In this post, I shall tell you about our trip to the small farming Soglio village, high up in the mountains. Soglio village can be accurately described in just three words – Paradise on Earth. I hope you will agree with me after reading this post and seeing the photographs.
From Vicosoprano Plaza, we took the Post Bus in the direction of Soglio. Heading towards the south, we passed through the tiny hamlet of Stampa, the birthplace of the painter Augusto Giacometti and his son, the sculptor Alberto Giacometti. From Stampa, we followed the river Maira, coiling along the valley; past isolated little old stone houses, abandoned little churches and crumbling ruins of old castles on hilltops, into the hamlet of Promontogno.
In Promontogno, we got off our bus and after a brief stopover during which we walked to the little bridge over the gushing river, we got back to the bus stop to board a smaller post bus for Soglio, further up in the mountains.
All along, we were taken by the unspoilt natural beauty of the place – the hillsides and outcrops sprinkled with wildflowers – lupins, little yellow daisies, blue mountain gentians, orchids and clovers, massive, rugged rocks of strangely beautiful formations, deep forests, and bare jagged snow-capped peaks, towering at a distance.
Along the slopes of the mountains and amidst trees covered in moss, lichens, and ferns, we ascended steadily in sweeping curves and loops. We passed through narrow passes and arches, between enormous boulders and by cliff sides, shrouded in a shadowy blue-green mountain haze.And then, not far from the Italian border, we arrived at Soglio. We got off the bus at the lower edge of the village and explored the village on foot.Located on a sunny terrace at an altitude of 3,576 ft above sea level and over 1,000 feet above the valley floor, the village of Soglio occupies one of the most exclusive and sequestered locations in Switzerland. The village is located on the northern side of the Bregaglia Valley above the River Maira, with views across the valley to the distant Bondasca glacier. It sits opposite the 10,826 feet Pizzo Badile and is backed by the equally lofty Piz dal Märc and Piz Duan, offering stunningly beautiful panoramic views over the valleys.
From this village, we had breathtaking views of the mystical Bregaglia and Bondasca valleys down below and the soaring peaks of grandeur unsurpassed, of the Sciora Mountain group and the lofty Alps at a distance. The largest sweet chestnut forest in Europe, I was told was to be found not in Italy but the Bregaglia valley below the village.
As we climbed into the village along the sloping road, we came face to face with the Evangelical Church of St. Lorenzo with its tall spire. This rather spartan church was built in 1354, then restored and enlarged successively in 1506 and 1750. We didn’t find this landmark Church to be particularly impressive, but then the Belvedere and cemetery in the rear garden of the church were spectacularly beautiful and profoundly peaceful. We spent quite of bit of time at the cemetery, on the edge of the terrace overlooking the valley, surrounded by vast expanses of towering snow-capped peaks, in silence and solitude. Blessed indeed are those who rested there in eternal peace, I thought.We then ventured into the village with its narrow, shadowy, cobbled lanes and alleys, lined with closely placed, wood and stone packed houses and dotted with little fountains.
Further ahead, we came to a little square with the Palazzo Salis, considered as one of Switzerland’s more extraordinary hotels. Soglio was the seat of the Von Salis family long before 1630 when the palace was constructed. In 1878, the palace was converted into a hotel and is still run as one and owned by the Von Salis family. The hotel is truly fascinating, with its vaulted hall, open fireplaces, suits of armour and antique furniture strewn all over. The guest rooms are supposed to be grand, with stone floors on the ground level and wooden floors above, complete with four-poster beds and antique heating stoves. There is a beautiful garden at the rear, with different varieties of flowering subtropical plants and even a few sequoias. A part of the garden hosts an open air restaurant in summer. The poet laureate, Rainer Maria Rilke is reported to have come to Soglio and stayed in the Palazzo Salis for creative inspiration.
We had our lunch at the Palazzo Salis, by it a crackling fireplace. Minnie (my daughter) and I being vegetarians, had some delicious chestnut ravioli. Nina (my wife) had a risotto with basil leaves and dried meat, which she raved about. And we had some awesome tiramisu for dessert.
After lunch, we rested for a while and then went out on a leisurely stroll through this little old village. We did what is best done here – got lost in the maze of alleys and by-lanes, walking past old houses, barns, cattle sheds, labyrinths like alleyways and grottos. We went past and peeped into beautiful walled private gardens attached to private houses, even trespassing into a few. There were also tiny squares or plazas with water fountains, and one of these had a large fountain – rather a series of three attached fountains for washing clothes, along with washing boards on the sides. There was an Italian flair to this quaint village.
By the side of this fountain, down a narrow passage and through a dark grotto, we reached a ledge which has a charming little house with a beautiful garden, overlooking the valley into the spectacularly beautiful snow mountain chains ahead. We spent some time here, admiring the views. In addition to this, we also found a small art gallery, which was closed and a little shop that sold cheese and chestnut delicacies.
It was the beginning of the peak tourist season, and there were hardly any other visitor to the village other than us. In any case, Soglio is one of the most remote and sequestered villages in Switzerland and is totally off the beaten track. It has less number of visitors even in the peak season, compared to other places. The streets were totally deserted, the villagers either busy at work on inside their homes. We felt as if we were in a time warped wonderland. According to Archaeological research Soglio was already settled during prehistoric times. The name of the village was first documented in 1219, and we felt that time has come to a standstill in this village since then.
One of the most famous artists of Europe in the late 19th century, the Italian painter Giovanni Segantini (15 January 1858 – 28 September 1899) had spent several winters in Soglio. He had famously described the village as the “Gateway to Paradise”. We disagreed with the artist.It wasn’t the Gateway to Paradise that Segantini hailed it to be. It was Paradise itself .
This trip was originally published on Tales from the Trail of a World Citizen