I was born and lived in Milan until after I graduated. Metropolitan at heart – almost grotesquely so – I was convinced that I could climb a mountain with moccasins at my feet.
Life’s experiences proved me wrong. I arrived in a small place near the Swiss border, freshly graduated and disgusted by the university circles I’d frequented ambitiously for a few years.
A total metamorphosis came over me. Completely absorbed in my new role, I believe I truly reinterpreted – at the turn of the millennium – the role of the traditional nineteenth-century district doctor, visiting my patients up and down lanes and mule tracks in the over fifty hamlets distributed on the hilly municipal territory of Varzo.
After years, decades, of grey, monotonous urban reality, I discovered colours, fragrances, variety: the freshness, the majestic beauty of the mountains. It was love at first sight, a burning desire to discover, explore, climb, as if to make up for lost time. These days I like to joke about it: having reached the age of thirty without knowing whether the tips of my skis should point forward or backward, I was now into skiing cross-country, free heel, downhill, off-track – the lot!
One day, as I was passing through a hamlet –secluded and tranquil, yet not far from the village centre – I noticed a somewhat decrepit-looking villa at the end of a grassy drive winding beyond a majestic, time-worn gate; and surrounded, almost suffocated, by large, venerable, unusual trees, different from those that normally populate these mountains. That villa and its park transmitted an ancient emotion, a distinguished detachment along with a sense of being deeply rooted in the nature and traditions of this area.
Together with Marilisa – my lifelong companion and colleague who, day after day, shares the ups and downs of that which I consider the best profession in the world – we decided to go and visit the villa: it had been on the market for years; perhaps, few people had fallen as instantly and intensely captive to its charms as we did.
We braved years of sacrifices and of challenging collaborations with architects and craftsmen: we wanted to respect the original spirit of the building and of the surrounding park, permeated with the solid bourgeois culture of the nineteenth-century entrepreneurial family who had elected it as their holiday home. Our project slowly progressed until finally, on 10 February 1990, we moved in with our daughters, Camilla and Carlotta. Francesco was born a few years later. The park needed rethinking: too many years of neglect had caused it to become overgrown and unkempt. We decided to save the enormous cedar of Lebanon – the largest in the entire province – and the sequoia, standing over fifty metres tall and dominating the entire surroundings, as well as other ancient trees that tower alongside them, though not quite as imposingly. A natural spring, a subterranean gift of unknown origin, feeds a pond full of multi-coloured fish and a natural lake in which our own trout flourish freely.
In this comfortable house immersed in nature, each season brings new emotions: fireflies winking among the flowers on long summer evenings; snow falling incessantly for days in winter, casting a white blanket over all angles and protuberances; the garden exploding into colourful bloom at the return of spring; the mysterious interplay of light and shadow of autumnal evenings.
My life – our life – is indissolubly tied to this villa and park, which I’ve patiently filled with spaces dedicated to the many interests I hope will fill a long and industrious retirement: a corner of the lawn for practicing Tai Chi; the Finnish sauna: a tribute to a Nordic culture to which I am particularly drawn; the workshop, where I give vent to the passion for manual work that initially inspired my youthful infatuation for surgery; our large and well-equipped kitchen, where we cultivate a taste for good food, prepared with loving skill and shared with our friends; the library, its walls covered in books that have kept us company through hours of study and leisure.
My time is divided between these domestic activities, my work, and a great passion for the mountains. The surrounding Alps might mistakenly be deemed inferior, or to lack the attractions of more famous localities. But in fact they have a lot to offer: excellent rock and ice climbing; a number of climbing gyms; trekking of any length and difficulty; sky lift facilities; cross-country skiing trails. This area was the cradle of Italian cross-country skiing, and still offers rewarding tours. The place has been spared the building horrors that have spoiled some of the more prestigious localities: local tourism still preserves the old-age charm of small hotels and refuges. You can walk for hours without meeting anyone, along paths kept beautifully by the local sections of CAI, the Italian Alpine Club. For years I had the honour of being President of CAI Varzo.
The historic tradition of tourism in Varzo dates back to the nineteenth century, when the Turinese and my fellow Milanese citizens discovered its beauty, thanks to the easy connections offered by the road and by the Simplon international railway running along the valley below. Testifying to an ancient interest, there are villas similar to ours dotted around the village. Alpe Veglia is the area’s most prestigious locality: a moraine amphitheatre surrounded by slopes covered in old larch woods and dominated by glaciers, it is the seat of the first natural park established by the Piedmont Region. Period chronicles describe how wealthy tourists arrived on mule-back, their trunks full of evening suits and gowns to flaunt during gala evenings at the hotel (currently being restored) built up there by a forward-looking local entrepreneur.
In my life I’ve had many lucky breaks, of which one of the most remarkable was my arrival here by chance, and to have the opportunity to discover these mountains and the surrounding nature. I like to think that offering others the possibility of savouring this beauty can be a small token of my gratitude for so much good fortune. The idea of sharing all this with those who believe they can appreciate it stems from a reflection shared with Marilisa and with my daughter Carlotta: they are the creators, the life and soul of this modest proposal called B&B Villa Nante.
Via Fontana, 8 - 28868 Varzo (VB)
+39 334 1617594
+39 329 0977897