Most people who reside in the Lariana Alpine region are convinced that they live in the most beautiful part of the world: this programme aims to find out if they are right! You will scale panoramic peaks, experiencing the overwhelming joy invoked by the 360° views over a vast ocean of mountains, valleys, and sky-reflecting lakes. As well as these amazing panoramas, from the great alpine lakes to the glacial mountains girdling the distant horizons, you will be pleasantly surprised by a world of gastronomic delights, and encounter the traditional culture of these magnificent mountains, visiting alpine pastures and observing the centuries-old traditions of tending herds and flocks, and cheese-making.
This programme, offered in English and Italian, has been designed for those who are interested in discovering the alpine world, and who are able and willing to walk in a mountain setting. A good level of physical fitness is required as the most demanding days involve approximately 5 hours walking.
12/6 – 26/6
3/7 – 10/7 -17/7 – 24/7
11/9 – 18/9
The first two nights are spent at the Baitock Hotel in Pian delle Betulle, an archetypal alpine hotel offering excellent traditional cuisine. On Day 1 you climb Monte Muggio (1799 mt), above Alpe del Giumello (1550 m.), a straightforward walk offering indescribable views over Lake Como and the Alps. After the walk, you have lunch in the historic Capanna Vittoria, renowned for its local cuisine. In the afternoon you visit Premana, where the art of ironworking dates back to Roman times, before returning to the Baitock Hotel.
After this excellent start, it is time to explore the mountains leading to Pizzo dei Tre Signori. The next two nights are spent at the Grassi mountain refuge, so there will be one full day to climb this demanding peak and explore the surrounding area. The path follows the panoramic crests encircling Val Marcia, leading to Valle di Biandino, where you stop for lunch and to relax a little at the Tavecchia mountain refuge. The way back leads to Sasso Lake, and then to the Santa Rita mountain refuge, from where the trail follows the mountain crests to Val Marcia, re-joining the outward-bound section of the path, before stopping for a tasty lunch at the Ombrega mountain refuge. In the afternoon you visit the nearby Dolcigo pastures, where shepherds tend their flocks of goats and make wonderful cheese, before heading back to Pian delle Betulle and the Baitock Hotel.
A one-day extension is also offered, to follow the ancient track winding along Lake Como from the Bellano Gorge, formed by the Pioverna River, to Vezio Castle, a centuries-old route taken also by Leonardo da Vinci, discovering traditional villages nestled amongst olive tree groves, enjoying breath-taking views of the lake.
As its Italian name suggests, Pian delle Betulle (Plain of Birch Trees) is a level area, a grassy terrace embellished by an elfin birch wood, providing incredible views extending westwards from the slopes of Mount Cimone. The horizon is encircled to the south by Grigna (2410 m.), a graceful fortress-like mass of dolomite rock and to the north by the steep green pyramid of Monte Legnone (2609 m.). The view to the west extends over Lake Como and Lake Lugano in Switzerland, with a series of mountain chains girdled by glacial peaks including Monte Rosa and the Matterhorn. Cars are not permitted in Pian delle Betulle, so the peaceful, natural setting can be enjoyed undisturbed. For many centuries the shepherds and herders of Margno have brought their animals here for summer pastures, and they continue to do so to this very day. In fact, there will be opportunities to observe this lifestyle and these activities, which have been further boosted by tourism.
The Baitock Hotel (baitock.it) offers double bedrooms with private bathrooms. The Grassi mountain refuge (rifugiograssi.it), where you will stay for two nights, is a much simpler structure, with four double bedrooms which are assigned in accordance with the booking order, and there is also one large room with 18 beds, arranged as three-tier bunk beds. Individual sheet sleeping bags and pillowcases are provided, and are used in conjunction with the blankets and quilts on hand.
Please read this insert for how to get to base camp.
In addition to the magnificent natural beauty and the rich folkloristic traditions of the various valleys, the Italian alpine regions provide an exclusive assortment of local gastronomic specialities, which vary from area to area. This itinerary provides a number of opportunities to sample the very best of what the Lariana mountain region can offer, and the restaurants selected for our meals (which are all included in the cost) reflect this appreciation for the quality of local products.
