biomass alone would suggest. They create habitats, and create opportunities for many other species.
You simply have to trust the path and let it take you where it will. You can walk in trust between extremes nowadays.
But in the next valley stands Rifugio Soria Ellena where in Sept, 1943 at least a thousand Jewish people who had sought refuge in Italian occupied France (the last safe place in Europe) had to climb the passes to escape the German occupation when Italy joined the Allies. It must have been an exodus of biblical proportions with women and children and old people being in the majority but sadly all the Jews were arrested, and after being kept in a concentration camp in nearby Borgo San Dalmazzo were then entrained for Auschwitz. Only a handful survived. (You can see Soria Ellena down below, leftish)