Val Bregaglia is an alpine valley following the river Maira belonging partly to Switzerland and partly to Italy. The valley begins at the Maloja Pass at 1815m above sea level and over its length of 32km towards the Italian town Chiavenna, it falls 1482m. Its official language since the 16th century, when northern Italian religious refugees introduced the Reformation, is Italian. Since the 1950s the valley has major economic benefits from hydro power plants built for the Zurich electricity company ewz.
This valley with its beautiful forests, mountains and picturesque villages has inspired painters, writers and poets for centuries: it was the birthplace of sculptor Alberto Giacometti and the adopted home of painter Giovanni Segantini.
On the road to Val Bregaglia
Segantini Museum, St. Moritz
So what better way to start our vacation than visiting the Segantini Museum in St. Moritz, inaugurated in 1908 ? Its architecture is based on the pavilion that Segantini had designed for his Engadine Panorama at the 1900 Paris World Exhibition and it houses the most complete collection of works by Segantini.
Segantini's main work, the “Alpine Triptych”, is shown in the domed hall on the top floor.
The road from St. Moritz to Val Bregaglia first passes Lake Silvaplana and then Silsersee, the largest natural lake in the Alps lying above 1000 metres. The drive down the Malojapass is impressive. The current road has its origins in the one built between 1827 and 1839 by Richard La Nicca with 13 switchbacks.
The valley and its buildings immediately have a southern feel. It is a complete change of scenery, very refreshing and relaxing !
Arriving in Bondo
There are 5 villages in the Swiss part of Val Bregaglia: Vicosoprano, Stampa, Bondo, Soglio and Castasegna. Bondo was first mentioned in 1380 and today has a population of about 200. Is is located both sides of the Bondasca river. The valley is so deep here that parts of the village do not receive any sunlight during winter. In August 2017 debris flows from Piz Cengalo destroyed several buildings and recently a suspension bridge has been built across the Bondasca.
Cäsa Picenoni Cief
We stayed at Cäsa Picenoni Cief - Ferien im Baudenkmal which can be rented through Ferien im Baudenkmal. The house is located right at the primary village square and its history goes back to the 13th century. After a devastating village fire in 1621, it was rebuilt and eight generations of Picenonis used it as their residence.
We were greeted with a roaring fire in the “hunting room”, local chestnut tarts, and a warm welcome from David Wille - needless to say we felt immediately at home, even if this house on 3 levels is much bigger than our apartment in Lausanne !
The April weather surprised us with some cold days with snow, but also some beautiful sunny days. So the stove in the living room was the perfect place to read a book or to keep us warm while doing a puzzle we had bought at the Segantini museum.
Osteria Donato Salis
Just across the town square, David Wille introduced us to Signore Salis, the owner of Osteria Donato Salis, the general store where we ordered fresh bread for the next morning… it was oh so delicious and perfect for breakfast!
The town is full of tiny, charming alleys.
Church of San Martino
Consecrated on January 30 1250 by Bishop Volkard von Neuburg, the church of San Martino is now a Protestant - reformed church. The high tower was added at the end of the 15th century. During renovations in 1960, murals in the nave and choir by Lombard artists also dating from the end of the 15th century were discovered and restored.
Palazzo Salis was built in 1766-76 by the Milanese architect Francesco Croce on commission from the British diplomat of Swiss origin Count Hieronymus von Salis. It is still inhabited during the summer by descendants of the Salis family.
Bondo actually has 3 Swiss heritage sites of national significance: Palazzo Salis, the church of Santa Maria Nossa Donna and the Castelmur medieval fortifications. We’ll visit them all over the course of our stay.
Exploring Val Bregaglia
Palazzo Castelmur in Stampa
Palazzo Castelmur was originally built in 1723 for Johannes Redolfi, it was purchased around 1850 by Baron Giovanni of Castelmur who renovated and expanded the building. The striking facade in the Lombardian/Venetian gothic style is part of this expansion, carried out by various Milanese craftsmen such as engineer and architect Giovanni Crassi-Marliani, stonemason Giovanni Pedrazzini and painter Gaspare Tirinanzi. Today it belongs to the municipality and serves as a museum.
The trompe-l'oeil paintings are fascinating.
Palazzo Castelmur is the perfect place to learn about the Grisons Pastry Makers, a tradition that goes back to the 15th century, a time when the livelihoods in parts of Grisons were not enough to feed the local population. Many young people and families left their homeland and earned a living abroad, in particular as pastry makers. In 1766, 38 out of 42 confectionery shops in Venice were operated by Graubünden farmers. When they were eventually expelled from Venice, they ventured all over Europe and Grisons confectioners can be found in 891 cities, from Copenhagen to St. Petersburg. Not only does Palazzo Castelmur feature a permanent exhibition of the Grisons Pastry Makers, but the Castelmur family was part of this tradition: Giovanni of Castelmur’s father ran a pastry shop in Marseille, and Giovanni himself, after studying politics and law, ran a pastry shop in Nice.
Hiking from Bondo to the Castelmur medieval fortifications
Both the church of Santa Maria Nossa Donna and the Castelmur medieval fortifications are located one next to the other and can be reached by taking the Via Bregaglia, a long distance hiking trail that leads from Maloja to Chiavenna and can be walked in three days. But don’t worry, the trail from Bondo to the fortifications only takes about 1h to walk. We leave the center of Bondo through the suspension bridge and then after the municipal administration building, take the Via Bregaglia leading up into the forest.
Castelmur medieval fortifications
The ruins of the Castelmur medieval fortifications are located on a natural rock bar; the cantonal road passes under it today through the Promontogno tunnel. The exterior of the five-story residential tower that was built around 1300 have been preserved. It is 12 by 12 meters wide and its walls are 2.4 meters thick. The view through the windows is beautiful.
Santa Maria Nossa Donna
Mentioned for the first time in 988, the Nossa Donna Castelmur church underwent major renovations in the second half of the 15th century and was equipped with a bell that could be heard throughout the valley. With the transition of Bregaglia to the reformation, the church was left to decay. The brothers Giovanni and Bortolo of Castelmur acquired the site in 1839 and restored the church. Giovanni, his wife, his brother Bortolo and other close relatives were buried in the crypt.
Soglio was first mentioned in 1186 and is located on a sunny terrace high above the river Maira. Soglio is the commune of origin for the De Salis family, one of the old noble families of the Grisons. There are several De Salis houses in the village, among them Casa Battista, built in 1630, which has become since 1876 the Hotel Palazzo Salis. Among its guests were Giovanni Segantini, Alberto Giacometti and Rainer Maria Rilke.
It’s the perfect place for a walk and to take in the sun !
Castasegna was first mentioned in 1374 and is located right at the Italian border. Castasegna actually means chestnut grove and it’s a great fit for the town with the largest Chestnut forest in Europe !
Seminarzentrum Villa Garbald was built between 1863 and 1864 based on the plans of famous architect Gottfried Semper. It is the only building Semper designed south of the Alps. Since 2004 it is used as a seminar centre. Villa Garbald was completed in 2004 with the addition of the “Roccolo'' tower by Miller&Maranta. The six-storey extension building contains a lecture room for 25 people on the ground floor and ten bedrooms on the upper floors.
With architecture going back many centuries, with an Italian influence, the tranquility of the little villages, the culinary specialties and the many hiking trails, Val Bregaglia is an amazing place to enjoy some downtime!