What fascinates me most about Valtellina is its ‘two faces’. The fact that each season presents itself in a different way without ever boring you, like an old friend. Certainly winter, for reasons well known to all, including the skiing facilities, some of the best in the whole country, and the Terme, is the perfect season to visit this “little region”. Summer should certainly not be underestimated either. When I think of Valtellina, I think of its villages perched on the different heights of the mountains, endless green valleys filled to the rim with pine trees and other conifers or crossed by a river, its people, the “Alpini”, who at first might seem a little cold, but as soon as they get to know you, are the warmest people ever.
Where to go for skiing? You are spoilt for choice. The beauty of the landscapes and the poetry of those peaks covered in snow which stand out in dizzying heights, make it one of the most popular ski destinations. Its slopes weave their way from Livigno to Bormio, from Santa Caterina Valfurva to Madesimo, passing through Chiesa in Valmalenco, Aprica, Teglio and Val Gerola.
Bormio certainly has a special role among my favourite places. Embraced by the imposing peaks of the Rhaetian Alps, it allows you to enjoy the mountain, with its colours and scents, in all seasons. It is one of the most lively villages at any time of the year. In winter it’s dominated by skiing: its slopes have hosted epic international cups. During summer, the numerous paths through the luxuriant vegetation of the Stelvio Park, which gradually gives way to mountain pastures, glaciers and peaks, are the main attraction.
Another location not to be missed is Livigno, named “Little Tibet” for being Italy’s second highest town with its 1.816 metres. Today this village is a best-known destination for branded shopping due to the tax benefits, but it’s also renowned for its offerings during both seasons. In summer visit Mottolino for a beautiful walk along the paths that cross the whole valley of Livigno where you will see blooming green lawns and endless woods. If you’re lucky enough, you might spot some ibex or ermine camouflaging themselves among the rocky walls. The more adventurous can cycle part of the route. Downhill is quite common in several areas of Alta Valtellina.
Last but not least Madesimo, located on the opposite side of Alta Valtellina, precisely in Valchiavenna, is both one of the most famous ski areas in the Alps and, like Bormio, a popular destination for youth because of the variety of bars and restaurants. The summer season is no less impressive in Madesimo either: the must-have of all hikes is a visit to the blue lake or “Lago Azzurro”, an easy path within everyone’s reach that will surprise you more than expected. The crystal clear water recalls some of other more famous lakes in northern Italy such as Braies lake.
The typical Valtellinese cuisine is characterised by its ancient history, simple and genuine ingredients, with an intense but at the same time delicate taste. Buckwheat, potatoes, butter and different types of cheese are just some of the prevalent and fundamental ingredients in addition to all types of meat. There are many typical dishes of this region, but the best known are pizzoccheri – buckwheat tagliatelle served with butter, Casera cheese, potatoes, savoy cabbage, garlic and pepper. This, at least, is the original recipe, but there are many variations in the preparation and presentation. Another dish not to be missed, usually served as an appetiser, is sciatt – small round buckwheat ball with a generous heart of Casera cheese. Among the most popular second courses is Polenta taragna: a typical recipe from Valtellina made by mixing corn flour, wheat, butter and cheese, served with slow cooked rabbit and small game meat or simply accompanied by a portion of local mushrooms. Also worth trying are the slinzega and ‘real’ bresaola, made from salted and dried beef.
Over the years I have learned much more about this sacred piece of earth, gaining appreciation with every additional encounter. In Valtellina you can live with nature and the state of peacefulness. It’s an enchanting region that offers the perfect balance between energy and relaxation, spending your days hopping from activity to activity, locality to locality. Add it to your bucket list and uncover all that hidden Valtellina has to offer.
These places made up my childhood, places that I still visit and live; Valtellina is the epicentre of many winter and summer activities, always missed regardless of time of year.
