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Cycling in the Intelvi Valley

Cycling on the border between Italy and Switzerland in search of the cave bear

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Where is


Via Provinciale, 30, 22028 San Fedele Intelvi CO, Italia (0m s.l.m.)


An adventure for experts

A 24-km expert bike ride takes us to the Swiss border, starting and returning at San Fedele in Centro Valle Intelvi. We cover a positive elevation gain of 990 m touching a maximum altitude of 1600 m asl. The trail leads to a total immersion in the rurality of the Valle d'Intelvi and its livestock and dairy traditions: we pass through alpeggi, sostre, nevere; all places strung together in a single red thread that tells the story of the past among cascen, who with their deafening whistles rallied the flocks, famèl, who took the village's cattle to pasture in the summer, and spalloni, the other face of these sunburned boys when they turned into smugglers in the evening.

Between History and Prehistory

Soon, however, we reach even further back in time, to prehistory, and then leap centuries and arrive at times close to us: from the Bear Cave, an ancestral cave carved out of water, a winter refuge for prehistoric bears, to the fortifications erected and excavated during the Great War for the creation of the Cadorna Line to defend the Alto Lario-Milan route from the German advance. These places, however, were never, fortunately, the scene of war, and today the Valley's trenches offer a historical and architectural lunge among paths and walkways.

Nature, the true queen of the valley

There is no shortage of landscapes and panoramas: from the view from Orimento over the Telo Valley and the Po Valley to the 360-degree view from the Fiore di Pietra, a new work by renowned architect Mario Botta, on top of Mount Generoso, the highest peak in the Intelvi Valley over which the Italian-Swiss border passes. Here the gaze sweeps from the Apennines to the Alps, allowing a bird's-eye view of northern Italy, with the lake region and the Alpine chain of Gran Paradiso, from Monte Rosa to the Matterhorn and from the Jungfrau to the Gotthard massif. The naturalistic context is exceptional, thanks to the presence of a great variety of plants, but it is the laburnum forest that plays the starring role: these trees, in fact, usually spread in isolated specimens, in this area have formed an extraordinary forest that between May and June gives fragrant blooms among which to walk, even on horseback.

Arrivals and departures

There are several routes that connect to this route and offer new adventures and wonder, allowing you to extend your stay here in the area for a few more days. For example, from the small bridge after Orimento you reach the Maggiociondolo Forest and continue on a dirt road to the Alpe di Gotta. Downhill then you encounter two monumental beech trees the "Foo di Bait" and the "Foo di Parol," which hid messages for smugglers. Continuing on, one reaches the junction with the Trail of Trenches. Or again, you can take the high route to the Generoso, but you need to be an experienced walker. You proceed into the Valley of Hell, so known because during the 19th century they burned the red embers of the charcoal and limestone mines. Alternatively, still from Orimento, you can descend along the ridge to Erbonne, an old rural settlement on the border, where you can visit the Small Museum of the Guardia di Finanza and Smuggling. The walkway is steeply sloping and has a wonderful and scenic section on stone steps. To top it off, there is also a more restful but history-laden alternative: for more than 130 years, the cogwheel railway has climbed from Capolago on Lake Lugano to the summit of Generoso at 1704 meters above sea level, covering a 9-kilometer stretch through enchanting alpine scenery.

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