An older British couple shared my four-seater gondola for the long, dangling ride back from Mont Blanc’s Aiguille du Midi to Punta Helbrunner. This is the world’s longest cable car without any supporting pilons. Instead, an impressive set of cables stretches horizontally between two rocky peaks about halfway along intersect the main cables and help keep us from plummeting to our deaths. At one point, when we were hanging roughly three kilometers over the canyon-sized cracks in the Mer de Glace glacier, they nervously asked me whether there were any U.S. military bases in the area, a clear reference to the Aviano catastrophe a few years ago when a hot-dogging pilot clipped the line of a cable car over in northeastern Italy, killing all 29 people inside.

On the way back down, I spent half an hour relaxing and sunning in the scrabbly (but beautiful up close) botanical gardens half-way down the Italian side.

Back down in Entreves, I finished washing out my laundry in the sink and hung it on my wrap-around Alpine balcony to dry some during dinner. I strolled to the other end of the village and to the Maison de Fillipo and one of the most remarkable dinners I have ever had. The restaurant occupies the ground floor of an unassuming little chalet, and to enter I had to duck through the low doorway. Or rather, I had to duck through after first squatting to hold a brief but earnest conversation with the curly-haired toddler who was blocking it; he eventually deigned to let me pass. Inside was a converted farmhouse, all low ceilings, stone arches, and odd ancient farm implements nailed to the walls.

An older lady with a string of pearls, hot pink jacket, and eyeglasses on a chain sat me at a table already laden with several small dishes containing broad beans, anchovy fillets swimming in oil, and the local equivalent of chow chow. This, it turns out, was the beginning of my antipasto. Dinner, as I eventually gathered, is a fixed-price deal over which I was to have little, if no control, and for which I would eventually gladly hand over 60,000L ($28), too stuffed to do otherwise.

Soon a platter of long salamis with a tiny cutting board and sharp knife balanced on top arrived, as did a plate with paper-thin slices of cow tongue under a tomato sauce. My waiter was short and wiry, with sinewed forearms and small, serious black eyes fixed between graying wavy hair and a bushy moustache. He kept bustling by bearing platters laid out with little florettes and rondels of various goat cheeses, each dolloped with a tiny bit of tomato or pesto sauce, and he’d toss an example of each on my plate as he passed.

After a bit, my water and a full bottle of the house wine (a Dolcetto d’Alba so dark red it was almost black) appeared, as did a basket of bread with those great, thick, buttery Valle d’Aosta grissini—the best homemade bread sticks in the world. Feeling full, I placed my knife and fork across the plate to indicate I was done with the appetizers (hell, from a sheer stomach-capacity point of view I was done with dinner, really, but didn’t want to seem rude), and my waiter asked what I wanted for primo. The tortellini were the thing to get, he confided, so I complied.

While I waited, my waiter dashed by again, pausing with a silver plate smothered in wedges of roast pepper topped with a bit of some kind of pesto and slid a few onto my plate, explaining “The antipasto isn’t done yet.” No sooner did I clean my plate of those than he spooned out some kind of kraut with giant white raisins. I finally got that down, and they bussed the plate away to replace it with another. Ah, finally. The primo will come before the antipasto does me in completely.

But it wasn’t over yet. A young lady came by with a huge serving platter supporting half a pig, explaining: this here was the cooked prosciutto, this pile of pale greenery next door was the sauerkraut to go with it, oh and here are some potatoes and fresh, warm applesauce and some kind of spiced meatloaf just for good measure. I was, by this point, to say the least, stuffed. She smiled conspiratorially and whispered, “Don’t worry. This is the last of the antipasto.”

Bloated and still waiting for the tortellini, wondering vaguely where they would fit inside my stomach, I tried to stretch my legs out under table, only to run into something soft, giving, and furry with my shoes.


I lifted up the tablecloth to discover a medium-small sheep herding-type dog under there, who looked up at me with mournful, sleepy eyes as if to ask why I felt the need to kick it, when all it was trying to do was take a nap. I looked back at him accusingly, as if to say “Why didn’t you tell me you were under there earlier? I could have been slipping you the bulk of my antipasto all this time!”

After a full hour and 15 minutes (remember, I started eating the instant I sat down), a primo finally made its appearance: spinach and ricotta tortelli under a fondue of Fontina and other mountain cheeses.

These mountain folk don’t know how to do anything light. If the concept of a low calorie, low cholesterol, low-fat diet ever caught on here, it would obliterate the entire regional cuisine.

Mercifully, the tortelli were served on a separate platter, which meant I was able to get away with spooning just a few over to my plate (though some explaining was in order when the waiter came to reclaim the shamefully unfinished remnants of my primo). For secondo I opted for the camoscio, meat of the local mountain goat we call chamois, provider of the soft, soft wool that has given its name to the “shammy” with which (though now made with synthetics) one polishes one’s car or one’s glasses. It came with a chunky—and, need I say, filling—polenta.

Dessert consisted of prunes and dried figs soaked in honey, sweetened chestnuts, and both crema and hazelnut gelato with hot fudge and homemade whipped cream. No, I am not joking. Mercifully, they spared me the cheese table (though seemd disappointed in me) and let me get away with just a caffè and a shot of blackberry grappa while the woman put her chained glasses on to rummage in an old red leather purse for my change.

I stumbled back to my hotel, threw open the balcony doors to cool the place down, and fell with a groan into the bed—on my back, of course. My stomach wouldn’t fit anymore.