The Crotti of Chiavenna

Steve Jack, 04 August, 2017
Steve Jack dives into the curious world of Valchiavenna’s crotti (underground caverns-cum-food-and-wine-cellars) and enjoys a tasty morsel or two.

“Se vende vino bono e si tiene scola di umanità”, declares an old inscription at the crotto Giovanantoni in Chiavenna, which loosely translates as ‘one drinks good wine and holds true to the school of humanity’.

Something might have got a little lost in translation, but the sentiment is clear: we should socialise together and enjoy the good things in life. Hard to argue with and a fine motto for a life well lived, I would say. And also a perfect encapsulation of the spirit of the curious crotti, dotted throughout the Chiavenna Valley.

Crotti are naturally formed caverns, once created by rocks falling from mountainsides in this beautiful corner of northern Italy by the foot of the Retiche Alps. Through the cracks in the boulders blows a breeze – il sorel – which maintains a constant temperature of around 8°C, ideal for the cool storage and maturation of wine, cured meats and cheeses, as well as other typical local produce.

Wise to such advantageous conditions, the industrious chiavennaschi went about extending these crotti by building around and above them the kind of modest structures that could form a living and gathering space – usually with a fireplace – where groups of friends could get together to share good company, food and wine.

These days, several crotti are open to the public in the form of welcoming restaurants, where you can sample delicious traditional fare washed down with quality Valtellina red wines – a fine way to appreciate the local history, culture and gastronomy.

In Chiavenna itself, perhaps the best-known is the Crotti al Prato, with an inviting outside terrace where you can enjoy a good selection of traditional dishes for just 15€. You could also pay a visit to Crotto Belvedere, which lies alongside the River Mera about halfway between Chiavenna and the split-level Acquafraggia waterfalls, on Inntravel's suggested walking circuit from the town.

If that doesn’t sound enough, then you could time your visit to coincide with September’s Sagra dei Crotti, a much-loved event dating back to the 1950s whereby many private crotti are opened up to the public. Some of these participate in a special Andèm a cròt – a gastronomic itinerary allowing you to enjoy something akin to a ‘crotti crawl’ – while the established crotto restaurants serve up an array of traditional dishes for diners.

Not surprisingly, the Sagra is a highlight of the calendar: as well as creating a wonderfully convivial atmosphere, the festival is a celebration of local culture, folklore, gastronomy and more. It’s a much-anticipated encounter with local flavours and not to be missed.

Sagra dei Crotti

This festival takes place each September in the delightful town of Chiavenna. Privately owned crotti are opened up to the public, and there’s also a special gastronomic itinerary – Andèm a cròt.
Visit the festival’s website for exact dates and further information>
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