Emerald water, romantic stone houses and wild, sun-drenched forests – the nature in the Verzasca Valley in the far south of Switzerland is unique. I want to tempt you away from the Swiss Alps for a weekend along the picturesque Sentiero Verzasca, a hiking trail through this enchanting valley in the Swiss canton of Ticino. The trail takes you on a journey from the town of Locarno to Sonogno, past so-called stone ‘rustici’ homes and rustic ‘grotti’ taverns and through the unique nature of southern Switzerland.
Crossing the valley on foot along the ancient Sentierone, you follow in the footsteps of the valley’s inhabitants who walked the same road for centuries. In the warmer months of the year, they farmed large pastures on the mountain slopes and roasted chestnuts in the valley. They would spend winters with their family near Lake Maggiore, on the warmer Magadino plain. The path traces the old mule tracks along which these people historically travelled.
In the valley, you hike at 500 to 900 metres (1,640 - 1,950 ft) through different climate zones, passing chestnut woods, luscious vineyards and meadows. The turquoise water of the Verzasca River is the valley’s scenic landmark. Surrounded by mountains that reach up to 2,400 metres (7,870 ft), the river curves through the rocky landscape. You often reach the riverbank during your hike so you can deep your feet in the water or jump right in (there are designated swimming spots). The water is ice cold, so it’s perfect for cooling off on a hot summer’s day.
Officially, the Sentiero Verzasca is split into two stages from Sonogo in the valley to Locarno on Lake Maggiore, outside of the valley. However, I chose a different version for this Collection. With light luggage, set off from the maritime town of Locarno on the edge of Lake Maggiore and walk northwards against the river’s flow until you reach Lavertezzo. Here, you stay overnight and hike towards Sonogno the following day. From your destination, you can either take the 321 bus back to Locarno in the evening or spend another day or two exploring the historic town of Sonogno. This version of the Sentierone means that you don’t have to cross the whole valley by bus to reach Sonogno at the beginning.
You don’t need much for two days exploring the Verzasca Valley, just a pair of good hiking shoes, light luggage and curious eyes to spot the hidden sites and highlights along the way. There is drinking water at regular intervals where you can fill up your bottles, so you don’t have to worry about your water supply. This is especially useful in summer.
There are many places to stay overnight in Locarno, your starting point, as well as a bus and train station to help you get there. You can easily arrive by train from Zurich, Basel, Milan and the surrounding area. If you arrive by car, please note that parking spaces are rare, especially in summer. The 321 bus is useful as it runs directly from Locarno to the Verzasca Valley and on to Sonogno before turning back again. The valley can only be reached from one direction. If you don’t find a place to stay in Lavertezzo or if you want to hike the two days individually, you can catch the bus back at the end of the day.
No matter how you explore the Verzasca Valley on the Sentiero Verzasca, you’re sure to enjoy it. The valley is magical. Thanks to its different climate zones, the flora is incredibly diverse. You walk through dense forests and come across palm trees from time to time too.
The best thing about waking up in the middle of the Verzasca Valley? The silence in the middle of nature. In the morning, watch the water that flows under the Roman bridge, the Ponte dei Salti, and life in the valley slowly awakens. Today the almost 14 kilometers of the second stage of the Sentiero Verzasca lie ahead of you. Today the path leads you through the most pristine part of the valley.
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