WHAT TO DO
Far from the hustle and bustle of the big cities, Valtellina is a place that offers many possibilities to anyone who visits it. From sport to wellness to a cultural visit, it is the epicentre of many activities. Visiting a place means savouring its essence and the rhythms dictated by the seasons, but also feeling part of it with great involvement. For this reason, Valtellina should be experienced first-hand at all times of year to savour all that it could offer. Without doubt, winter activities, such as skiing in all its forms, dominate the area. Rather unique is the experience of sleddog in Arnoga (between Bormio and Livigno), where you can drive a sled pulled by dogs at the Husky Village – Sleddog Ranch. For the more sporty, the same route through the woods can be covered on foot or with snowshoes. For those who enjoy the warmer months, the whole region offers a number of beautiful trails with breathtaking views:
Valle dei Vitelli with the hike to Lake Mot, one of the wonders of the Val Braulio suitable for quick half-day trips in a grandiose setting;
The visit to the Cancano lakes, the turquoise colours of the water will particularly capture your attention. From here many itineraries branch off across the valley in short, medium or long walks;
Val Trela, one of the most suggestive excursions to be made on foot or by mountain bike. The route leads up to the Malga Trela, an agriturismo managed by the same owners as the Rini (read below), which sits in the heart of one of the most beautiful meadow basins in the Alps.
A visit to the QC TERME in Bormio is also a must for anyone in the area. The various overflow pools and the different thermal courses make this place an oasis of wellness at any time of the year. Speaking of other activities not to be missed there’s also the Bernina Red Train, a travel experience that takes you from Tirano directly to Saint Moritz, passing through many suggestive panoramic points. The train runs all year round and is equipped with carriages that allow you to appreciate the surrounding landscape with a 360° view, both in winter and summer. Last among my favourite activities is a day trip to Glorenza, a small South Tyrolean borgo known for its Christmas markets, which can be reached in an hour’s drive via the Stelvio Pass.
WHERE TO STAY
Valtellina has plenty of fascinating hotels, residences and amazing chalets. Depending on the area in which you might be located, the offer is wide. I don’t have a favorite place in particular as I’ve been going to Bormio for many years – here you are spoilt for choice. All the structures have a great aesthetic and comfortable atmosphere. The most modern is Eden, a great refined hotel in the heart of Bormio that lies next to the Adda river. The rooms are just right and the experience will make you want to stay forever. Another stunning residence is La Baita dei Pini, a few steps away from Eden, located precisely on the other side of the river. The architecture and the interior are perfectly in line with the location. During summer it is stunning to see all the balconies filled with colored flowers. Visit the restaurant for exquisite cuisine. Last but not least among my favorite hotels is La Genzianella, the charme of the structure and the kindness of the staff is incomparable with any other.
Nearby, the town of Livigno is a great choice for those who want to relax. The Alpen Village Hotel offers one of the best outdoor pools in all of Lombardy. It’s the perfect combination for those who are sporty and want to relax with a great variety of activities for every season. Not too far from here Camana Veglia, a warm and harmonious place with attention to details, will surprise you. It’s a little gem in the heart of Livigno that will make you feel at home thanks to the sweetness of the owner, Carla. Don’t miss the dinner here, you won’t be upset.
WHERE TO EAT
Depending on the area in which you might be located, the offer is very wide. My places of the heart are the following:
Ristorante Trippi – Montagna in Valtellina The careful selection of raw materials, cooked with respect for tradition, makes this restaurant a must-visit in the province of Sondrio. A real guarantee for anyone who loves recipes prepared as in the past. The innovation lies in the presentation and composition of the dishes, protagonists of a very pleasant culinary experience.
Agriturismo Rini – Bormio A place that has made breeding its mission and authenticity its fil rouge. The tasting menu is perfect for those who want to try the full range of Valtellina cuisine. The homemade pizzoccheri are definitely among the best you can try in Bormio.
La Brace – Forcola As the name suggests, La Brace (in english “the grill”) is a typical restaurant whose speciality is grilled meat. The choice of the menu is quite extensive, in fact it is possible to try all the homemade local products from Valtellina. Here you can eat inside an old 200 hectolitre barrel transformed into an exclusive dining room.
