SOMEONE ON THE TRAIN from Annecy in France asked me where I was heading. “Vercelli?” he said with a sense of disbelief. “Why would anyone go there? All you’ll find is rice fields.”
“Uh,” I replied, not entirely sure and on the defensive, “apparently it’s beautiful. And I’ll be spending most of my time in the Alps. In a small town called Alagna.” He looked at me with a mixture of disgust and pity. “Forget the sleepy villages,” he said. “You should come to my town. Rimini. You’ll find much better party there.” It’s not a party I’m looking for, I wanted to respond. Instead, I smiled and turned to look at the scenery slipping past the window.
The truth was I actually had very little idea what to expect in this remote region of Italy. A cursory Google search a few days prior had told me Alagna was a commune in the Valsesia alpine valley. I’d need to take a train to a town called Vercelli, then board a local bus that would travel to the very end of the road, at the final reaches of the valley. The road ended in Alagna, and after that, the only thing separating Italy from Switzerland was the massive and picturesque Monte Rosa.