Onsernone Valley – wild, evocative and fascinating

September 19, 2017 — No comments

From Locarno on Lake Maggiore, Onsernone Valley in its entire length extends only thirty kilometers, yet you want to plan at least one full day to explore the typical stone villages of the region with their surprising architecture and interesting people, each telling their own story.

Villages with musical names such as Auressio, Berzona, Russo and others to the final Comologno and Vergeletto. A narrowing country road with sharp curves and hairpin turns that leads you higher and deeper into the valley. The mesmerizing landscape will have taken hold of you long before you reach kilometer thirty!

Some Highlights

Village of Vergeletto

At the deepest end of the valley from the village of Vergeletto the small Zott cable car takes you to Alpe Salei.

Far from civilization on a beautiful old meadow at 1,777 meters above sea level you’re rewarded with stunning panoramic views over the Locarno region in every direction. Located on this peaceful, stunning spot you discover the  mountain hut Salei. Once a dairy farm, the original stone building so typical of this region was restored into an attractive alpine hut with overnight accommodation. Open from May to October, hearty regional cooking is served.

From here, hike through the larch forest to idyllic Laghetto dei Salei with stunning view and on to mount Munzelüm and mount Pilone. Shorter walks to small villages close-by are another option.

Onsernone Valley

Photo: swiss-image.ch

Loco mill & Onsernone museum

Look for the restored Loco flour mill directly on the main road on an escarpment at the end of the village with splendid cascades of the Borodino river.

Twenty-seven water-driven stone mills ground corn into polenta and farina bóna as the oldest sources of sustenance in the valley. Two mills remain in good condition at Loco and Vergeletto and are still used today to grind very fine flour from roasted corn into the traditional specialty farina bóna. The corn flour is baked into delectable sweets, Grissini bread sticks and breads, and can also be added to conventional flour recipes. It is popular across Switzerland and available at many main-stream grocery stores. You can also purchase it at the Onsernone Museum and other sales points in the valley. Gluten-free and delectable, try the chestnut cookies made with farina bóna and ask the miller to give you a tour!

Also in Loco, the small Museo Onsernonese is highly recommended. The museum provides impactful insight what it meant to be born and live in this rugged valley. The amazing skill required of the local straw-weaving industry; the breakneck transportation on foot and mule on trade routes into the Italian Lombardy; the inevitable emigration during hard times as much as typical costumes and regional art work.

Berzona straw weaving

Berzona is a beautiful town where many world-renowned artists made and still make their home. You will understand why when you visit this peaceful, powerful and inspiring spot. Stop at the chapel just at the cross road off the main road to the side road leading up to Berzona.

Also recommended is a stop at Pagliarte Berzona, the straw-weaving workshop according to the old traditions in this valley, where you can view and buy original creations from hats to handbags.

Palazzo Gamboni in Comolognio, Caraveggia baths, and chapels with frescoes

On your way into the Onsernone Valley you will note the surprisingly numerous and unexpectedly elegant buildings which were mostly commissioned by emigrants returning home after making good abroad.

Photo: Palazzo Gamboni

Palazzo Gamboni in Comolognio is such a surprising building where I happened to meet La Lupa, the famous Swiss-Italian singer who was born in this village, on the terrasse of the Ristorante.

Onsernone Valley Photo: Palazzo Gamboni[/caption]

Built in 1780 by a returning emigrant, the palazzo is located in an idyllic spot, overlooking the Onsernone Valley. The citizens of Comologno purchased the charming country house in 1996 and converted it into a small hotel du charme. It is open May to October and is worth a stay or tour to get a sense of the beautiful period artwork, – and, as always – enjoy the fantastic views.

From Comologno, the Craveggia baths, just across the border in Italy, can be reached in an hour’s hike. Restored in 2015, the bath features two new granite bath tubs, a water treading and arm base basin. It is well worth the  hike. There is no cost associated and no supervision, so visitors are responsible for their own safety. 

Noteworthy are also the small chapels throughout the valley. An important feature in every small village, no matter how close by to each other they may be, the interiors always astound with rich woodwork and amazingly beautiful and airy frescoes. It is worth to stop and enter a chapel or two.

Intact natural and human surroundings, a fascinating history, the local people with whom you should definitely try to converse across any language barrier, and many unique customs and traditions make the Onsernone Valley a cohesive place of beauty and inspiration that  you may long remember. And the regional fare is excellent!

Onsernone Valley

Please share your experience if you’ve travelled to the Italian speaking part of Switzerland and leave a comment below.  

About Silvia and Swiss Wanderlust


Switzerland travel enthusiast. Cat lover, bicyclist and classical music fan. I prefer walking over running and enjoy a good Swiss card game of Jass with friends.  More about Silvia and Swiss Wanderlust »

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Additional Information

Photos: Palazzo Gambon;, swiss-image.ch; Farina Bóna; Silvia Schoch

Onsernone Valley
Onsernone Valley
Onsernone Valley
Onsernone Valley
Onsernone Valley
Onsernone Valley
Onsernone Valley
Onsernone Valley
Onsernone Valley
Onsernone Valley
Onsernone Valley
Onsernone Valley
Onsernone Valley
Onsernone Valley


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