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Via Spluga trekking tips, tales and wagging tails

Via Spluga trekking tips, tales and wagging tails

You know the way dogs can hear things that humans can’t? Well, maybe it’s no coincidence that the Via Spluga long-distance trail between Switzerland and Italy, is one of our most popular dog-friendly holidays. Perhaps the dogs spread the word early on about this secret alpine adventure and slowly, but surely, it spread to their owners. Our Via Spluga trekking holiday is certainly making their tails wag, but is also getting tongues wagging now too, as the word is out about Spluga and all its splendour. 

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It may be an ancient trail, but it is maintained to perfection, and devoid of crowds. © Abbey Ball

Where is the Via Spluga?

The Via Spluga is a 70km long-distance trail between Switzerland and Italy, linking the towns of Thusis in the former and Chiavenna in the latter, on a route that takes you through the Central Alps. At the core of the route is the Spluga or Splügen Pass (2,115m) in the Lepontine Alps, which has created the most beautiful borders between these two countries, and has been a trade route dating back to Roman times.

As both Thusis and Chiavenna have train stations, one of the other glories of this holiday is that it’s accessible by rail, if you are able to get to Europe without flying, that is. Our recommended arrival airport for this tour is Zurich Airport and any of Milan’s airports are perfect for departure. Zurich Airport is three hours from Thusis, and Milan’s airports are between two and three hours from Chiavenna. 

The Via Spluga is a totally winning way to explore both Italy and Switzerland because each day of walking on the trail is so unique and offers such a variety of landscapes. At every corner you are somehow surprised by what comes next. From the dramatic rock formations of the gorges, the turquoise of the rivers and lakes, the green of the alpine pastures and the ever-evolving backdrop of the surrounding mountains and peaks – you certainly don’t get bored of the scenery.” – Abbey Ball, one of our fine team of Adventure Operations Specialists

How difficult is the Via Spluga?

Although this is most definitely alpine walking, we categorise our Via Spluga trekking trip as a moderate walking holiday, so you don’t have to push yourself (or your pet) to the limit. You can walk this route over the Lepontine Alps into Lombardy in just six days, following gently-winding mule tracks, for the most part, many of which look like they’re unchanged since chariots crossed them, but they are still maintained to a good standard. 

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Two of our adventurous team members, Abbey and Dalila, hiking in the Via Spluga, revelling in their rambles. © Abbey Ball

Landscapes of the Via Spluga

You hit one of the trail’s highs on your first full day of hiking – the Viamala Gorge, which was carved out by the Hinter Rhine to create 300m-walls centuries ago. The next day, Roffla Gorge awaits in Berverin Nature Park, where you can get up close and personal with its dramatic waterfall from a viewing platform, which dates back to 1907. 

In order to take in the third in a trilogy of gorges, you have to conquer Splügen Pass, which is a 17km hike but with ascents of a maximum 700m. Next stop Italy, with a perfect lunch stop in the alpine village of Montespluga, followed by a descent to Cardinello Gorge, passing traditional wooden cottages in small mountain villages, typical of your daily hikes on this tour. The rest of the trail is dominated by the beauty of Valchiavenna, an alpine valley in northern Italy which lies north of Lake Como, with no shortage of vineyards, open meadows and hillside caves still used by farmers to preserve cheese and cured meats, as well as some stunning local tavernas. 

Absolutely stunning scenery – We ventured on this trail in October 2023 and would recommend. The walking length daily was perfect…we saw very few other walkers and on three of the days the walk was peaceful with stunning views, varying through pine forest, broadleaf woodland, river valleys, mountains, gorges and alpine villages. The hotels were of a very high standard and the half board option for food was excellent with high quality food…. the luggage transfer was seamless.” – Five-star review of the Via Spluga, Happy walkers, Crowthorne England

The full Montespluga, revealing all its beauty.

When is the best time to walk along the Via Spluga?

Our Via Spluga holiday is available from the beginning of June until mid-October. These months offer the most pleasant weather conditions for walking, with maximum temperatures in Thusis ranging from 10 to 18C and maximum temperatures in Chiavenna between 11 and 20C during this period. So it never gets too searing on Spluga. 

Where do we stay on a Via Spluga trekking trip?

Just as the landscapes seem untouched by modern influences, hotels and guesthouses along the Via Spluga have, for the most part, adhered to this tranquil, simple ethos of pastoral life. They all embrace wellness and mindful travel, with some mineral baths, saunas and Slow Food along the way. 

The towns and villages that you stay at are: Thusis, at the northern entrance to the spectacular Viamala gorge on the Hinterrhein river; Andeer, home to a natural Mineralbad (mineral baths) with mountain views; the traditional village of Splügen, famous for its traditional, multi-storey Walser houses and cobbled streets; Isola on a lake of the same name; and finally Chiavenna, an idyllic and unspoiled mountain town with architectural gems such as Collegiata di San Lorenzo or the traditional houses suspended over the River Mera, all enveloped by hills. One of them is a hill called Paradiso, the ideal place to toast a trip that certainly lives up to this name. 

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Another day at the office for our team member Dalila crossing the Traversina footbridge on the Via Spluga. © Abbey Ball

We hope that you enjoyed our insights into the Via Spluga and share the excitement that we have for this tranquil trail. For more Italian inspiration, you may enjoy our blogs on Our six best hikes in Italy, Most underrated places in Italy, Our five best hikes in Switzerland and Best train journeys in Switzerland. And if your favourite walking companion is canine, check out our top dog blog.