Tuesday 21st April: woke to another lovely day. Breakfast, same view as the previous morning, plus a man out working in his garden. So........ where to today? The original plan was Monte San Giorgio, a wooded mountain at the bottom end of Lake Lugano, famous for its fossils, including dinosaurs - Switzerland's own 'Jurassic Park'. (You can't actually see any on the walk, apparently, but you can visit them in the museum in Meride.) But on the other hand, it probably made more sense to continue exploring the Valle di Muggio, since we were actually there, and my Ticino walking guide featured an attractive-sounding route. First, though, I thought we should go and have a look at the Breggia Gorge, since the hotel owner had taken the trouble to tell us about it and draw us a sketch map of how to get there. So after packing our bags and leaving them in a corner of the breakfast room, we set out back to Morbio Inferiore. A different route this time, following the sketch map. Near a church with an impressive row of cypress trees clipped into very tall, thin columns, I spotted a poster which appealed to my childish sense of humour, and had to have a photograph of it:
Back in the village (and resisting the temptation of a return visit to the nice restaurant!) we saw signs to the gorge (also a geological trail) and followed them down a hill to the river. This path came out near one end of the trail, so we followed it that way first, past a former brewery (last operational about 110 years ago), a small lake, and an old mill with a huge water wheel rusting away in its stone channel. Any further, and we would have emerged into the main valley, so we turned back here and explored the other way, past the towering ruins of a massive cement factory (an important former industry - there is also a 'cement trail' for the industrial archaeologically minded). So far, it had not been particularly gorge-like, but the river now narrowed, cutting its way between some dramatic cliffs, the narrow path clinging to the side as it climbed upwards. This was getting exciting! Quick change of plan: instead of going back the way we had come and catching the bus in Morbio Inferiore, a map check suggested we could continue along here, cross back over the river higher up, walk up to Morbio Superiore, and catch the same bus there.......... if we were quick. The bridge was terrifyingly high, and seemed to be suspended in mid-air, with an alarming view down between the wooden slats - I didn't linger! With the clock ticking, we walked very fast up the hill to the village, congratulating ourselves on having made it in time........... and then couldn't find the right bus stop, aaaagh! Marched up another hill - wrong - sprint down again - no sign of a bus - damn, have we already missed it?! There's a postman, ask him......... My Italian is bad, and J's non-existent, but somehow we are directed to a strip of pavement by the church. A bus comes, we try to get on it.......... no, it's a school bus. Wait another few minutes, here's another........ no, not the right one either, but the driver assures us it will be along in a moment. Five minutes later...........sure this must be it, we try to board bus no. 3; no, this is also a school bus! But bus no. 4 is right behind it, and finally this IS our bus, an Italianate 15 minutes late, and we are on our way to Muggio, the last village of this valley. It is at this point I realize my Garmin has gone blank, 6.11 kms into the day's walk. I forgot to bring the charger, and the battery has run out.
I liked Muggio - possibly because its restaurant was open! I had a liquid lunch, J. a salad, and then we set off. Down at first, into the bottom of the valley, across a bridge, then up the other side............ and up, and up. and up........ The description in the book had not made it clear just how much 'up' was involved - it had the audacity to describe the walk as 'easy'! After zigzagging for a long time through trees, we finally emerged above them, and looked back on Muggio far below across the valley.
The path went on climbing more gently over grassy upland dotted at intervals with half-derelict abandoned buildings, the largest of these just past Alp Germania - a farm with its roof fallen in, and parts of the walls beginning to follow. You could not really blame people for giving up and moving on, after many years (perhaps centuries) of living in lonely isolation up here, trying to wrest a living from a terrain of such unforgiving steepness. But there was something a bit sad and spooky about it, and I hurried on past, along a thread of path across the sun-baked hillside, feeling as though ghosts were watching. A bit further along was another ruined house, clearly much longer abandoned, its stones beginning to be absorbed back into the landscape - this was much less disturbing, somehow. At Piansessa, another, its structure still intact, except for a derelict barn at the side, but bolted and shuttered and devoid of life - perhaps just occupied in summer. On its far side I noticed an odd structure, a small, round building; wondering if it was a shrine, I walked round it, but apart from a door, it was featureless......... then suddenly I thought 'Hang on, I know what this is.........!' The door was not locked, just secured with an iron bar through a ring; we opened it, and found ourselves looking down into a cylindrical pit, 6 metres deep, with a stone spiral staircase........... another of the 10 'nevere'. Not far from this, we passed another strange building, a tower, and think this might have been a 'Dörrhaus - a building for drying chestnuts - I had seen a picture of one in the brochure from the hotel.
Finally emerging onto a road from this silent, unpeopled landscape, it was almost a shock to see something as 21st century as a parked car (though still no people.) Leaving the road again soon after, we passed the highest point of the walk at Dosso Bello, and for a while the walk lived up to its 'easy' description, along wide, sandy tracks, mostly flat or with a gentle downward slope. We stopped off at a convenient bench and had a second lunch of sundry odds and ends (some of it appropriated from the breakfast buffet) and water (we brought both bottles this time.) The ease was not to last, however, as we reached the Via Fontana: several kms of pack horse track unevenly floored with pebbles, descending some 500 metres in multiple zigzags to Obino and Castel San Pietro - bruising to the feet and very hard on the knees. (These pebbled tracks are another notable feature of the area - we had experienced some the previous day too, but not so relentless as this.)
(Actually one of the less demanding parts!)
Finally down in Castel San Pietro, we found a bus stop, checked the times, and discovered there was one in about half an hour that would take us back to Vacallo. Meanwhile, it now being quite hot, we found some shade under a nearby tree and lay on the grass drinking the rest of our water and watching lizards. (The lizards - how could I have forgotten to mention them? They were everywhere, a constant presence over the two days, rustling through the dry leaves and undergrowth, scuttling over rocks and walls.)
Back in Vacallo with time to spare before returning to Chiasso and our train home, we changed clothes and had a drink on the little terrace of the hotel bar - it felt well-deserved. Not sure how far we had walked - from the time it took, maybe about 14 (hilly) kms, plus the 6 from the morning. Enjoyed it very much, though (except maybe the last km or so of pebbly descent, when it was getting rather painful!) It's a fascinating area of the country, overlooked by tourists who think Switzerland stops at Lugano, or who rattle through Chiasso on their way to Milan and beyond. I liked its feeling of remoteness and being away from people. I probably won't be back (I've 'done' it now, and there are so many other areas I want to explore), but it was certainly worth the visit.
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