What to see in and around Chiavenna, Italy

What to see in and around Chiavenna, Italy

In the province of Sondrio, in the northern part of Lombardy, is Chiavenna, a very beautiful town in the Valtellina, still little known, despite all its attractions. It is interesting to visit it both in summer and winter – each season here offers its own pleasant surprises. This city, full of interesting natural scenes and historical monuments, from mountains to villages and waterfalls, allows you to spend your time at leisure, among delightful nature, with the benefit of exploring the cultural heritage of Chiavenna.

The town is ideal for passionate skiers, who can head to the slopes of the ski resorts of Valchiavenna, Madesimo and Campodolcino from November to spring, both for alpine and cross-country skiing. Culture and history buffs will also love the town, Chiavenna is an open-air museum.

1. Attractions of Chiavenna

1.1 Historical Center and Crotty . The historic town center contains many medieval buildings, beautiful stone fountains, and churches. Some of the buildings have remained intact since 1500. The serene coexistence of ancient stone buildings and more modern ones, which, in any case, are very few compared to the “historic” part, is curious. Among the most interesting and famous buildings is certainly the imposing collegiate church of San Lorenzo, dating back to the XII century – here you can admire the Renaissance portico, the font and the bell tower, rebuilt in 1600.

  • How to get there: by train from Milan or Sondrio, which are the main transport hubs in the area. You can then walk to the historic center along Via Viale Matteotti.

1.2 Botanical Archaeological Park Paradiso . The Botanical Archaeological Park of Paradiso consists of two hills, Paradiso and Castellaccio, which are situated in a splendid location with a beautiful view of the city and its surroundings. They are connected by a pedestrian bridge and paths. It is highly recommended to visit its smooth rounded rocks, to see the many botanical varieties of flowers and plants, the archaeological excavations and the ruins of the old walls and fortress. It is also possible to tour the park by reservation. Dog owners take note: dogs are only allowed in the park if they are on a leash.

  • How to get there: walk from the historic center along Piazza Castello towards Via Quadrio, where the entrance is on the side of Ca Rossa.
  • Schedule: Tuesday through Saturday from 14:00 to 17:00 and Sunday from 10:00 to 12:00 and from 14:00 to 17:00 (winter time), Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 to 12:00 and from 14:00 to 18:00 (summer time).
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What to see in and around Chiavenna, Italy - Photo 2

1. Attractions of Chiavenna

1.3 The Museo del Tesoro . In the collegiate church of San Lorenzo, the Museo del Tesoro is a complex built probably in the 5th century. Its main exhibit is the world of Chiavenna, covered with 11th-century evangelization of embossed gold, pearls, precious stones and medieval enamel, which is still an example of rare jewel-like beauty. It is called peaceful because it was used as a liturgical object during Mass. Much research has been done on its exact provenance, but nothing definitive has yet been discovered.

  • How to get there: it is easy to reach on foot, given that it is located in the historic center. From the station you must follow Via Viale Matteotti to Piazza Don Pietro Bormetti.
  • Schedule: daily from 15:00 to 18:00, on Saturdays from 10:00 to 12:00 and from 15:00 to 18:00. Closed on Mondays.

What to see in and around Chiavenna, Italy - Photo 3

1. Attractions of Chiavenna

1.4 Parco Marmitte dei Giganti . Not far from Chiavenna, at the entrance to Val Bregaglia, is the Parco Marmitte dei Giganti (Giants’ Cauldron), which includes the reserve of the same name, built in 1983. Signposts and paths inside the park lead to various sights, such as giant pots (deep wells)-shaped depressions in the rocks due to river erosion), rock carvings, ollar stone and gigar mining, and others. A visit to the park takes more than an hour.

  • How to get there: walk along Via Poyango along the river. Take bus number 4 (from the train station) which, with 5 stops, takes you to Prosto di Piuro and from there walk 500 meters.
  • Schedule: Monday through Saturday from 9:00 to 20:00. Sunday off.

What to see in and around Chiavenna, Italy - Photo 4

1. Attractions of Chiavenna

1.5 Historical gallery of the fire station . The museum houses historical and statistical artifacts and vintage fire trucks from around the country. The Historic Firehouse Gallery was built in 2001 to preserve all artifacts collected in 1991 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the national firehouse. The oldest materials date back to the 19th century.

First organized in the basement of the Mesa detachment, since 2006 the gallery moved to the old headquarters of the Professional Mechanical Institute, where it is still located, occupying an area of 600 square meters.

  • How to get there: from the station you can walk along Via Matteotti to Via canonico Francesco Novi.
  • Schedule: every Saturday from 15:00 to 18:00. Closed in August.

