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Via Spluga: The Heart of the Alps The Natural Adventure Company

Via Spluga: The Heart of the Alps

Overview

Via Spluga offers a wonderful mix of history and culture, perfectly embedded in a long-distance hike that leads from Thusis in Switzerland, over the Splügelnpass and to Chiavenna in Italy. This hiking trail has a 2000-year-old history as a mule track and was once considered the shortest route across the Alps, making it an important connection between Graubünden and Lombardia.

The 6-day Via Spluga: The Heart of the Alps tour will take you to the very heart of the Alps, from the once most feared section of the historic trail – the over 321 stone steps and rocks to Andeer, through the gorges of Rofla and Via Mala, and up to Splügenpass (2114 m). Descending through the gorge in Val Cardinello and the forested Val San Giacomo, you will reach southern Chiavenna and experience the pure Italian flair.

Enjoy the local delicacies like Violino di Capra, Pizzoccheri alla Valtellinese or the mouth-watering Lombardian cheese Scimudin with a glass of wine, produced from the Nebbiolo grapes, locally known as Chiavennasca. Extend your stay in Chiavenna to visit the Paradiso botanical garden, the Palazzo Vertemate in Prosto di Piuro and Colico village, situated on Lake Como’s northern arm, where river Adda enters the lake.

  • Via Mala (Evil Path) – narrow gorge enclosed by rock walls up to 300 m high
  • St. Martins Church in Zillis
  • Roffla Gorge and the spectacular waterfall
  • Andeer – famous spa resort with mineral baths
  • Rheinwald Valley Museum
  • The unique mule trail with an exposed descent through the gorge of the Val Cardinello
  • Isolated pilgrimage churches of San Giacomo Filippo and Gallivaggio
  •  The quiet village of Chiavenna

Click to view map

Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Thusis/Sils im Domleschg

Welcome to Thusis, a charming little Swiss town in the Grisons’ canton at the northern entrance to the spectacular Via Mala gorge on the Hinterrhein river. With a population of just 3000, it still remains the largest town and the cultural hub of the region.

Day 2: Thusis – Zillis – Andeer | 15.5-17.5 km | 5-7 hrs

After breakfast, leave Thusis to reach one of the tour’s most picturesque yet dramatic highlights: the Via Mala gorges. This section also throws up an alternative, equally ancient route, the Via Traversina, which runs parallel to the Via Spluga but higher up. This stretch ends at the delightful village of Andeer, hosting its splendidly decorated houses and little cobbled streets. Visit the Thermal Bath in Andeer, boasting its mineral waters at an attractive 34°C (2 hours visit to the Spa included).

  • Option 1: Walking from Thusis to Zillis via Verlorenes Loch: 9.5 km, 4 hrs ↑850 ↓590
  • Option 2: Walking from Thusis to Zillis via Traversina: 11.5 km, 5 hrs ↑990 ↓730 (recommended)
  • Walking from Zillis to Andeer: 6 km, 1.5 hrs ↑200 ↓100
  • Accommodation: Hotel Post in Andeer or similar

Day 3: Andeer – Splügen | 14.5 km | 5 hrs

Head off in the morning for the majestic Roffla Waterfalls. Enter a spruce forest with massive trunks guiding along a path that leads to the small village of Sufers, bordered by rangy mountains. Following the ancient mule track, you will finally reach Splügen. The village combines the stylish mansions typical of the Spluga Pass, which occupy the outskirts of Sustenbach, and Walser-style houses of the “Bsetzi” west of the historic centre with its typical network of cobbled alleys. The local museum – Rheinwalder Heimatmuseum – is well worth a visit, where the history of centuries of transit through the valley is brilliantly documented.

  • Walking for the day: 14.5 km, 5 hrs ↑700 m ↓200 m
  • Accommodation: Hotel Suretta*** in Splügen or similar

Day 4: Splügen – Isola | 17 km | 6 hrs

Leave Splügen behind and dive into the Alpine pastures with a breathtaking panorama of the surrounding peaks, avalanche barrier tunnels and well-maintained, cobbled mule tracks. Follow a high-altitude and expansive section, enhanced by the heady fragrance of blooms as moving up from the village on the northern slope of the Pass to descent on the Italian side to Montespluga. Shortly after, enjoy the spectacular views over the Cardinello Gorge – this is one of the most dramatic sections guaranteed to linger long in your memory. The descent requires a certain amount of caution, but it’s not demanding and leads gently towards the typical wooden mountain dwellings (baite) of Sosta, M†ottaletta and finally to Isola. Make sure to visit the 14th Century church dedicated to San Martino and San Giorgio with its bas-relief of the Via Crucis embellished on the external walls.

