Valtellina will surprise you! Here is a complete guide to discover the best places to visit and taste fine Valtellina wine in all seasons!
The Valtellina is an alpine area that lies on the Adda river near Lake Como and reaches its maximum extension with Punta Perrucchetti of the Bernina massif.
As its name suggests, it is made up of a series of valleys. The name “Tellina” was mentioned for the first time by the Bishop of Pavia in the 6th century, indicating the Valle del Teglio, an inhabited centre. However, earlier documents dating back to Charlemagne mention the wording “Vallis Tellina”.
Its history is rooted in the Etruscans and Romans. But it is its geography that makes it such a popular destination for those who love excursions in contact with nature and mountain holidays, with relaxation as well as good food and Valtellina wine.
The Valtellina is one of the best places for activity-seekers and is a great place to visit all year round, thanks to its breathtaking scenery, spas, beautiful lakes but also the culture that is enclosed in this Italian gem.
Let’s discover what to see in Valtellina, the most entertaining activities, places to visit and curiosities.
What to see in Valtellina?
The Valtellina is a place that has so much to offer visitors: not only its wide valleys and mountains, but also its characteristic villages, stone houses, excellent cuisine, outdoor activities, and places of history and culture.
What to see in Valtellina? Each town, each village, has its own soul, so particular and unique that it deserves to be visited. You will be spoilt for choice among the best things to see in Valtellina.
Tirano is a unique town characterised by its history, art and culture. A point of union between Italy and Switzerland with breathtaking landscapes and a past where the Etruscans, Gauls and Romans were protagonists.
The characteristic Bernina Express also departs from Tirano, travelling 60 kilometres through the vegetation of the Alps to Bernina.
Enclosed within the city walls, it boasts a delightful medieval church, S. Perpetua. The Basilica della Madonna di Tirano dates back to the 16th century, the town’s sanctuary being the heart of Tirano after the apparition of the Virgin Mary in 1504.
The square is also home to the Ethnographic Museum, which documents the life and traditions of the town. Strolling through the streets of the centre allows you to admire the historic buildings such as Salis, Palazzo Merizzi and the 18th-century courtyards. The historic centre retains its uniqueness and is full of small food shops where you can taste local delicacies such as bresaola, pizzocheri and Rosso di Valtellina wine.
Bormio is a town rich in history, famous in particular for its thermal baths. In the past, the Romans came here to relax.
The old town is decorated with little lights, arches and flowered balconies. There is so much to admire and the best time to do so is at dawn, when the sun spreads through the streets in such a way as to illuminate them all. Worthy of attention are the Church of Santo Spirito, the Tower of the Hours, the main square but also the gargoyles that embody dragons.
Livigno is located in a customs-free area and is the largest municipality in Lombardy. The area is a tourist destination, a perfect skiing area for winter and summer.
Bathed by the Acqua Granda, it has got a cool and characteristic climate that makes it pleasant to stay in summer too. Places to visit include the Church of Santa Maria Nascente, the MUS! museum opened in 2015 which displays an ethnographic collection of the area with elements from the 18th century, the Church of San Rocco and that of Sant’Antonio.
What to see in Valtellina if you are looking for a unique event? Among the most characteristic events, we find the epiphany Ghibinèt, when children go around the houses to get sweets and small gifts. Or the feast of Sant’Antonio Abate, when the whole town dresses up. The carnival with folk dances and the Palio delle contrade, a not-to-be-missed event to admire costumes and traditions, is also very nice.
Sondrio is the heart of Valtellina, situated below the Corna Mara massif. Evidence of prehistoric times can be found in its territory. During the barbarian invasions, it was the place where fugitives hid.
It is characterised by extensive religious architecture, in particular the Church of Saints Gervasio and Protasio, the Ligariana Tower in the heart of the town, the Church of San Rocco, the Church of the Sacred Heart and the Church of the Guardian Angel. The city is also rich in palaces and historical buildings from the 16th century.
A walk to the Madonna della Sassella, which leads to the sanctuary through the vineyards, a visit to the historic centre and the Masegra Castle, and a stop at the town’s many votive shrines, the most famous of which are in Via Scarpatetti, are a must.
