If you plug Frazione-Capoluogo, 47 Valpelline, Aosta Valley, Italy into Google Maps, you’ll end up in the tiny village of Allein, a wide spot in a narrow road precariously perched on the edge of a cliff, a dozen kilometers and a few thousand meters above the Aosta Valley in northern Italy.
There’s barely room for the post office, beauty salon, and small cafe that make up the town. We are lost – searching for a house in Valpelline, where we’ll be staying for the next two weeks. It doesn’t seem anywhere near Allein, population 249, or the treacherous road we’ve just ascended, so I pop out of the car to ask directions. Both the post office and café are closed, so I try my luck at the beauty parlor, where the hairdresser is applying highlights to the sole customer. A friend is perched on a nearby stool.
I had sent a message earlier in the day to Fulvia, our exchange partner, to confirm the address and make sure that if I plugged it into the GPS we’d find her place. She replied that we were good to go. But I was wondering, as I entered the beauty parlor, if I should have done more to ensure a smooth arrival at her doorstep.
I show the hairdresser the address I’ve scribbled on a scrap of paper and ask if she can point us in the right direction. This sets off a spirited discussion in Italian, as the three women discuss our plight. Finally, in broken English, the customer explains we should continue down the winding road past Doues and Chatelair to Valpelline. It’s not far, but the road is the width of a single car and unbelievably steep. And scary.
We make it to Valpelline, population 600, but still have no idea how to find House 47. The shadows are lengthening, and we’re concerned that we’ll be looking for the place in the dark.
I pop into the coffee shop and show the barista the address to see if she can point us in the right direction. Miraculously, Eleanora speaks perfect English, but she doesn’t know the house. She calls the post office and learns our destination is most likely near Parrocchia Di Valpelline, the church, so we park the car and walk up the hill looking for a house with a big black 47 next to the front door.
The challenge here is that the streets don’t have names, and the houses just have numbers, numbers that are assigned based on when the house was built. So number 6 could be between houses 19 and 44. We don’t see 47.
I rummage through my travel notes until I find the homeowner’s last name, and we return to the coffee shop and give Eleanora this information. She sighs, puts her hands on her hips, and emphatically informs us the owner is “The aunt of her ex-boyfriend!” But still, she doesn’t know the house.
Another dialogue ensues, this time between Eleanora and one of her customers . The man puts down his beer, pulls out his phone, and in a matter of minutes, finds Fulvia on Facebook. It turns out they are friends, at least in the Facebook sense of the word. He calls her, and five minutes later, she pulls up to the coffee shop with her English-speaking son and leads us up the hill to the house, which, it turns out, is just three houses past the church.
Gratefully, we settle into our Valpelline home, just as the sun dips behind the peaks. And just in time for a much needed beer!