The main location, the base camp for our various excursions, is the Baitock Hotel at Pian delle Betulle, where you will dine three times (or four, with the extension). The proprietors offer a selection of traditional dishes prepared using local produce, incorporating centuries-old, almost-forgotten recipes that they have rediscovered. They also make delicious desserts and excellent ice cream. You will have lunch in three mountain refuges famous for their local alpine cuisine: the historic Capanna Vittoria (Giumello), the Tavecchia (Biandino) and the Ombrega (Val Marcia); all three refuges attract large numbers of hikers, drawn to them specifically because of the wonderful food provided. On the remote slopes of Pizzo dei Tre Signori you will stay in the unsophisticated and unassuming Grassi refuge, but even here the food is lovingly prepared using natural local ingredients, and fresh bread is baked by the staff.
Local wines can help digest this tasty alpine food. The valley immediately north of Monte Legnone, Valtellina, produces high-quality wines, rendered unique by the specific composition of the soil on which the grapes are cultivated. The most famous of these wines are perhaps Sassella, Grumello and Inferno, or the prized Sfurzat, which in terms of excellence competes with the finest Italian wines.
On a more practical level, here are some of the dishes that you may have the opportunity to try: pizzoccheri, sciatt, bagnarel, polenta taragna, crespelle saracene, gnocchetti di malga, game prepared in various ways, braised meat, and many others. Without forgetting the not-to-be missed charcuterie and cheese boards, and the speciality desserts made by each restaurant. Vegetarians will not encounter any problems, but vegans will find meals a little more tricky (although not impossible), because in the Alps cheese is a key ingredient in many dishes. Those following a vegan diet are therefore advised to bring a few supplies.
This ascent involves an altitude difference of 567 m., and while not excessively challenging from this aspect, there are some particularly steep sections where fixed ropes or chains have been installed to help hikers. There is a very sheer section just before the summit, but there are good hand and footholds, and a helpful chain. Although no technical equipment (ropes, harnesses, etc.) is required, the safety chains installed mean that the Environmental and Hiking Guide is not authorised to accompany clients. Should you prefer to secure the assistance of a specialist guide, which we would recommend for all those who are not expert hikers, it is necessary to appoint a professional Alpine Guide.
The trip is conducted by a professional Environmental and Hiking Guide (AIGAE), except for the ascent to Pizzo dei Tre Signori, where, if requested, you can be assisted by a professional Mountain Guide (supplement 250 €). Both these guides also speak English, and their roles are to escort clients along alpine paths, while also illustrating and explaining the environmental features of the area and the local customs. This latter aspect is particularly important because there will be the opportunity to visit alpine pastures where animals are taken for the summer, meeting the people who not only look after their herds, but who also make cheese from the excellent alpine milk produced following traditional methods.
Summer in this region is usually quite dry, but some rain is always possible, and evening temperatures can be rather cool (never below zero). You must therefore bring suitable clothing for these conditions, trekking/walking boots with soles providing good grip, a backpack, and a torch (preferably a head torch). Trekking sticks are also useful.
Wifi is available at the Baitock Hotel, and at the Grassi refuge (the signal here is rather weak). In these mountain areas there are very few ATM machines, and credit cards are not accepted in all refuges, so you should bring some cash with you.
NB: Note that in the event of adverse climatic or environmental conditions, the Guide might decide to change the programme for the day, in order to ensure the comfort and safety of the participants.
Day 1 SUNDAY: Arrival at Pian delle Betulle
The programme begins with a welcome dinner at the Baitock Hotel (baitock.it), which will be the starting point for the hikes of the next few days. The Hotel can be reached in two ways (please see insert for how to get to base camp):
In the evening, you will meet your guide in the hotel for dinner, providing the perfect opportunity to ask for further details and clear up any queries that you might have.
