Italian Mountains, Art and Architecture

Tessin, the Italian part of Switzerland functions like a Swiss clockwork in Italian style. We entered via the Gotthard Pass and checked out the newly renovated Hospice, now a modern Hiker’s Hotel. The Tessin region has some beautiful valleys to explore, mountains to be climbed, lakes and rivers to swim in. The Verzasca Valley is a stunning place offering a multi day high mountain trek along a ridge line. We were amazed to find the huts empty and stocked with beer, wine and food, all based on a honesty system. It was like walking into someone’s home! Hard to believe this works in a place so well populated like Europe and what an example to the world!

After this little warm up we crossed the border into Italy, the region of Valtellina, and went to Valmasino and Val di Mello, ‘Butterfly valley’. Just the name would want me to go there. I love butterflies, paint them, called my bike Mariposa, and am generally fond of them, as they are a symbol for passion. What else does one need to know! It’s a valley well known to climbers for its shear granite walls, but otherwise mainly very popular for day trippers from Milan. Yet it has a lot to offer: luxurious hot thermal springs with healing attributes, a crystal clear river to swim in, a cute little village, the best Pizzaria, day walks and a multi day high alpine trek called ‘Sentiero Roma‘. I attempted it a few years ago, but too much snow had stopped me and I made a vow to come back one day.

Mission completed and we carried on to the Dolomites, visiting the Basilica della Madonna de Tirano on the way. She is known for healing many sick people, so I lit a candle for a friend. We than drove over the Passo de Stelvio with great views to the Ortler Mountains and visited the Messner Mountain Museum Ortles in Sulden, which is all about snow and ice. I have been twice before to his MMM Firmian Museum in Bolzano and love the synthesis of modern and old architecture, art and culture. He’s as much an artist/architect as a mountaineer and a businessman. We made a point of also visiting the MMM Ripa at the Bruneck Castle, dedicated to the mountain people of the world.

And of course in the Dolomites there are plenty of via ferratas to climb and blessed with a week of fine weather we managed quite a few of the harder ones…not without a few coffee and beer stops, as well as some culture and history thrown in.

Bolzano is a great place to stay, a lovely town to explore and centrally placed to access the different regions of the Dolomites. Only a short distance away we visited the Plattner Bee Museum and I learned a lot about these little creatures: the bee can sense the magnetic field of the earth and from there determine the time of the day. They have a dance floor of about 100cm2 at the entrance of the hive to communicate via vibrations the destination of the food source, etc… Humans only would survive about 4 years should the bee disappear. Another place worth visiting in Bolzano is the new Salewa Headquarters and climbing wall.

We left Italy via the Timmelsjoch, once a smugglers road and a mule track, linking the Passeiertal valley and the Ötztal valley. Architectural sculptures located at several stopping places along the road, enlighten travellers about the natural surroundings, the history, the culture, the communities and the economy of the region….expanding our horizon. I also learned that the substances deep embedded in Swiss pine (Zirbel) wood, typical for this area, reduce our heart frequency. That in turn increases our physical and mental abilities. If we sleep in a bed made of Swiss pine, our heart is saved some 3500 beats, the equivalent of an hours work, every single night. It also has antibacterial properties and fights of mould.