The Aloha Spirit is defined in many different ways in Hawai'i. It is giving without expecting anything in return. It is a feeling of love and kindness. To be welcomed unconditionally. If the Aloha Spirit (The Essence of Hawai'i) existed in Switzerland, I have found it in the Muggio Valley.
The locals here are extremely friendly and welcoming. They greet you at every corner. Lost? Ask for directions, and they are happy to direct you in the right direction. Heck, they might even take you there.
This feeling sparked on the bus ride from Mendrisio to the Muggio Valley. I watched time and again how each passenger shouted grazie, ciao, ciamo raggazi or buondi (Ticino slang for goodbye) when getting off.
The first time it happened, I thought it's nice. Then it happened the second time, and a third time: it was an obviously hard-working construction worker, exiting with a loud "Grazie, buondi!" I instantly turned to my travel companion and wife, Manuela, and whispered: "I love this place!"
Welcome to the Muggio Valley, the friendliest place in Ticino.
What to do in the Muggio Valley
The Breggia Gorge Park is the most diverse park in Switzerland
The trails in the Breggia Gorge Park are intertwined by wilderness, waterfalls, rivers, the remains of a medieval castle, La torre dei Forni, and even an old mill. This is one of the most diverse hikes you can find in Switzerland.
Once submerged in a marine basin some 245 to 230 million years ago, today the park showcases ancient rocks and fossils. The mountains around here show colors of red and orange. And I am struck by the tectonic plates that sprout from some of the streams.
During our hike, I see locals BBQing in different areas of the Breggia Gorge Park. Others are cooling off in the river. The hike is not climbing Mt. Everest, but my advice is not to underestimate the heat by bringing a water bottle. (You can refill your bottle at any of the fountains that are around the park.)
La Torre dei Forni is where beauty meets destruction
Juxtaposed in a beautiful valley of the Breggia Gorge Park lay the remains of a massive cement factory. It has left behind destruction and a carved-out mountain. This factory is overwhelming. It overtakes you. It draws you in like a moth to a flame. This is a photographer's playground, an influencers backdrop, or a historian's book cover.
The cement factory is now a museum and a location for events, conferences, or special occasions. The industrial look is becoming more and more popular with people. Instead of celebrating a marriage on the mountain or near a lake, how about in an old industrial area? Or perhaps you are like me and dream of making films in a location like the La Torre dei Forni?
Go deep on the “Path of the Cement” tour
Nature eventually grew over some of the remains of the old cement factory. But what could not be fixed were the tunnels which had been drilled into the mountainside. We explore the dark tunnels (also known as the gallery) with a guide. It is a maze of dark tunnels and stories of the past. For a brief moment, we shut off our headlamps, and it is pitch black. Only the sound of water dripping into the ponds can be heard.
I check to see if I'm still breathing, it's that dark. The tunnel tour is roughly two kilometers in length. and be sure to bring a jacket because it is a bit chilly at roughly 13 degrees C. Do the tour if you are itching to know more: how come the valley and this mountain were ideal for extracting rocks for cement? How did the factory operate? Or, why was the factory shut down? Spoiler: it involves a red church on top of a hill...
Scudellate, a village with panoramic views
If you are staying at one of the widespread hostel/hotels of Ostello of Scudellate, I hope you did not simply go there to sleep. A famous mountain for biking, one could stay here and bike from sunrise to sunset.
Explore Scudellate which is still populated by a lot of locals. Brush up on your Italian and you are sure to make new friends. Many try the hiking paths that surround this village, but we choose to walk through the village and up the hill to reach the next village of Roncapiano.
Roncapiano, another village with panoramic views
Roncapiano in the Muggio Valley is picturesque and overlooks Scudellate like its guardian angel. Just like Scudellate, this town is also filled with locals catching up on the latest gossip or greeting the bikers and tourists. Roncapiano is a perfect place to put your feet up, have a picnic, and relax.
What's old is new again at the Bruzela Mill
A local Ticino red corn could have easily been lost forever but it was preserved under the Swiss ProSpecierar seed-saving program. An old grinding process has been brought back to life at the restored 720-years-old Bruzela Mill.
Newer doesn't always mean better, especially when it comes to food. Grandma's homecooked meals always tasted better. Grinding the local corn and the red corn with the old methods, you can taste the love, the history, and the spirit of the Muggio Valley.
Our guide, Fabio Bossi, takes us from start to finish of the operation. It's impressive how well-thought this machinery is. From the outside, the machine looks prehistoric. But with the explanation about what each gear does, it starts to look like an iPhone. Feel free to ask the staff questions about the mill, the process, the corn, literally anything, and they will be more than happy to answer. They don't just work at the mill, the mill is their passion. It is their love to preserve and educate people about the mill, the history, and the corn.
