After having dedicated our holiday of last year to the orchids in Crete, Edwin and I figured this year it was time for a more ‘vivid’ photo subject. Our search for a new challenge brought us to the butterflies in the Aosta valley of Italy.
First some facts. Now I am not fond of facts, but a little voice inside my head tells me you want to know all about them. The Aosta valley (Valle d’Aosta in Italian) covers around 3300 km² and is an autonomous region in the northeast of Italy. It is mountainous and surrounded by the highest tops of the Alps. In the northwest the valley is adjacent to the French-Italian Mont Blanc (4808 meters), the highest mountain of the Alps. The south side of the valley is formed by the oldest national park of Italy, Gran Paradiso. The highest mountain of this national park is Gran Paradiso with an altitude of 4061 meters. The capitol of the Aosta Valley is the old Roman city Aosta with around 35.000 inhabitants.
So… why the Aosta Valley? Lots of research (mainly by Edwin, yes all credits go to him) showed the Aosta valley is one of the best hot spots for butterflies within Europe. Apparently the moist area with its various heights and vegetation has a positive effect on the amount and variety of butterflies.
We stayed in three star hotel Panoramique (Sarre), which is 4 kilometers away from Aosta, arriving the 27th of June and leaving the 8th of July. The hotel is located on one of the mountainsides of the valley and has a magnificent view over the Aosta valley. It offers free covered parking. What I already assumed the day we arrived was later confirmed by the lady boss of the hotel: we had the best room of the hotel. It was a spacious and tidy room with a a small open upstairs which was reached by a tiny spiral staircase. The very best thing of the room was the wide balcony with a roof that provided a real breathtaking view over the Aosta valley. Since this room was the only one on the (highest) second floor, there were no side balconies and therefore lots of privacy. Breakfast was not excessive but good. Diner was delicious and because of its 4 courses it was much. The staff was all very friendly and helpful. We had a very pleasant stay and I can only highly recommend hotel Panoramique. When you consider to book this hotel, just try and ask if room 211 is available, it will surely not disappoint you.
Well, those were the facts. Time to move on to the fun part, the butterflies…
First thing of course: you have to find them. Now this was not always easy. So with the fun there comes the trouble… 😉 The whole area was new for us and it was big. Where to start? The internet didn’t really help us much. A friendly nature photographer, Hannie Joziasse, gave us beforehand some real useful locations though. Many thanks go to her. We visited several of these places and just walked into the mountain pastures to look for butterflies. Some places were good, others were not. Already on our first day trip we discovered a real nice place. Later on during our holiday this location turned out to become by far our favorite one. It was the butterfly reserve in the Cogne valley, about 25 minutes driving from our hotel. To reach the reserve is like walking through another time. From the parking lot near Pont d’Aell you walk through this small and semi abandoned village. There is only one logical way and it leads to the old Roman aqueduct (3 years BC) that crosses the river Gran Eyvia. After crossing the aqueduct you enter the Cogne valley and the butterfly reserve. Here you have to watch your feet, because you might accidentally step on one of the many many butterflies… This was true heaven for us. Butterflies everywhere.
Another real good spot was the oldest natural park of Italy, Gran Paradiso. We discovered this area very late during our holiday though. We would have visited it more if we had seen it earlier. A beautiful ascending one hour drive from our hotel brought us to a nice starting point in the hamlet Pont in the Valsavaranche valley. After passing some strange abandoned houses with a gloomy character the road ends and nature begins. Here is among others a big parking lot and a camping. Lots of sporty types over there doing all kinds of sporty activities such as walking, climbing, rafting etc… For us the entire nature surrounding was overwhelming and as a dessert there were the butterflies.
All pictures above taken by Edwin.
So in the end we had two good butterfly spots. Two was good enough for us. Needless to say the less variety you have in areas, the less variety you have in butterfly species. But luckily we are no species hunters, we are image hunters.
So all right, we have found some butterflies. Finally there comes the most fun part, the actual photographing of them. This was surely easier said than done. I think I beforehand underestimated this part of the fun. Without talking about it we agreed that the early morning sessions (like we are used to at home in the Netherlands) were no option. After all this was our holiday, and not some sort of a punitive expedition… We never underestimate our early risings because they eventually are strenuous and influence the whole day yet to come. We would like to come out of our holiday happy and relaxed and surely not broken and exhausted. So most photo shoots were made during daytime and only some of them during the afternoon. Again none of them during the early morning hours. This had a huge impact not only on the approach of the butterflies, but also on the final result of the pictures. To approach them we had to search for shady spots or wait till the sun was behind the clouds. It was absolute ‘not done’ for us to take pictures of the butterflies in the bright sun. This only gives harsh contrasts and will destroy all colors. Besides when the butterflies are sitting in direct sunlight, they are most of the time too active to take any decent picture of at all. When sitting in the shadow or when it’s cloudy, they are far more easier to approach. Therefore another reason for us to avoid taking pictures of butterflies in the direct sunlight.
Summarizing I would say the photographing of the butterflies was besides very much fun above all different, and not so much more difficult than how I am used to do over here in the Netherlands. This is a positive thing since I am convinced that a change once in a while is good and keeps me sharp. All in all everything was great and I am very grateful to have had this unforgettable butterfly holiday together with Edwin.
Still a little bit in shock about this one thing though. At the end of our holiday one of the kind ladies of the hotel restaurant told us with a sense of shame that she was suffering from a butterfly phobia. How in heaven’s name it is possible that someone who is living in one of the butterfly hotspots of Europe is deeply terrified of butterflies???
Many thanks go to Paulus Schotten for the determination of the butterflies.