Val Bavona is probably a name you have heard somewhere and wondered about. It might be completely unknown to you. While Val Bavona is somewhat obscured by its more famous neighbor Verzasca Valley, it is no less beautiful. The valley is considered by some to be the most beautiful in all of Ticino. What makes Val Bavona so special? And what do you need to know about it?
Val Bavona is a hidden gem in Canton Ticino. The 19-kilometer-long Bavona River runs through this side valley of Maggia Valley. This valley is the steepest and rockiest in the entire Alpine region. Its slopes are several hundred meters tall and were shaped by ancient glaciers.
In this article, we will discuss the six things you need to know about Val Bavona. Is Val Bavona even worth visiting? What is there to do in Val Bavona? Here’s what we learned below.
1. Val Bavona Has 12 Terres
Val Bavona is renowned for its rock houses constructed by human hands, featuring rooms carved into massive rock walls and ceilings. These caves served as shelters for people and their animals. The valley is basically made up of 12 hamlets or villages. These are also referred to as terre. So these 12 villages (or terres) are each around one kilometer away from each other.
The valley basically begins in Bignasco in the middle of Maggia Valley. Then, it continues northwest, all the way to San Carlo.
Starting from Bignasco, we will encounter these hamlets as we move northwest:
- San Carlo
The villages and hamlets are all small. Most residents usually arrive in April. During winter, the valley is usually not inhabited. From one end of the valley to the other, it takes about 30 minutes by bus.
Two stand out among all the villages and hamlets. These two are Foroglio and San Carlo. We’ll learn more about why later.
2. Val Bavona Is A U-shaped Valley
The Val Bavona is a U-shaped valley, also known as a trough valley. They have U-shaped cross-sections and steep straight sides. However, the bottom is flat or rounded.
The view from the bottom is often breathtaking, with big, almost vertical slabs of rock and mountains over your head. This valley is very similar to another well-known U-shaped valley in Switzerland called Lauterbrunnen. As a matter of fact, there are many similarities between them, including steep sides and waterfalls.
Glacial activity generally shapes U-shaped valleys. Glacial valleys are formed when a glacier moves across and down a slope, scouring it. Splui, or stones scattered around the valley, are said to have emerged right after the glacier ice melted in the region. These huge boulders litter the valley all over, giving the landscape its characteristic look.
Left and right, Val Bavona is surrounded by granite walls. Stones, waterfalls, and forests surround you here. There is a sense of being in a deep valley instead of a broad valley like Engadin. You’ll feel like the mountains are higher than they actually are because of their U-shaped form. In reality, the mountains are often not much higher than 3,000 meters.
3. Val Bavona Is Very Much Isolated
Historically, Val Bavona has been somewhat independent compared to the rest of the canton. There was no other option. Until 1950, it was not even connected to the main road.
There are not many residents in Val Bavona because it is a difficult place to live. Although there is no written history, researchers agree that it has been isolated and not too inhabited for most of its history.
Val Bavona is also generally not a place where people live. There are several reasons for this. One is that there are not a lot of jobs in the valley. And the second reason is that Val Bavona has seen its share of catastrophes. The volume of rain can be extreme, causing erosion and flooding. Capanna Cristallina, for example, experienced several avalanches by 1999. Consequently, the hut now stands in Passo di Cristallina, where it is safer.
The harsh living conditions and economic hardship drove most of the population out of the valley. The nearest place where there are more year-round residents is Cavergno, within the Maggia valley itself.
Walking around the valley is so peaceful. In spite of its proximity to Maggia, it has managed to evade the masses of tourists.
4. Val Bavona Has No Electricity
Electricity is not available in most of the villages and hamlets of Val Bavona. Ironically, the valley supplies electricity through the power plant and three lakes in San Carlo. Despite supplying electricity, most hamlets and villages do not consume it.
Cavergno and San Carlo are the only places in the valley with electricity. The rest rely on solar energy, natural gas, and small water turbines to generate electricity. Candles are still used here as well.
5. Foroglio Is One Of Val Bavona’s Most Popular Destinations
Foroglio is a remarkable place because it is where the Calnègia Valley (Val Calnègia) meets the main valley of Bavona. In any case, the intersection does not take place at the same altitude. This means that the Calnègia Valley is around 100 meters higher. Therefore, the water from Calnègia flows directly into Bavona, creating this beautiful waterfall in Foroglio.
If you would like to learn more about Foroglio, visit our article here: The Scenic Village of Foroglio, Switzerland.
Foroglio can be reached by bus via Sonlerto. From Sonlerto, walk on the left side until you reach Foroglio. Buses seldom stop here so check the bus schedule to find out when the buses arrive.
6. From San Carlo, You Can Visit Robiei and Ticino’s Largest Glacier
A visit to the glacier in Val Bavona is also a wonderful option when visiting the region. To reach the glacier, you must first go to San Carlo. Ticino’s longest cable car runs between San Carlo and Robiei; it’s almost 1,000 meters long.
Once you exit the cable car, you will be at the beautiful Robiei area at 1,900m, at the foot of the Basodino glacier. A beautiful view of the Ticinese Alps can be enjoyed from this vantage point. You can even go fishing in the crystal clear lakes.
Basodino Glacier is the largest and most majestic glacier in Ticino. White ice caps rise to 3273 meters, set against granite and gneiss landscapes.
In Robiei, you can hike the trail at the foot of the Basodino Glacier. While hiking around Lake Robiei, the Basodino Glacier is visible in the background. If you would like to learn more about the hike, you can visit the article of Ticino.ch here: Robiei and the lakes at the Basodino glacier’s foot. Additionally, a learning path helps explain the Robiei Dam.
Several of the paths are asphalted and accessible to people of all ages.
In Ticino, Val Bavona is a valley well worth visiting. Though it is not as well known as its more famous neighbor, Verzasca Valley, it does not pale in comparison. It is also scenic in its rugged, rocky way.
There are fewer tourists in Val Bavona than in other Ticino areas. In a sense, it is a more authentic version of Lauterbrunnen, another U-shaped valley in the Bernese Oberland. There are no trappings of a well-oiled tourist machine here. It is authentic. And it is peaceful.
Whether you are in Locarno or Ascona, Val Bavona is definitely a destination to consider. It is an amazing place, and walking along the Bavona River from village to village is a wonderfully relaxing experience.
- 5 Best Amazing Valleys in Ticino, Switzerland
- The Scenic Village of Foroglio, Switzerland
- Our First Hike In The Wild Bavona Valley
- 12 Best Day Trips From Locarno
- Locarno: Top Ideas for a Long Weekend
- Best Ascona Activities and Attractions
- Lugano vs. Locarno: Which is better?
Darla Uhl is the owner of TouringSwitzerland.com. Her home is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Having lived almost 20 years in Switzerland, she's traveled extensively all over the country.
Darla's favorite regions to visit in Switzerland include Engadin, Lake Geneva, Bernese Oberland, Ticino, and Valais. She loves spending time with her family, hiking, visiting museums, and reading books.