Muggio Valley Ethnographic Museum
Interested in the history of the Muggio Valley? Or maybe the Ticino heat is provoking you to go indoors. Either way, the Muggio Valley Ethnographic Museum is an appealing place to discover the history of the valley.
Going through the archives and the ancient artifacts of the valley, I could not help but feel extremely melancholy for the valley's ancestors. It was one of the most impoverished places in Switzerland. So poor that people retreated to Italy or America in hopes of work and a better life. A place so poor that a man would live in a tall structure, and his only job was catching tiny birds for rich people’s food. A delicacy dish, polenta e usei (polenta with birds), was once popular in the villages.
Of course, catching or eating birds is now illegal, so don't even think about it. On a brighter note, the valley has evolved and the villages are now in better shape. They are all equipped to host visitors and inquisitive travelers like myself.
Where to eat in the Muggio Valley
Ristorante Lattecaldo - Authentic Ticino food
As soon as we enter the restaurant, we are happily greeted by the owner, Claudia Gaffuri (Crimi), and her newborn baby. It is very cozy and I don't know if I'm entering someone's home. I am also over the moon that Ristorante Lattecaldo steeps itself in traditional Ticino food. We all agree to let the local chef, Simone Pigozzo, dish out his recommendations.
Our first course is a plate of local Ticino cheeses and meats. Our second dish is a platter of local steaks and traditionally made pork. (It is some of the best steak I have eaten in Switzerland.) After the meal, I peek around the corner of the restaurant to see Crimi's baby napping near a table. I think to myself, I would like to lay myself out and nap after that grand meal…
6835 Morbio Superiore
Phone +41 91 684 12 40
Osteria Manciana - Ossobuco with a view from the village of Scudellate
Osteria Manciana has become infamous for their view but also for their ossobuco. It would be an insult If I did not order it. I did, and the sounds I made after each bite are organismic. It tasted like what an Italian Mom would make at home.
And then comes the view, also breathtaking. The bikers whizz by and the clouds dance between the valleys. A newly built balcony that overlooks the valley will accommodate more travelers to enjoy their meals with a spectacular view.
Via Cantonale 95
Phone +41 91 684 11 36
Casa del Vino Ticino - Wine and dine in the Breggia Gorge Park
You cannot pass La Casa del Vino Ticino without looking in. The outdoor décor is so inviting that one becomes delighted to be seated in this prime location. But we did not merely come here for the décor, we came for the wine and food. Now calling me an amateur wine connoisseur would be an exaggeration. I know red and white wine like that, red and white.
I'm always a little hesitant when indulging myself in a wine tasting. However, Marinella Maggetti is an amazing sommelière. She precisely possesses the capability of building a wine pairing around you and your party. From the unknown to the experts, she can accommodate all. As we go down the wines we enjoyed in the past, she swiftly goes through her Rolodex of Ticino wines in her head.
Have I mentioned that all the wines are from Ticino? Marinella comes with each bottle explaining the origin, the owner, and the intimate pairing of food. I'm engulfed by her passion. By the time the fourth bottle arrives, I feel like I have become a somm myself, and I am in love with Marinella's passion for wine. She is that extraordinary. I forget we also have dinner coming. She insists we try two more bottles, and this is when I discover my favorite.
Once more, I'm an idiot when it comes to wine, but my personal favorite out of the six bottles we tried was the Acqua Reale. I even snuck in a couple of more pours before Marinella could see. As so I thought… #amateur
Casa del Vino Ticino
Via Ghitello 3
6834 Morbio Inferiore
Phone +41 91 695 75 52
Where to stay in the Muggio Valley
B&B Chiarina - The Ticino uncle I always wanted to stay with
Ricardo is the owner of B&B Chiarina. Some B&B's can be sprinkled with every exquisite detail but lack a certain something. That something periodically befalls the owner or the host of the B&B. Ricardo is so welcoming and his passion for his B&B shines through. He talks about the walls, the paintings, the neighbors, the neighborhood, the homemade jams, foods, and drinks from the area.
I feel like I am part of Ricardo's family. He is the Ticino uncle I always wanted. Ricardo is from the Muggio Valley and his fountain of information of the valley cannot be bought. It's lived. The B&B Chiarina offers breakfast, guides for biking, hiking, and fishing. And most importantly, love for the Muggio Valley.
Via dei Portici 7 - Breggia
Phone +41 79 615 97 87
Osteria Manciana & Ostello of Scudellate have views to die for
With a view like theirs, little advertising needs to be done. The newly renovated Scudellate Hostel next to the Osteria Manciana is very much a thought-out accommodation. From beds that retract to a washer and dryer to a common room and lockers. I am sure this place will have no issues finding active travelers and bikers. Lastly and very importantly, for this pristine location, the rooms are actually affordable.