After an early breakfast we wandered about the town and into the church in the central square. Then we walked up to see the dungeon (la Brigue) which is the only remaining structure of the castle. After an inquiry at the tourist bureau, we decided to hike to St. Dalmas de Tende where we might get better information the Vallée des Merveilles. It was a nice walk high above the road, across from the mountain by which we had descended the prior day and with great views back to la Brigue nestled below the mountains behind. We arrived at St. Dalmas about 11:00 a.m. after turning a corner above the town and making a steep descent. We walked up the road to a Tabac (a newspaper, tobacco and convenience store found in every town) to see if we could get a ride in the direction of the Vallée des Merveilles.
After questioning a woman behind the counter in the Tabac who had very little information, by good fortune a man, wearing a T-shirt from the Club Alpin Francais, appeared. He offered us a ride to Lac des Mesches from which we could hike to the refuge for the Vallée des Merveilles. Quickly, we went to the store next door and bought peanuts, tuna with tomate, crisp bread and oranges. We tossed our packs into the back of his SUV and we both shared the front seat on the passenger side - I was mostly on the console in the middle! We conversed in our poor French with him as we wound up through many curves up into the foothills. He was from the refuge Valmasque further up in the Vallée des Merveilles, and said that he had to hike in about one hour with the food to supply the refuge. He let us out at Lac des Mesches where there was a fancy refuge (private rooms!) to which you could drive. We hiked up the rugged and rocky pine hills passing a cowherd with cows with bells, and occasional cabins - one had a picturesque alpine setting with grassy lawn along the stream. We stopped a little later in a little glade with a stream nearby and three pink flowers by our picnic spot. After lunch we had a steep climb up to a col and on to the lake where the refuge was. We were now above the tree line and all the scenery was rocky and grassy with the lake to the east of the refuge and the high mountains beyond.
In the refuge a young woman indicated that we could leave our packs in a room in the back. Bon got acquainted with the outside bathroom which was the first we saw with just a porcelain hole in the floor with two spots to place your feet! These became familiar in our travels. We signed up for dinner, the night and petit dejeuner and learned that everyone sleeps together in the same room. With a little time to waste, we walked across the dam of the lake and sat on a rocky beach relaxing and enjoying the scenery. We then walked back to the refuge, as it was getting quite chilly as the sun lowered. We waited in the dining room with others for the assignment of beds and began an acquaintance with a French couple.
At 6:00 p.m. everyone went upstairs where the young woman called out names and numbers to assign the beds. We got the last two bunks (numbers 14 and 15 in a row of bunks two high). The bed assignment was a great relief to Bon as being a light sleeper she did not want to be in the middle. After arranging our bunks with the blankets provided we went down to dinner.
We sat next to the French couple we'd met earlier and learned that they were from Marseilles. He was pleasant and tried to communicate with us in our broken French. On the other side - it was a long table with benches - were two Italian couples, though one wife looked very French and one very German (there was no mistaking the men). Dinner began with a large bowl of soup put on the table and dinner soup bowls. Then a large platter of chicken legs with second joints arrived accompanied by a bowl of mixed chopped vegetables, white bread and vin rouge. The chicken (which was eaten in your soup bowl) was tender and flavored with spices. A cheese course followed with the remaining bread. The desert was a white cheese with a yogurt-like consistency and blackberry sauce - delicious. And wine and more wine. Bon and I ordered another half bottle of wine and talked a little with people at the table but, whether from wine or altitude or the climb, I was ready for bed. What an experience sleeping with 30 other people in the same room, many snoring and one yelling out in German in his sleep! Though tired, even I had a difficult time sleeping and learned the adage the next day, "climb high, sleep low." Apparently it's harder to sleep at high altitude (our altitude was 2,111 meters or about 7,000 feet).
Copyright 2001 Donald R. Chauncey - All rights reserved