When one thinks about mountain holidays, depending on personal preferences, one envisions either white peaks and powdery snow or green fields dotted by a myriad of wild colorful flowers. The fall is often overlooked, and it shouldn’t, as it can be a magical time of the year to visit the mountainous area of Valtellina.
Located in the far north of Lombardy, close to the border with Switzerland, Valtellina stretches from Morbegno in the west, through the main town of Sondrio and ends to the east in Tirano, all along the Adda River. Quite far from highways, this valley is often overlooked because of its remoteness – it is far easier to reach it from St. Moritz in Switzerland than from Milano – but is definitely worth the drive as it offers several attractions, from incredible wines and gastronomy, to thermal baths, to year-round skiing.
This region is also home to the stunning Stelvio National Park, the largest protected nature reserve in Europe: with its impressive glaciers and breath taking panoramas, the park is itself a good enough reason to visit the area. The fall is a particularly good time of the year to visit it, as most crowds are now gone, and the foliage turns incredible shades of yellow, orange and red. For detailed information visit: http:/ /www.stelviopark.it/
The spa resort of Bormio, too, is a highly desirable destination for those seeking rest and relaxation. The Bagni Vecchi (Old Thermal Baths) have been used for more than 2000 years: built by Romans before Christ, these two pools are still in use today and give visitors the chance to submerge themselves in history as well as in thermal water. The Grotta sudatoria di San Martino, a cave sauna escavated 150 feet into the mountain, is another favorite with guests who can relax next to where the thermal spring water spurs out. The outdoor pool, with its hot water, is also a stunning spot to enjoy in every season with unique views over the surrounding mountains. The Bagni Nuovi (New Thermal Spa) on the other hand, don’t boost much history, but they have a lot to offer when it comes to wellness with a unique path that takes visitors through seven different outdoor thermal pools – perfect for those who enjoy more variety.
Local cheeses Bitto, Casera and Scimudin, part of the region cuisine
History buffs can enjoy several First World War itineraries that stretch from the Stelvio Pass to Mount Scorluzzo: along the way you can see military outposts, barracks and, further towards the summit, the trenches escavated during the 1915-1918 conflict.
Valtellina also offers a lot to the wine lover looking for an unusual wine region, somewhere off the beaten tracks, with a selection of small, boutique wine estates, stunning alpine scenery and superb gastronomy. Among the great local wines, the Sforzato, Maroggia, Sassella and Inferno are amongst the best and definitely worth a try. Expect long, leisurely lunches and hearty specialties: local cheeses Bitto, Casera and Scimudin are good alone or as part of the regions cuisine; Bresaola, air cured beef sliced thinly as prosciutto is great on bread, but also by itself with just a few drops of olive oil and shaved Parmesan cheese; pizzocheri, buckwheat tagliatelle with cheese, potatoes and greens are perhaps the most famous –and one of the most delicious– dishes to try while in the area.
If you enjoy train travel don’t miss out the opportunity to travel to St. Moritz, Switzerland, from Tirano with the Bernina Express: the journey is part of the Unesco Heritage since 2008 and is simply spectacular. The train climbs all the way to Bernina pass (6600 meters above sea level) and travels on one of the highest tracks of the Alps. The views are breathtaking, from lake Poschiavo to Alp Grüm and Ospizio Bernina, where not one but two glaciers can be seen. For tickets and more information visit: www.rhb.ch
Valtellina can be reached by train using the Milano -Tirano line, stopping along the way to Lecco on Lake Como, Morbegno, famous for its wine cellars and Sondrio.
By car use the Spluga express way up to Colico, then the Strada Statale 38 “Strada dello Stelvio” that goes all the way up the valley to Bormio.
The closest airports are Milano Linate (about 80 miles), Milano Malpensa (about 100 miles) and Bergamo Orio al Serio (about 65 miles).