October is a shoulder season in the Graian Alps of northwestern Italy. Sharp grey granite peaks rise from the alpine meadows of the Aosta Valley – the country’s smallest and least-populated region – spilling over the border into France and Switzerland and culminating in Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Western Europe.
Encompassing more than 700 square kilometres of high alpine terrain, Gran Paradiso is Italy’s first national park, dating back to 1922. The park’s name literally means ‘Great Paradise’ and with peak autumn colour blooming in a riotous golden display across the landscape, it is a moniker that could not be more appropriate.
With the summer trekking season long over, all of the mountain huts are now shuttered for the winter and each temporary bridge that once spanned the mountain cataracts high above has been taken down, put into storage for the coming deep freeze. Indeed, when I wake shivering in the dawn out beside the river in the tiny hamlet of Valnontey, the final settlement inside the park, my ...