CASTIONE DELLA PRESOLANA – As Italy gradually emerges from its two-month coronavirus lockdown, tourism operators in the hard-hit Val Seriana valley look ahead with trepidation at an uncertain summer season that could make or break them.
An Associated Press photographer ventured into towns in Italy's hard-hit Bergamo province along the Orobie mountain range to capture residents' hopes — and doubts — as they await the return of summer visitors.
“It is a powerful tragedy that has touched chords that not even during the war had been touched,” says Claudio Trentani, a 57-year-old hut manager.
He runs the Baita Cassinelli, an Italian Alpine Club mountain hut at the base of the 2,521-meter (8,271-foot) Mount Presolana, a 30-minute drive from the city of Bergamo. Trentani sees no good way to manage social distancing in his 60-square-meter hut where he serves food and drink. The place was packed with hikers before the government coronavirus lockdown emptied it for months.
Lorenzo Pasinetti, 53, runs a bigger chalet on adjacent Mount Pora, an 1,880-meter (6,168-foot) mountain that is a popular skiing destination. It houses a restaurant, a pizzeria, cafe and an outdoor barbeque, serving 2,000 people a day in the winter and 300 in the summer. He calculates winter losses of about 60% due to the lockdown that started March 8. He has remained open to provide groceries to 10 families living on the mountain.
In Rovetta, where the Serie A Atalanta soccer team trains every summer, Mayor Mauro Marinoni said there are 15 official COVID-19 deaths but he suspects the true toll is higher. He says 30 people died this March compared to only four the year before.
Brothers Daniele, Luca and Corrado Brasi, who own a sports apparel shop in the town and run one of the biggest tennis clubs around, lost an uncle to the virus. They rely on summer tourism for about half of their income — and they still don’t have a clear idea how much business they can count on. The club is sanctioned by the tennis federation, which gives them hope that individual athletes can train even if summer camps are out of the question.
In nearby Castione della Presolana, a mountain village of 3,400, church bells rang up to four times in a day during the worst of the coronavirus crisis, announcing the deaths of residents. Mayor Angelo Migliorati said the town usually records three deaths from January to March but this year saw 32. Only seven count as coronavirus deaths because not all the dead were hospitalized or tested.
Despite the devastating human toll, Migliorati is looking forward to a summer of economic and psychological recovery. He says after months of being shut inside people will be looking for "the well-being that only nature can give.’’
“I am convinced we will have many visitors, especially in the many vacation homes. The mountain offers ample space for social distancing,” he said.
Alpine guide Ernesto Cocchetti, 57, predicts that visitors will be eager to return to “living with nature’s rhythms.”
But local tourism operators are still worried about their ability to safely manage a possible onslaught of visitors.
Giorgio Masserini, 61, runs a rock-climbing gym in Dorga. Under the recent government decree, he thinks he could open as early as May 18 for registered athletes with their own climbing equipment. He has sanitized the gym and is ready to measure visitors' temperatures before allowing them in.
Alice Piccardi, 37, who runs an organic farm and restaurant with her husband Stefano Gusmini, 43, saw her father hospitalized with COVID-19. He was one of the lucky ones, sent home after two weeks to recover. With the restaurant closed to guests, they are delivering produce to keep money coming in before restaurants can re-open on June 1.
Diego Fregona, 58, spent all his savings to repair his adventure park after a storm in October knocked down trees, climbing ropes and suspended walkways. Now, as he contemplates reopening, he worries about managing new safety requirements, including taking temperatures and sanitizing equipment.
But he cannot afford financially to miss this season. And after so much loss, the prospect of revival is the only thing that keeps him going.
“There isn’t a family who didn’t have a bereavement. The only thing left to do is to get up again,” Fregona said.
Beatrice Larco reported from Rome.