1.6 Acquafraggia waterfalls, Piuro . In the vicinity of Chiavenna there is also the Mera Valley, which rises along the Bregaglia to the Stato and beyond. In Piuro there are the majestic waterfalls of Acquafraggia, which are clearly visible from afar. They are undoubtedly one of the most memorable spectacles of Val Bregalla. The name comes from the “fract of water”, that is, the stream. The waterfalls are an impressive natural complex.

  • How to get there: drive northeast in the direction of the road to Loreto, from here follow the SS37 and follow the signs to Piuro, which are clearly visible. Take bus number 4, from the Chiavenna Quadrio stop to Borgonuovo. From here you can reach your destination on foot in less than 5 minutes (about 250 meters).
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What to see in Chiavenna and surroundings, Italy - Photo 5

1. Attractions of Chiavenna

1.7 Palazzo Vertemate Franchi, Piuro . Also in Piuro is the prestigious and elegant Palazzo Vertemate Franchi, built in the 16th century. The difference between the splendor of the interiors with rich furnishings and the deeply restrained exterior is striking. The walls and vaulted ceilings are painted with frescoes. The palace was built by two brothers of the family, merchants, in the second half of the 16th century and was used as a second home.

  • How to get there: take SS37 del Maloja to Prosto di Piuro, following the signs to the Palazzo.

What to see in and around Chiavenna, Italy - Photo 6

1. Attractions of Chiavenna

2. Walkiavenna in winter

In winter there are a lot of activities connected with active sports. Besides skiing (alpine and cross-country) from November till the end of spring on the 60 km slopes in the skiarea of Valkiavenna, Madesimo and Campodolcino there are also numerous possibilities for other winter sports, such as ice skating on the main slope.

All kinds of sports can be practiced by adults and children. There is also trekking in the Valchiavenna – thanks to the chestnut trail you can take a nature walk and admire the chestnuts. A must-see culinary event in Chiavenna is the Crotty Festival. Each year in early September, you can choose whether to follow the tasting routes planned by the program (advance reservation is required) or devote yourself to visiting Crotty and tasting on your own.

3. Where to eat in Chiavenna

Chiavenna is known in the culinary field as the birthplace of Bresaola , also called Brisaola della Valchiavenna. A dairy farm in the lower valley of the city produces cheeses, where milk is collected and processed to produce a high-quality product.

What to see in and around Chiavenna, Italy - Photo 7

3. Where to eat in Chiavenna

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Alpine villages during the fall holidays become a Mecca for all Italian gluttons. Folk thought, not content with the all-encompassing definition of “holiday,” has even come up with a separate word “sagra” for such events. Thus, a bacchanalia of sagras kicks off throughout the boot in September: sagras of chestnuts and polenta, sagras of boar and snails, sagras of figs and pumpkin sagras. At the head of this madness sits, of course, Bacchus and the ubiquitous wine sagras.

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The inhabitants of the northern regions begin their succession of pleasures in Chiavenna, the town lost among the gray mountain ranges that gave its name to the entire valley. Today the number of inhabitants here is less than 7,500, but each of them speaks of their small homeland with pride and severe mountain love. The very name of the settlement reminds us of its historical importance – “chiave” means “key” in Italian. It has been strategically important for centuries: the ancient Romans made their march to the north from here; belligerent tribes hungry for new territories and wealth descended here; Protestantism settled here and began to spread in Italy. However, not everyone in Chiavenna today knows about the ups and downs of the centuries. But everyone, from the cradle, gets a taste of the mountains and is introduced to the mysterious spirit – a breeze from the bowels of the earth.

Chiavenna, Italy

The grottos of Chiavenna are a special treasure of the region. In ancient, almost fairy-tale times, there was a landslide in the local mountains. Heavy boulders rolled down into the valley, forming a cover several meters high. The “sorel”, a piercing wind with a constant temperature of 8°C all year round, settled among these boulders. In the places where the icy breath of the mountains bursts out and fills the rocky cave, enterprising locals have set up warehouses. And it’s this breeze that defines a true Kiawen grotto.

Chiavenna, Italy

The tradition of holding a grotto festival, sagra dei crotti, every second weekend in September originated in Chiavenna in 1956. Crowds of eager people flock to the town to sample the local delicacies and see the legendary caves, unaware that the town has so much to offer besides the caves and delicacies, and that the festivities last from Friday to Sunday for a reason.

