At one spot where France and Italy cross, we see a futuristic ascent to a majestic panorama of the Alps. Farther south, desperate migrants' fate hangs in the balance.
Italy and France share a 488-kilometer long border, stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Alps. Among the most scenic border crossings is just below the peak of Mont Blanc (or Monte Bianco), where Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi came this week to inaugurate the Skyway Monte Bianco, a high-tech cable car ferrying passengers from the town of Courmayeur to Pointe Helbronner, a 3,462-meter peak (11,358 feet) in the Mont Blanc massif.
*A Skyway cable car on its way to Pointe Helbronner
The Turin-based daily La Stampa reports that the new cableway has three stations: it starts at Entrèves, a hamlet near Courmayeur at the foot of Mont Blanc, then rises to an intermediary station at Pavillon Mont Frèty, and finally on to Pointe Helbronner.
The Pavillon Mont Fréty station hosts an auditorium, botanical garden, and will even have bars, shops and restaurants. The cars transporting passengers between the stations constantly rotate at 360 degrees. But the Skyway's real draw is Pointe Helbronner, with a large, 360 degree panoramic terrace straddling the Franco-Italian border. From here visitors can see across the Alps, from Mont Blanc — the tallest mountain in Europe — all the way to the Matterhorn in Switzerland.
Not one to miss an opportunity for a pun, Renzi stated he would like to eventually host a European summit at the summit of Europe, now boasting a conference center and a well-stocked bar.
But farther south, there are other sights that may be even more worthy of our attention. A four-hour drive away is the Italian border town of Ventimiglia, where French border police are refusing entry to illegal economic migrants and asylum seekers alike — just the latest chapter in Europe's ongoing immigration crisis.
Under an EU treaty the migrants must legally stay in Italy as that is the first European country where they landed, but France's actions on the border have increased tensions between the two neighbors as Italy continues to call on the rest of Europe to share the burden. Negotiations on how to redistribute the influx of migrants are progressing slowly in Brussels, with Thursday night's EU meeting ending in rancor.
Back on Tuesday, as Renzi christened the shiny new cable car up on Mont Blanc, he was asked about the migrant stand-off down below. "Today, we see the highest point in Europe," Renzi said. "Let's hope we'll never have to see the lowest."
*All photos of the Skyway Monte Bianco are from Marco Destefanis, Pacific Press/ZUMA