DAY 2 MONDAY: Alpe del Giumello to Monte Muggio – Capanna Vittoria – Premana
You leave from Pian delle Betulle, destination Alpe del Giumello (directions can be found on Gmaps, from either Margno or from Alpe di Paglio). If your car is at Margno, take the 9:00 cable-car. The distance to drive from Margno is 10 km. Otherwise, walk to Alpe di Paglio (the distance to drive from here will be 16 km). The meeting point at Alpe del Giumello will be at 9.40 at the historic Capanna Vittoria refuge (capannavittoria.it – on Gmaps), built more than one hundred years ago. Enjoy the impressive panoramas from the magnificent green pastures of Monte Muggio, which is surrounded by big mountains Legnone, Pizzo dei Tre Signori & Grigna. At your feet you will have one of the most wonderful views of Lake Como. To the West, the lakes of Porlezza and Lugano point across some lower mountain chains towards the imposing glacial peaks of the Western Alpine Arc, which dominates the horizon. Leaving Capanna Vittoria, you follow the Belvedere trail, which leaves from the small village with pretty houses that was at one time the pasture zone of Giumello, and then passes through the pretty little alpine town of Alpe Chiaro. Around 45 minutes and a few ups and downs later, the trail reaches Pra’ Boiscino, a wonderful panoramic viewpoint at an altitude of approximately 1550 m. above Lake Como. An easy path from here leads up to the summit of Monte Muggio (1799 m.), where the view opens up to a spectacle that is even more incredible and extensive. The descent leads directly to Capanna Vittoria, for lunch, where you can savour some of the dishes for which this refuge is particularly renowned, prepared using typical local ingredients. In the afternoon you go to Premana, the furthermost town in Alta Valsassina, on the slopes of Monte Legnone at an altitude of 1000 metres, and approximately 16 km from Giumello. Premana is proud of its ancient history, tracing its origins back to the prehistoric era of the Oribi (an Iron Age Celto-Ligurian tribe), and subsequently becoming a centre for the Celts and the Romans, as you will discover during the visit to the fascinating ethnographic museum. The surrounding mountains hold iron mines that were excavated in ancient times, when processes for the fusion of metal and metallurgic production were developed. These activities continue to thrive today, particularly in the field of high-quality products. After visiting the museum, and after having wandered through the tiny streets and lanes tracing out the town centre, whose medieval design remains intact, there will be an opportunity to visit one of the historical workshops. From Premana you return to Pian delle Betulle: via Alpe di Paglio (10 km), or via Margno, and the cable-car (8 km). (NB: the last run of the day is at 17.30). This wonderful day ends with an excellent dinner, based on traditional, local products, at the Baitock Hotel.
DAY 3 TUESDAY: Tavecchia Refuge and Casere di Biandino – Grassi Refuge
Anything not needed is left at the Baitock Hotel, where you will return. A broad path leads gradually to the Larice Bruciato (1708 m.), with impressive, panoramic horizons to admire all along the way. Leaving the woods, you reach the higher, grassy areas, and after the pastures of Ortighera the trail passes high above the huts at Alpe Oro, arriving at the tiny shrine positioned just above the Larice Bruciato, on the watershed with Val Marcia. You then follow the southern edge of this valley, maintaining altitude and passing through the Bocchetta d’Olino (1630 m.). The view from here is stunning, down to the Dolcigo pastures (to visit on the way back) below the path, and the town of Premana recumbent on the slopes of mighty Monte Legnone. Then upward to the Bocchette di Ombrega (1890 m.) and from there downward, passing through the Abi pastures to Val Biandino. The walk to this point takes approximately three hours. Here, at the Tavecchia Refuge (1500 m. – rifugiotavecchia.it), an excellent lunch awaits, featuring products from these valleys (however, it is advisable to not eat or drink excessively because there is a quite a climb to do in the afternoon!). The Casere di Biandino pastures are nearby, and you can observe the afternoon milking session, which usually begins at 14:00. If you stay a little longer, you can also observe the cheese-making process. The day’s destination is not far, but there is a long slope to climb before getting there, up to Camisolo Pass (2000 m.), which is very close to the Grassi Refuge at 1987 m. (rifugiograssi.it), a walk of approximately two hours. Here you will settle in for two nights, savouring the particularly well-prepared dishes on offer. The history of this refuge is interesting: it was constructed in 1921 in this panoramic alpine pasture, in an area rich in mining resources used by shepherds since ancient times. In 1944 it was demolished because it was one of the support stations for the partisans, but was rebuilt and extended two years later. It has now been sensitively modernised by the new management.
