Rasa, Ticino: Jewel of a village on the mountaintop

October 26, 2016 — 2 comments

The cable car sweeps me up to Rasa in a few short minutes after a twenty minute drive by car from Locarno. Alternatively, I could have taken the charming ferrovia (small rail train) “Centovallina” – which connects Locarno with Domodossola in Italy and stops directly at the Verdasio-Rasa base station.

Our small visitors group assembles in the driverless cabin. The doors close automatically and in a swift and quiet ride we’re whisked upward. The green valley expands beneath us and the bridal waterfalls glisten in a stream of liquid diamonds carving their path down the opposite valley wall.

As we spill out of the station at the top, a lemon yellow Swiss post box points the way along a small foot path into the center of the hamlet. Three families live here now, where dozens of proud families and their livestock made their home as far back as the 13th century. Picturesque clusters of traditional stone houses gather around the church. Peacefully built on a surprisingly wide natural terrace, the minuscolo village’s pastures are brimming with wild flowers and are framed by cool chestnut woods before the terrain falls off steeply and affords breathtaking views into neighboring valleys and their communities on two sides.

The first written mention of “Raxa” dates back to 1394. Between then and 1958, the hamlet was accessible only on foot. Long gone and without words, this hamlet tells the story of hard work and frugal times, of community living based in the daily rhythm of people’s faith; of ingenuity  and of working and living together. It’s impossible not to be touched by the beauty and stillness up here, the peace and tranquility all around, and to have the heart uplifted by the magnificent views.

About an hour’s walk distant in the valley to the southwest I can clearly see the houses of Bordei, and even farther distant lies what must be the community of Palagnedra. A lazy warm wind moves a few clouds in the sky as I walk past scented roses growing out of the warm rock walls. The air is peaceful, bees buzz on lavender blossoms; the spirit is growing calm.

Making my way on the stone footpath up to the church, I feel on top of the world. It’s cool inside the chapel, smells musty but I’m surprised by the vivid colors of the frescos on the walls, the sizable organ and the magnificent statue of the silver plated Saint Anna! The brochure on the wooden pews asks for much needed donations for restoration and gives a brief history. The communal event of the year 1770 was the installation of a one-handed clock which remained in operation for the next two hundred years.

From a plaque at the edge of the meadow I learn that at the beginning of the 17th century, Rasa counted two hundred inhabitants. This number dwindled rapidly after Italian count Pietro Leopoldo eliminated the monopoly for Rasa men to carry goods at the port of Genua in 1848. The result was an economic crisis. Still, onehundred-ten years later thirty people lived here, accompanied by two hundred goats and twenty cows.

Further on I find the other inevitable village feature: the Grotto Ghiridone that Maria operates, coming up from the valley to provide sustenance for hikers and visitors for the past 18 summers. She tells me that the nuns who lived here year-round left Rasa ten years ago. By now, only three year-round families remain in the village. Houses are rented to summer guests and painting and pottery courses are offered by local artists.

On the covered porch of Maria’s Grotto I’m spontaneously invited to sit at the table of Urs, Heidi and their nephew Thomas, who walked up from Bordei with their two dogs. While Urs lives in the Berner Oberland, he’s owned a home in Bordei for many years. He tells fascinating stories of how he experienced local life during these years and I’m happy to hear of the efforts that are currently under way by a private foundation to maintain and renovate this charming hamlet and some other precious old villages in this area.

Rasa provides an impressive glimpse into the life of times gone by. It is a wondrous place to spend a warm summer’s day and to re-connect with oneself, the gorgeous land all around and the few locals.

Have you visited this charming hamlet in the mountains of the Valle Onsernone in the Ticino? If so, please let me know your experience 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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  1. Patrick Telan
    Patrick Telan says:

    I loved the article and would love more info on Rasa and things you enjoyed in Ticino. We will be traveling to Ascona in September and will have a few days to explore.

    Thank you so much!

    • Silvia
      Silvia says:

      Dear Patrick – Thank you for your kind comment. You’re in for a treat, Ascona in September! There are several articles about locations in easy reach of Ascona on my website, just see “Ticino” under the heading DESTINATIONS. One of my favourite places is the Onsernone valley. Rent a car and drive the length of it. You can do it in a day, but could easily spend several days to really explore it, there is so much to see and do, apart from its rugged beauty and astounding topography! Valle Maggia is another astounding valley, very different in flavour, also within easy reach of Ascona, a little longer than the Valle Onsernone and you would need to decide which part to explore if you can go for one day only. I’d recommend going up to Cevio and then heading into the west arm to the village of Bosco Gurin. If you’re in Ascona over a weekend there are probably markets right there, and there is also a great one in Bellinzona on Saturday, heading east, where you can watch the big polenta cauldron bubbling and taste the former ‘poor people’s’ food. In closer vicinity you find Porto Ronco and Ronco sopra Ascona, especially the latter a very charming little town with a fabulous view – see my article and look up the events calendar as they have varying performances. I’ll be there this summer as well as it is one of my favourite places in Switzerland (but then I have several!), and there will be more info on my facebook page and the website. PS I apologize for the delayed response – there was a software fluke. Have a wonderful time and send me a line about what you find! Silvia


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