The Val Grande is considered one of the wildest national parks in Europe and certainly in Italy, say the park’s inhabitants and of the small municipality of Cicogna. They have plenty of evidence: the most extensive area of preserved nature in Italy, the difficulty of the paths, the end of deforestation and alpine pastures, the sanctuary of nature reserves...the list goes on. But the point on which they are particularly proud is the difficulty of access by car to their mountains.
First of all, it’s important to specify that these routes are mainly for experienced walkers and a certain level of physical fitness is required to complete most of the loops. In the Val Grande National Park, it’s difficult to envisage a multi-day itinerary. It’s possible, of course, as there are many trails, but the further you go into the heart of the park, the more you’re confronted with technical sections. Moreover, the refuges, called bivacchi in Italian and misleadingly translated as ‘bivouac’ on the Val Grande National Park website, are few and often under maintenance. Moreover, bivvying – the real thing this time – is almost impossible, as the terrain is so steep. For these reasons, I’ve created this Collection of day hikes around the small village of Cicogna.
From here, you can start a dozen routes from Cicogna. For this Collection, I’ve only selected three, of varying difficulty and length, all recommended by locals. Even if they’re of different levels, keep in mind that each circuit promises tough gradients. For example, the ascent to the Curgei hut promises 800 metres (2,600 ft) of ascent in just 2 kilometres (1.2 mi), with some passages at 40%. The topography of the Val Grande is frequently like this, so steepness is inevitable.
But the nature, the views, the dense chestnut forests, the rich fauna and the beauty of the Alps are worth the effort.
Cicogna will be your base camp, and it’s easy to feel comfortable there. The welcome is warm and the atmosphere authentic. There’s not much else to do in Cicogna except to visit the restaurant in the main square, a hostel and a farmhouse. There is no grocery shop, so you should stock up before you go. The hostel, Ostello del Parco, run by Massimo, Silvia and Andrea is a gem. It's simple, without fuss, but everything is there: conviviality, cleanliness, charm. Massimo makes absolutely delicious homemade bread as well. The hostel offers beds in dormitories as well as individual rooms but remember to book. Alternatively, the Corte Merina farmhouse inn also offers beds and some camping pitches. They sell sheep's cheese, sausages and honey from the farm.
As for timing, the best season to enjoy the wonders of the Val Grande is from early May to late September.
All that remains is the most difficult part: how to get to Cicogna. The first option is to come by car but beware, vans and campervans will not be able to cope with this road; the curves are too tight and a tunnel in the cliffs prevents high and wide vehicles from passing. The second option is to come by train to Verbania-Pallanza. From there, you can order a taxi, but it’s expensive – €75. Alternatively, you can try to make arrangements with the Ostello del Parco when you book to see if they will come into town on the day you arrive. They can then collect you from the station.
The arrival in Cicogna is well worth it, and the feeling of disconnection is all the stronger. That's part of the charm!
This loop through Pogallo is considered the perfect hike to get to know the Val Grande from Cicogna. That's usually where we start. The first reason is Pogallo. This former village of lumberjacks no longer houses many people but retains a crazy charm. It still serves as a summer retreat for a few locals…
by Luc Gesell
This second loop is already a little more ambitious than the one that passes through Pogallo. Before going into detail, it should be noted right away that this circuit has a long engaged section. This passage, called de la Soliva, winds along the side of the cliff. It is equipped with handrails and crosses…
by Luc Gesell
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This third loop promises you sport, but also more and lots of breathtaking landscapes. Like the second Tour that I offered you in this Collection, you will find a very committed section. It starts after the village of Nolezzo and continues up to Monte Todum. This very vertical passage is called Filo…
by Luc Gesell
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