Chiavenna is a very special town because its historic centre has remained intact since the 16th century. The village is therefore a real plunge into history: passing through via Dolzino, the main street, you can still admire the old façades with their hand-painted decorations. It’s like being in an open-air museum. In the portals, there are still the floral stone decorations with Latin inscriptions.
Looking around you can see spectacular gardens. The most beautiful is certainly the Curt di Asen. In addition to the churches, the squares and fountains are certainly worth seeing, especially San Lorenzo, which dates back to the 5th century, the Baroque Church of Santa Maria and the urn with the statue of Christ. From a historical point of view, the Museum of the Treasury is representative, housing a lot of sacred material from the 19th century.
In Morbegno, time seems to stand still: the village is full of majestic buildings and beautiful streets with wrought iron balconies.
Palazzo Malacrida in the upper part of the town is one of the most valuable historical examples. The palace’s frescoes are enchanting, but they are not the only architectural highlights. The streets of the centre are full of them, especially churches and fountains.
Among the religious architecture, the Church of San Pietro dating back to 1337 and the 15th-century Church of San Martino, linked to a legend that says the site was an ancient temple of Hercules, are worthy of attention. The local craftsmanship is of great value and is still one of the sources of income for the area.
7. Stelvio National Park and Stelvio Pass
The Stelvio Pass is an alpine area as well as being the highest pass in Italy, located within the Stelvio National Park. It divides the Western Alps from the Southern Alps and is a popular destination for skiers. In the 1930s the idea came up to exploit the Livrio glacier for summer skiing, and in the 1950s the first school for summer skiing on ice was established.
The Stelvio National Park is one of the oldest nature parks in Italy, established in 1935 with the aim of protecting the flora and fauna of the Ortles-Cevedale mountain area. The territory includes forests, agricultural areas, mountain farms, farmhouses. What to see in Valtellina if you love animals? In the park there is a wide variety of ecosystems, many animals from badgers to marmots and a great variety of birds, some of them rare, such as the golden eagle.
8. Val di Mello
Val di Mello is an immense nature reserve, the largest in Lombardy. It is divided into two large areas: integral and special reserves. The integral reserve is limited and not accessible, while the special reserve includes not only a natural area but also rural sites, valleys and many paths. The San Martino trail is particularly worthwhile. There are also many climbing areas.
Valmalenco is the area with the highest number of mountain huts in the whole area and is ideal for those who love outdoor walks and hiking.
What to do in Valtellina if you love nature? Try the Via della Valmalenco, an itinerary of 100 kilometres and eight stages with noteworthy views and panoramas. Along the way there are many lakes with spectacular waters where you can also bathe. The paths are very characteristic and allow you to enjoy the mountain air.
Madesimo is a very characteristic small village with about five hundred inhabitants. It is the place of excellence for cycling, alpine skiing and hiking.
Also worth seeing are the church of San Pietro e Paolo, the Canalone with the most beautiful slopes in the Alps, Lake Isola and the Pianazzo waterfalls. In Roman times, the road linking Milan to Lindau passed through this point, between the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. It was the place chosen by Giosuè Carducci for his holidays. It still retains all its charm today with many circuits for winter sports enthusiasts.
Grosio is a very special town in the Valtellina, both from an archaeological and historical point of view. Today the inhabitants make their living from agriculture and handicrafts. But the village is especially famous for its rock engravings, dating back to the Bronze and Iron Ages. If you are wondering what to see in Valtellina and you love archaeology, you can’t miss it!
There are two medieval castles in Grosio. In spite of their small size, it is possible to admire these two immense walled structures above the promontory that dominate the whole town.
12. Cancano lakes
The lakes of Cancano are two artificial basins created with the waters of the river Adda. To reach them it is necessary to have a car and then continue on foot as the area is closed to traffic. There are two lakes, Cancano and San Giacomo.
The road to get there is scenic and extremely characteristic, there are also tunnels carved into the rock. As you walk, you can admire a small natural lake called Lago delle Scale.