Osteria del Crotto – Morbegno The osteria lives in a natural crotto (a traditional meeting place for people from the Alpine region, in particular from Valchiavenna) that dominates the entire Morbegno area from above. In the kitchen, but also in the dining room, Maurizio conquers the customers as a good promoter of the territory and of the authentic Valtellina specialities. The pizzoccheri made with chestnut flour are highly recommended.
La Pòsa – Livigno One of the most authentic restaurants in the region. This is Valtellina 2.0 cuisine, where traditional dishes are given a modern twist by chef Luca Galli. The highlight, and my personal favourite, is the venison chops with mulled wine.
Le Case dei Baff – Ardenno A plunge into the past thanks to interiors furnished with original pieces of the old Valtellina huts, to which the elegance of a different gastronomic experience is added. A few musts: barley soup in Lavécc with vegetables and chestnuts, donkey stew with mushrooms and buckwheat cake with blueberries.
Ristorante Enoteca Guanella – Bormio Located in an old 17th-century building in the old centre, the restaurant offers a contemporary cuisine; not only pizzoccheri and typical valtellinese dishes, but also many other dished, some of which are Piedmontese. Second courses include venison fillet in a Barbaresco and blueberry sauce, venison in civet with mashed potatoes or ganascino with Franciacorta wine.
Il Cantinone – Madesimo A sensational place for a fine dining experience. In this surprising mountain chalet everything is perfect, every dish is studied in detail to give an unforgettable experience. The kindness and professionalism of the owners, Raffaella and Stefano, accompany the excellence of the dishes making the gastronomic experience unique.
Al Persef – Livigno A very intimate and comfortable space with large windows that embrace the entire panorama of Livigno. There are only a few seats to taste a creative and modern cuisine, with very refined combinations, the result of the work of a young chef. Great attention is paid to local ingredients and the wine list is extensive.
Agriturismo Malga Magnolta – Aprica When you think of restaurants with breathtaking views in Valtellina, you definitely think of this agriturismo. It is the ideal place for a break after skiing or a long walk.
La Presef – Mantello The cuisine of La Présef (in the local dialect, “the manger”), a Michelin-starred restaurant inside the La Fiorida holiday farm, is full of emotions. The elegance of a territorial menu with pleasant notes of modern creativity flies abundantly from course to course. The credit goes to chef Gianni Tarabini, a true craftsman of food, who signs a traditional menu that veers towards its natural evolution.
Lanterna Verde – Villa di Chiavenna In winter, the beautiful, classic dining room will pamper you with the warmth of the fireplace, while in summer the pleasantness of the veranda under the pergola will win you over. The family-run business now has chef Roberto Tonola at the helm of the kitchen who, in both seasons, brings the best of the lake’s fish to traditional and more creative recipes, always with an eye to the local area.
Crotasc – Mese The location is rustic but with attention to detail, made even more welcoming and warm by the mountain-style furnishings and the ever-burning fireplace. The cuisine is the one of the mountain tables, interpreted in one of the most solid historical addresses of the area.
Valtellina is also known for its red wines made from Nebbiolo grapes with great personality. Its red wines obtained from the prized grapes of the terraces on the Rhaetian shore have always been an enviable calling card for Sondrio and its province. Among the DOCG wines not to be missed: the Sforzato (or Sfursat), a dry red passito wine or the Valtellina Superiore, produced with grapes from the area between Berbenno di Valtellina and Tirano, divided into the five sub-designations Maroggia, Sassella, Grumello, Inferno and Valgella. Also worth trying is the Rosso di Valtellina DOC. Among its most representative producers in the region, the Fay, Ar.pe.pe, and Nino Negri wineries should certainly be mentioned. No longer wines but typical of Valtellina are Braulio and Taneda, two digestive bitters made from herbs and medicinal plants.