Gouffres des Busserailles

Grotte delle Busserailles


Useful Information

Location: SR 46 della Valtournenche
(45.899699, 7.616633)
Open: Gouffres des Busserailles: Marmitte dei Giganti: no restrictions.
Lo Gurfo: OCT to MAY Mon-Tue, Thu-Sun, Hol 12-15, 19-21.
JUN to SEP daily 12-15, 19-21.
[2021]
Fee: Gouffres des Busserailles: Adults EUR 2.
Marmitte dei Giganti: free.
[2021]
Classification: GorgeGorge
Light: n/a
Dimension: L=104m, H=35m, A=1,720m asl.
Guided tours: self guided, D=10min.
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: notd>
Bibliography: Edward Whymper (1900): Scrambles amongst the Alps in the years 1860-1869 fifth edition, London, John Murray, 1900, p. 152. webarchive
Georges Carrel (1865): Gouffre des Busseraille, Bollettino Trimestrale del Club Alpino di Torino, Tipografia Cassone, Torino, 1865, pag. 79.
Address: Gouffres des Busseraille, Antica Trattoria Lo Gurfo, Loc. Gouffre des Busserailles, 11028 Valtournenche AO, Tel: +39-0166-92589, Cell: +39-329-5323979. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

NOV-1865 explored by Jean Antoine Carrel and Guiseppe Vittorio Emanuele Maquignaz. Developed with a wooden plankway.
1869 visited by Edward Whymper.

Description

The Gouffres des Busseraille (Abysses of Busserailles) are actually named in French, although they are located in Italy. The reason is simply français valdôtain (Aostan French), the variety of French spoken in the Aosta Valley since 1561. Before the official language was Latin! In 1861 in the first census was held after the unification of Italy, 93% of the inhabitants declared being Francophone. This stayed so until the early 20th century when the Fascist government irretrievably damaged the status of French by a forcible Italianisation campaign. It was re-introduced as an official language after World War II but nevertheless has become a second language now. The point is, that in French the name Gouffres des Busserailles actually makes sense, if you come to this place from above you see a series of abysses or gouffres. For some reason this name was translated into Italian as Grotte delle Busserailles (Caves of Busserailles) despite being actually a gorge, not a cave, and not multiple caves. The name Abissi di Busserailles would have been a much better translation.

The gorge is rather short but quite spectacular and very well developed with an elevated steel and concrete trail. Located in the Val Tournanche, a northern side valley of the Aosta valley, it is reached by following the only road of the valley north. After the hamlet Singlin and a tunnel, a single house with the popular restaurant Lo Gourfo marks the entrance to the gorge. The restaurant offers traditional dishes of the Aosta Valley cuisine. They also sell the tickets for the gorge.

Among the numerous signs of river erosion are the huge dolly tubs which are called Marmitte dei Giganti in Italian. Such forms can be seen all over the Alps, and are generally thought to be a result of the erosional forces of glacier meltwater at the end of the cold age. When the glaciers were melting 10,000 years ago, the amount of water was much bigger than today.

Quite exceptional is that this gorge is open all year, actually winter is recommended for the spectacular frozen waterfalls. The exploration and development of the site is connected with Edward Whymper, the British mountaineer who became famous with his attempt to reach the summit of the Matterhorn. He describes this story in his book, see the following excerpt which also gives a good description of the gorge.

There, is an abrupt rise in the valley about two miles to the north of the village of Val Tournanche, and at this step the torrent has eaten its way into its bed and formed an extraordinary chasm, which has long been known by the name Gouffre des Busserailles. We lingered about this spot to listen to the thunder of the concealed water, and to watch its tumultuous boiling as it issued from the gloomy cleft, but our efforts to peer into the mysteries of the place were battled. In November 1865, the intrepid Carrel induced two trusty comrades the Maquignaz's of Val Tournanche - to lower him by a rope into the chasm and over the cataract. The feat required iron nerves, and muscles and sinews of no ordinary kind; and its performance alone stamped Carrel as a man of dauntless courage. One of the Maquignaz's subsequently descended in the same way, and these two men were so astonished at what they saw, that they forthwith set to work with hammer and chisel to make a way into this romantic gulf. In a few days they constructed a rough but convenient plank gallery into the centre of the gouffre, along its walls; and, on payment of a franc, any one can now enter the Gouffre des Busserailles.

I cannot, without a couple of sections and a plan, give an exact idea to the reader of this remarkable place. It corresponds in some of its features to the gorge figured upon page 127, but it exhibits in a much more notable manner the characteristic action and extraordinary power of running water. The length of the chasm or gouffre is about 320 feet, and from the top of its walls to the surface of the water is about 110 feet. At no part can the entire length or depth be seen at a glance; for, although the width at some places is 15 feet or more, the view is limited by the sinuosities of the walls. These are everywhere polished to a smooth, vitreous-in-appearance surface. In some places the torrent has wormed into the rock, and has left natural bridges. The most extraordinary features of the Gouffre des Busserailles, however, are the caverns (or marmites as they are termed), which the water has hollowed out of the heart of the rock. Carrel's plank path leads into one of the greatest, a grotto that is about 28 feet across at its largest diameter, and 15 or 16 feet high; roofed above by the living rock, and with the torrent roaring 50 feet or thereabouts below, at the bottom of a fissure. This cavern is lighted by candles, and talking in it can only be managed by signs.

I visited the interior of the gouffre in 1869, and my wonder at its caverns was increased by observing the hardness of the hornblende out of which they have been hollowed. Carrel chiselled off a large piece, which is now lying before me. It has a highly polished, glassy surface, and might be mistaken, for a moment, for ice-polished rock. But the water has found out the atoms which were least hard, and it is dotted all over by minute depressions, much as the face of one is who has suffered from smallpox. The edges of these little hollows are rounded, and the whole surfaces of the depressions are polished nearly, or quite, as highly as the general surface of the fragment.1 The water has eaten more deeply into some veins of steatite than in other places, and the presence of the steatite may possibly have had something to do with the formation of the gouffre.


1 The depressions in glaciated rocks (which are not water-worn) are more or less angular. See p. 135.


Edward Whymper (1900): Scrambles amongst the Alps in the years 1860-1869, fifth edition, London, John Murray, 1900, p. 152ff.