13. Towers of Fraele
The Towers of Fraele are spectacular towers dating back to 1391 that rise in the valley of the same name in Valdidentro at 1930 metres. They were originally part of a defensive structure developing around the perimeter of a fortified area that gave access to the valley. Nothing remains of this fortified area, only the towers that boast several floors. Today they can be admired in all their grandeur, literally standing out against the mountainous landscape but not accessible from the inside.
What to do in Valtellina: activities for all the family!
The Valtellina is a renowned and organised area for winter as well as summer holidays. There are activities for people who love sport, nature, relaxation, food and wine, and above all for all ages.
Definitely worth mentioning are the ski slopes: there are great areas for adults and children, both in winter and summer. The thermal baths of Bormio are also very beautiful: they are perfect to relax, enjoy the pools and beauty treatments.
A snowmobile tour to discover the natural parks and high peaks is great fun. In Valtellina, you can also find the Snow Eagle cable car, which is the highest in Europe, reaching 2100 metres.
Among the activities, it is possible to organise mountain bike excursions, walks, trekking, snowshoeing, but also beautiful and romantic horse riding.
What is there to see in Valtellina that is absolutely unmissable? Among the most beautiful itineraries there is the “Via dei Terrazzamenti”, a pedestrian area that connect Morbegno to Tirano and winds through the entire Valtellina. This is the most famous area and also touches on a number of historical and cultural sites. There are forty rest areas along the route, which can be done on foot or by bicycle.
The Valtellina is also famous for its 2,500 kilometres of dry stone walls, the element which is visible throughout the area and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
1. Bernina Express Train
The train covers sixty kilometres from Tirano to Bernina on the Swiss side. The Bernina express is the fastest panoramic train, equipped with domed windows that allow you to admire the surrounding area throughout the journey. The train passes through all sections of the Alps and then closes in St. Moritz. It goes from 429 metres to a final 2253 metres and is an absolutely unmissable experience for anyone visiting the Valtellina.
2. Bridge in the sky
A particularly narrow Tibetan footbridge, more than 200 metres long, is located right in the Campo Tartano valley. It can only be reached by car, but the possibility of crossing it and being immersed in the mountains is something to be experienced at least once in a lifetime.
The bridge is the highest of its kind in Europe and connects the two sides of the Tartano Valley. It is suitable for all types of travellers as it is very stable, with no rocking effect.
3. Bormio spa
Bormio town is characterised by three different thermal centres: “Bagni vecchi”, “Bagni Nuovi” and “Terme” with over thirty treatments between outdoor and indoor pools, which are therefore usable all year round.
They are a perfect place for those seeking relaxation and wanting to be pampered with beauty treatments and massages. The establishment also offers a range of packages with the possibility of sports activities.
This area is particularly famous because it has a special historical value: the Romans used to come here for relaxing baths in ancient times. During the 16th century, the baths became increasingly famous, thanks to special guests such as Archduke Ferdinand.
The thermal waters range from 37 to 43 degrees Celsius with a variety of springs using local waters.
4. Eat in a crotto & Taste Valtellina wine
Valtellina’s food and wine is Italy’s pride and joy, with world-famous traditional foods such as pizzoccheri, Bitto and Valtellina Casera PDO cheeses, Bresaola della Valtellina PGI, as well as typical desserts.
In order to enjoy a true local food experience, however, the ideal is to sample these delicacies in the typical Crotti of Valchiavenna, which are not restaurants but iconic places with fixed menus where the best of local tradition is served. They have got a characteristic atmosphere, starting with an “antipasto sciatt” of cured meats and cheeses and then moving on to the first course, typically pizzoccheri with venison ragout, then the second course such as polenta and ribs. It ends with typical desserts, cakes and local grappa.
Few people know that Valtellina is also very renowned for its wines, so much so that there is the Valtellina Wine Road (Strada del Vino della Valtellina), where it is possible to taste traditional foods in many wine cellars located along the route. You should try the Valtellina Superiore Sassella DOCG, the Grumello DOCG, the Inferno DOCG, the Valgella DOCG wines, but also the craft beers made with care and able to exalt all the Italian taste.
Now that you know what to see in Valtellina, compare our travel ideas and create your own tailor-made food and wine holiday with Italia Delight’s Local Experts! 😉