DAY 4 WEDNESDAY: Grassi Refuge, ascent of Pizzo and pastures
You set off for Pizzo dei Tre Signori (2554 m.), one of the most well known peaks in the region, marking the boundary between the provinces of Bergamo, Lecco and Sondrio. The ascent to the summit of Pizzo does not necessitate the use of any technical equipment, but some parts of the trail are rather exposed and walkers are assisted and reassured by the fixed ropes and chains that they can hold onto. A professional Mountain Guide can also be engaged for those requiring greater assistance (further information about this can be found below). In the highest part, you pass through the ‘chimney’, a steep section of rock, but with excellent hand, footholds and fixed chains, opening out onto the summit of the mountain. The sensation of joy experienced by having reached this spectacular summit with breath-taking views will therefore also be enriched by a wonderful sense of adventure. The climb usually takes around two hours. A different path is taken for the descent, through the rocks of the north face, so the route actually crosses this beautiful mountain. After reaching the Bocchetta di Piazzocco, you take the path crossing the slopes, passing above lovely Sasso Lake (to visit the next day), and reaching the Grassi refuge. For lunch, you can take a picnic from the refuge, or decide to get back in time to savour a platter of cheese or cold meats. In the afternoon, you can take a short walk (roughly 30 minutes) to one of the nearby pastures (Foppa Bona at the base of Zucco di Cam, or Caserone) where goats and cows spend the summer in the care of their herders, who also make cheese. Those who decide not to climb Pizzo can follow an easy path up two grassy mountains near the Refuge, both offering amazing views: Zucco di Valbono, 2132 m., south of the Refuge, and immediately next to that, Zucco di Cam, 2193 m.
DAY 5 THURSDAY: Lago di Sasso – S. Rita – Ombrega – Alpe Dolcigo – Betulle
From the Refuge the path goes down to Sasso Lake (1930 m.), at the base of Pizzo dei Tre Signori, and which yesterday you admired from above. Continuing from here, the trail turns back toward Val Bandino for a short section, climbs up the opposite side of the valley to the Santa Rita Refuge (1988 m.), and then follows the westward crest marking the northern edge of Val Biandino. For the first part, you can choose either to follow the crest up to the small summit behind the Refuge, or to skirt this on the north side, on the easier, normal path. The crest drops down to around 1800 metres before gradually regaining height and, in the midst of high-altitude fields and outstanding views, with Pizzo glorifying the view to the east, eventually reaching the Bocchette di Ombrega (1890 m.), which you passed through on Tuesday. Here there is a short detour northwards, along Val Marcia to the Ombrega Refuge (1580 m.), for lunch. The walk to here takes around three hours. The food prepared by this refuge is particularly well known in the local area due to the quality of the ingredients and the typical alpine dishes served by the skilled staff. Following the relaxing interlude, you retrace your steps for a little and reach the Dolcigo pasture, famous in this area for the excellent goat’s cheese produced. The young, strongly-motivated herders can explain some aspects of how they live in these mountains. You then continue on the path back from Dolcigo, reaching the trail leading to the Cappelletta del Larice Bruciato, and from there to Pian delle Betulle. On the way back, your gaze is always to the west, and from the Cappelletta onwards you are accompanied by the sweep of the Western Alps, an unforgettable image that will take root in your heart. Having returned to Betulle, you can settle back into your comfortable base camp, the Baitock Hotel, relax a little and enjoy an excellent dinner to round off this marvellous day.
DAY 6 FRIDAY: final day
After breakfast, departure. You are very welcome to stay for a few more days, but it is advisable to reserve the hotel room before your arrival.
DAY 6 FRIDAY, excursion: from Bellano to Varenna, the Path of Leonardo da Vinci
Using your own means of transport, you leave Pian delle Betulle and head to the Bellano Railway Station car park to meet your guide at 10:00. From Margno this drive takes approximately 20-25 minutes, while the drive from Alpe di Paglio takes slightly longer (35 minutes). At Bellano you enter the Orrido, an extraordinary canyon formed by the River Pioverna, and then emerge onto the hillside through olive groves and woodlands, following the ancient mule tracks that connected the hamlets and allowed the inhabitants to transport merchandise needed either for daily living or for trading purposes. The characteristic drystone walls bordering the path can still be seen; the ancient shrines dotted along the path testify that the trail was used also by pilgrims and travellers. Leonardo da Vinci himself travelled these pathways on his journeys from Milan to Switzerland. From hamlet to hamlet, from track to track, from wood to wood, from panorama to panorama, you come to the Castle of Vezio, enchantingly positioned above Varenna, a picturesque town on the shores of the lake. From the Castle, the path descends back down to Varenna station, from where you take the train back to Bellano (trains every 30 minutes, approximately). The walk covers roughly 8 km, takes 4 hours, and has an altitude difference of 270 m. For lunch, you can buy some local products in Bellano. After the walk, you return to Pian delle Betulle for dinner and for the night.
DAY 7 SATURDAY: final day
After breakfast, departure. You are very welcome to stay for a few more days, but it is advisable to reserve the hotel room before your arrival.
€ 750 – Minimum 2, maximum 12 participants
Extension Como Lake: € 140
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