Mergoscia to Ponte dei salti
It’s early spring. On the slopes, the snow is melting. Slushy snow and snowshoes don’t make for a great combination. So we packed them away for this year. And with a lot of unstable snow still lying around above 1500m, we decided to head for the valleys. The weather in Ticino looked good – and a walk on the ‘Sentierone’ (long trail) in Valle Verzasca sounded both idyllic and interesting. So we headed in that direction.
Saturday night, I mapped the trail out in our GPS app. Had to restart a few times because the app tried to get us to go the orthodox way. And we wanted to do it our way. The unorthodox way. On the ancient mule tracks that previous generations used. Away from tarred roads and paved paths. Eventually, I won, and we set off for bed.
Sunday morning. We’re on the early train. On our way to Locarno in Ticino. Then onto a bus heading for Mergoscia, a tiny hamlet set on the hillside overlooking the valley. The starting point of our hike.
The bus drops us off next to the church in Mergoscia – first mentioned in literature dating back to 1061. The village was originally inhabited by farmers, shepherds and cattle herders, mainly during the summer months. Of the 209 people who live here today, the majority commute to work (source: Wikipedia – Mergoscia).
Our first port of call is the mobile kiosk for a cup of coffee. With less than 1% of the population looking on, I change into shorts. Barbara takes the more modest approach, and changes out of sight behind the church. Then we set off.
While other hikers are following the yellow signs which start along the tar-road to Lavertezzo, we head off past the church, up ancient paved steps. Past the quaint-looking stone houses of Mergoscia. The unorthodox way. Plotted the night before. We emerge on a path leading through terraced farmland. I’m guessing this was used for fruit trees. I find out later that they used to farm rye and hemp on these terraces. Then the path enters the densely forested hillside. For the first kilometre or so, we climb steadily uphill. Soon we reach the highest point of our hike, and start heading downhill. Moving closer to the river. Mostly on a gentle decline, with the odd steep section thrown in to keep you on your toes.
We’re surrounded by a forest of green. With sunlight filtering through, adding sparkle and variation to the shades of green. Ground mosses provide a green sheen underfoot, while colourful lichen, dead leaves, twigs and lumpy rocks provide an interesting contrast. All around us, the forest is alive with the sounds of birds and gurgling water streams.
About an hour-and-a-half after we started, we cross a stone bridge and discover a fascinating old flour mill, in the process of being restored. I would later learn that this was one of three mills that operated in the area in the 1850s, when Corippo, the village it belonged to, was occupied by about 300 permanent inhabitants. Today, it boasts a population of less than ten people.
We explore the mill from all angles and take a walk to the start of the water channel that diverts water from the fast-flowing river along a reconstructed channel to drive the mill. Afterwards we brew a cup of coffee and prepare our avocado sandwiches. Then we continue through the tiny village of Corippo, population 2019: nine people; source: Wikipedia – Corippo.
Ponte dei salti
The trail now takes us closer to the river. With sparkling green water pools inviting us to jump in. We decide against it, as the water from melting snow is rushing past at great speeds. Maybe later in the summer, when there is less meltwater speeding downstream. Then we spot the twin arches of Ponte dei salti – the ‘jump bridge’, where it crosses the beautiful turquoise water of the Verzasca river at Lavertezzo. Also known as “ponte romano” it is a typical medieval, double-arch construction made of stone. More than 400 years old, it was fully reconstructed in 1960.
Apart from the many people visiting the bridge for a quick picture and an ice cream, the area is also popular with divers and canoeists and families who picnic on the banks of the stunningly beautiful river.
More information about the Valle Verzasca trail
More information can be obtained at the official Ticino tourism website and the Ponte dei salti website. Here’s the map we created and followed from Mergoscia to Ponte dei salti along the Valle Verzasca trail.