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      February 2014 > A truly gorgeous walk

A truly gorgeous walk

I’m an inquisitive walker. I love going to places I’ve never been before. I’m always wondering what might be over the next hill or round the next corner, particularly when I see a path heading off into the great unknown. Even if it’s just a photo – like this one:

When I first saw this picture, for example, I just had to find out where it is and where that path goes. I’m sat at my desk right now – but I’d much rather be walking into that view…

It turns out to be part of the historic Via Spluga, a thrilling 65km long-distance trail that links the cantons of southern Switzerland with northern Italy. It starts in Thusis and passes through the Viamala Gorge, the Roffla Gorge (famed for its impressive waterfall) and along cobbled paths over the Splügen Pass (reaching a height of 2115m) and down to Chiavenna. It is on the third leg, from Splügen through the Cardinello Gorge (below) to Isola in Italy, that you'll find some of the most beautiful and intact sections of this magnificent ancient trail.

Self-guided walking holidays in Italy

Since ancient times, man has sought to trade with his neighbours, creating trackways between farmsteads, between tribes, between kingdoms. As trade developed, so those trackways became embedded in the landscape, used for centuries by itinerant merchants leading heavily laden mules, local farmers with surplus produce to sell – and, on occasion, invading armies.

Today, many now lie beneath motorways and railways – while others simply faded from usage, unable to provide a necessary foundation for modern communication links. Some, however, are far from forgotten, their ancient routes still trod by local shepherds and increasingly by walkers, keen to venture through wild and seemingly untamed landscapes of unsurpassed grandeur.

Self-guided walking holidays in Italy

The Via Spluga is one such route, winding its way through deep gorges and over high mountain passes before descending to Chiavenna in Italy. The scenery is breathtaking, the views changing at every turn, with the Viamala, Roffla and Cardinello gorges providing drama on an epic scale, and begging the question, “who carved these precarious looking tracks through here?”

The Romans were the first to tackle the problem, cutting galleries into the sheer cliffs, wide enough for a packhorse to pass along. One gorge earned its name the Viamala during the Middle Ages when the path had fallen into disrepair, becoming a seriously ‘bad way’ (via mala) to travel through the mountains. In the 15th century, however, the track was re-opened helping the people along its route to prosper once more. The current bridge was built in 1739; while in the 19th century, the construction of a modern road for coaches and large wagons brought more and more passengers and goods, being transported by paid coachmen instead of local farmers.

However, people undertaking this arduous journey over the pass in the 18th century needed places to rest and be refreshed overnight; and so it was that in 1722, the Bodenhaus was built in the Walser (German-speaking) village of Splügen for just such a purpose. This handsome building provided storage space for trade goods – it was also used as a post office – as well as offering limited food and lodgings for weary travellers.

As traffic increased, many sections of the cobbled mule tracks over the mountain passes were turned into roads, subsequently bringing even more coaches and carriages through to Splügen. There was more demand for overnight accommodation, so much so that, in 1828, the Bodenhaus became an inn, its guests recording their visits in the ledger, amongst them Friedrich Nietzsche, JMW Turner, Prince Louis Napoléon Bonaparte and Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen.

In 1840, author Mary Shelley travelled through the pass on the way to Lake Como, describing it in her travel narrative, Rambles in Germany and Italy, published in 1844: “A few years ago, there was no path… but now, a new and most marvellous road… has been constructed on the face of the precipice, now cut into the side, now perforated through the living rock into galleries: it passes, at intervals, from one side of the ravine to the other, and bridges of a single arch span the chasm… After proceeding about a mile, you look back and see the country you had left, through the narrow opening of the gigantic crags, set like a painting in this cloud-reaching frame.”

Now, as then, the Bodenhaus provides a safe haven, a place to reflect on the previous day’s walk while eagerly looking forward to what is to come. The expectations of travellers have changed since Mary Shelley passed through, and today, the historic Bodenhaus is a stylish hotel run by welcoming hosts, Angela Löschl-Burkhardt and Willibald Löschl. Angela and Willibald have been taking care of their guests since 2000, and take pride in the creative dishes of traditional Swiss and Italian cuisine they serve in the hotel’s two restaurants – accompanied by fine wines from their 300-year-old wine cellar. But it’s far more than just an hotel – it’s an historic building, brimming with character, and bursting with fascinating stories to tell.

Fortified and re-energised after a night at the Bodenhaus, travellers can embark upon the next leg of the journey – leaving Splügen behind and crossing the border into Italy, before a slow descent from the mountains to Chiavenna, from where onward routes head south to reach the tranquil shores of Lake Como.


You stay two nights at the Bodenhaus in Splügen on our new walking holiday Along the Via Spluga to Lake Como.

Posted: 05/02/2014 09:40:07 by | with 0 comments
Filed under: heritage, Italy, journey, lifestyle, opinions, photography, Switzerland

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