Chiavenna, Italy

Chiavenna is greeted by music and children’s laughter – there is a small amusement park for children on the square and a fair that winds its way through the main streets. Temporary signs lead the confused tourist to the main tourist office in the center, where you can choose an enogastronomic itinerary, pay 30 euros and get a map of wine treasures and a painted tasting jug around your neck. Each of the suggested itineraries includes four grottos and a set lunch, from appetizers with the obligatory local cheeses and the legendary bresaola to dessert in the form of chestnut pie, for example.

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The owners of grottoes are exceptionally nice and helpful, they greet you with a beaming smile and take you by the hand into the cave – to look at the hanging hams to whet your appetite and make sure you have the very rift with an icy draught – and take you to the tables already covered.

The local kitchen is a separate song. In addition to the already mentioned bresaola for an appetizer we should ask the so-called “fiddle of Chiavenna”. It is made of goat’s leg, the shape of which resembles a musical instrument. Real “violin-makers” following ancient traditional recipes can be counted on the fingers of one hand in Chiavenna today, and not all are ready to share the results of their labors with uninformed tourists in the local cuisine. And will the tourist follow the traditions to the end? Will he let the violin in a circle, so that everyone present could take it gently, put it to his shoulder and get a thin melody with a knife-bow.

The second courses abound in game and carry no regional characteristics, but the pizzoccheri pasta is noteworthy. Chiavenna pizzoccheri should not be confused with their Valtellina namesakes, made from buckwheat flour and seasoned with potatoes, cabbage and fatty cheese. The local variety is gnocchi, Italian dumplings, made from plain white flour. Casera or Bitto cheese and the ubiquitous Parmesan are a must and the main ingredient. The dish is very simple, but hearty and delicious. It pairs perfectly with the local red wine, praised by such ancient and medieval connoisseurs as Virgil and Leonardo da Vinci. The marks of quality, and thus the recognition of experts, have been awarded to Valtellina Superiore (Sassella, Grumello, Inferno, Valgella, Maroggia) and Sforzato di Valtellina.

Chiavenna, Italy

Chiavenna, Italy

After the physical hunger is satisfied, it is worth remembering about the spiritual hunger. But it is possible not to think about hunger, but simply in the throes of conscience to go to Marmite dei Giganti Park, a park of gigantic giant cauldrons. During the melting of the glaciers, streams of water, along with gravel and boulders, rushed sometimes downwards, forming, over time, depressions in the hard rock. Intricately shaped, often with rain puddles inside, these cauldrons are found everywhere in the park. Almost as often as rock art. Scientists are still arguing and scolding over the latter, since there is no agreement either on their dating or on the explanation of the strange figures. But hikers have a chance to exercise their imagination!

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Chiavenna, Italy

Through the park, which looks more like a wild forest, you can walk to the village of Piuro. The main attraction here is not the splendid views of the tiled roofs with the towering bell tower against the alpine ranges, but the palazzo Vertemate Franchi. The modest three-storey mansion on the backside of the Alpine village does not promise any frills and rarities at first glance. But the first sight can be deceptive. In the second half of the 16th century two successful businessmen managed to create a real palace in miniature, worthy of the archbishops, the lords of Milan and even, much later, Napoleon Bonaparte himself.

Before entering the sumptuous chambers, the visitor unwittingly lingers in the park area. Walls covered with wild grapes, flowerbeds, lizards scurrying between the stones – everything here contributes to peace. And the flowerbeds are just the beginning. The palazzo has an orchard, a vineyard, and even a chestnut grove. The chestnuts, thanks to the fertile climate and the skillful hands of the gardeners, are bearing fruit, and on October 16, 2016 gourmets who have signed up in time can even attend a themed tasting party. Those who don’t have time to sign up will have to wait for the next season and the resumption of summer music concerts in the park…

Inside the palazzo Vertemate you can forget about minutes and days. Numerous rooms are painted with allegorical frescoes with mythological plots, with the signs of the zodiac and the continents. The ceilings are made of carved wood with such skill that the neck suddenly begins to twist in all directions and degrees. You would expect such a decoration in Rome, Florence or Milan, but not in the unknown Chiavenna. Italy is a country of surprises, and you can explore it endlessly.

Chiavenna, Italy

Chiavenna, Italy

Chiavenna, Italy

If the strength does not leave you completely, if you still have room for new emotions and impressions, then along the river Mera is worth to return slowly to the city, walk through the clean old streets, admire the Castle of Balbiani and Palazzo Salis, go to the majestic College of St. Lawrence, founded a millennium and a half ago and kept in the church museum of the ancient relics.

In suitable weather and with one more day to spare, it’s worth expanding the area to include the Aquafraggia waterfall and the abandoned village of Savonyo, high in the mountains. More about it I have already written here. For those who are inspired by the place, I invite you to join me on one of the trips/walks to this wonderful place.

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