This is the second and last post of a series that I dedicated to mountain villages caught in the ‘low season’, when tourists have already gone or aren’t there yet. In the first post I visited Gaby, a village in the Lys Valley. Today I’m in Piedicavallo, a village exactly on the other slope of the majestic mountains I saw towering to the west of Gaby.
Piedicavallo lies at a good six hours’ walk and a 2,400-meters-high mountain pass away from Gaby, but it feels like it belongs to a different country. Lying at the end of Valle Cervo, a deep, V-shaped valley ridden with hamlets with unusual names – Campiglia Cervo, Sagliano Micca, Quittengo – the inhabitants of Piedicavallo spoke a different dialect, derived from Italian, than the Lys villagers, who instead conversed in a French patois or ancient German. The Lys valley remained agricultural and pastoral at heart, while Valle Cervo became industrial. Then both suffered depopulation, as the villagers moved downhill towards the big cities, but if the Lys valley – and Val d’Aosta as a whole – jumped on the tourism train, Valle Cervo missed it entirely. In Gaby it was easy to understand that a high season was due to come; in Piedicavallo, it was apparent that a high season was never going to arrive.
The village numbered about 1300 souls at the beginning of the XX century, mainly employed in the factories, forestries and quarries in the valley. Then, between the 1920s and 1940s, the population halved, a decline that didn’t stop until only some 200 remained. Today Piedicavallo is a quiet village made of old stone houses, narrow alleys and statues of the Virgin Mary (mostly painted with a black skin), where silence is broken only by the trickling of water from the many fountains.