  • Walking for the day: 17 km, 6 hrs ↑700 m ↓900 m
  • Accommodation: Locanda Cardinello** in Isola or similar

Day 5: Isola – Chiavenna | 19.5 km | 7 hrs

Today’s section is following the route of the Liro torrent. Walk along pathways between dry-stone wall and meadow, through chestnut groves and approach Chiavenna along a path with a magnificent panorama over Valchiavenna and the traditional vineyards of the area. Chiavenna is the place that hosts unique crotti -natural caves – situated along the hills that line the town. These caves have the perfect temperature for preserving meat and cheese. A few of them have now turned into restaurants, but many are still owned and passed down from generation to generation.

  • Walking for the day: 19.5 km, 6.5 hrs ↑225 m ↓875 m
  • Accommodation: Hotel Crimea*** or similar

Day 6: Departure

Breakfast at the hotel and departure. Consider booking an extra night in Chiavenna to visit its museums, the Paradiso botanical garden, Palazzo Vertemate in Prosto di Piuro or have a small trip (30 min with the train) to Colico village, situated on Lake Como’s northern arm, where the river Adda enters the lake.

What to Expect

Accommodation

Accommodation is in nice 3-star hotels (2-star hotel in Isola) in double or twin private en-suite rooms. We have carefully hand-picked all places and regularly monitor their quality. We have tried to choose accommodations that offer friendly service, clean and comfortable rooms and local flavour.

Click to view default hotels

*Hotels are subject to availability. In case a hotel is fully booked for your desired dates, we will replace it with a property of equal standard. We will provide full accommodation details upon booking confirmation.

Meals

Accommodation is on a bed & breakfast basis. Picnic lunches are included on all walking days. You can have dinner at your hotel or nearby restaurants.

Difficulty & terrain

Surefootedness is needed for the alpine hiking trails. Two of the hikes are pretty long, and you need to be physically healthy. The trails in the gorges lead over tarmac paths that might be slippery. (read more about difficulty grades). We strongly advise you to follow only marked trails and never shorten the path through the unknown and unmarked terrain. We will provide you with detailed road notes and maps, and you can call our 24/7 local assistance phone number anytime. Your holiday information pack will include more detailed information on route navigation.

When to go

This trip is available from mid-June until the end of October.

The flexibility of self guided holidays means that there are no fixed dates, and you can start your trip on any date during the season.

Getting there

FCO up-to-date travel advice on Switzerland and Italy.

Click to view travel options

By plane

Our recommended arrival airport for this tour is Zurich (ZRH). Most convenient departure airports are Milan Malpensa (MXP), Milan Bergamo (BGY) and Milan Linate (LIN).

By train or bus
  • By train: It takes approx. 3 hours to travel from Zurich Airport to Thusis. There are normally 45+ trains per day, and tickets start from €18 pp when pre-booked. For more information, please visit Rhaetian Railway and SBB.
  • Parking: Parking in Thusis, CHF 30 per week, payable on the spot.
  • From Chiavenna, you can take the train to Milano Central station via Colico and then the bus to Milan Malpensa Airport. For more information, visit Trainline or use the Omio planner above.

Inclusions

Included

  • 5 overnights as detailed in the itinerary
  • 5 breakfasts
  • 4 packed lunches on the walking days (sandwich, fruit, chocolate bar and water)
  • Luggage transfer when changing hotels (one piece of luggage per person, max 15 kg)
  • Detailed route notes (1 x per room) deposited at the first accommodation, including information material, trekking map 1:50.000, vouchers for Roffla Gorge, Via Mala Gorge, St. Martino church and the regional museum in Zillis, Museo of the Via Spluga in Campodolcino, Mill of Bottonera or Paradiso botanical garden in Chiavenna, Palazzo Vertemate Franchi in Piuro
  • Entry for Thermal Bath in Andeer, including inside and outside pool (2 hrs)
  • 24/7 phone assistance by our local office/representative

Excluded

  • Airfare and connecting land transfers
  • Dinners, drinks and snacks
  • Travel insurance (required – get a quote online)
  • Personal expenses
  • Local tourist taxes and entry fees (payable on-site)
  • Any items not explicitly listed as included

Options, extras & supplements

  • A supplement applies to members of a group who require a single room
  • This holiday is available for solo travellers; a supplement will be charged as accommodation and luggage transfer costs are not shared (we never mix and match – solo travellers will be accommodated in single rooms)
  • Extra night in Chiavenna available upon request
  • Half Board (5 evening meals)

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