Alto Ticino
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Typical Ticinese grotti, or small taverns, in Giornico, Leventina Valley. (©_Switzerland Tourism)
By far the most pristine part of this sometimes tiresomely touristic canton, the region of ALTO TICINO (Upper Ticino) north of Bellinzona is a haven of wild, lonesome valleys cutting deep into the landscape on the approach to the high Alps, dotted with rustic stone-built hamlets teetering on steep slopes. As throughout the rest of the canton – though less obtrusively here – many of the original Ticinese communities, which laboured so long to scrape a living from the land, are now financially enriched, if culturally challenged, by the presence of many German and Swiss-German second-home-owners seeking refuge from the pressures of city life. The villages and the scenery nonetheless survive unscathed, and if getting off the beaten path is your aim, you’re likely to find greater satisfaction in Alto Ticino than in most other parts of the country, let alone the canton. Biasca is the gateway to the region, a small town at the junction of the scenic Val Blenio – which heads north from Biasca up to Olivone, then cuts over to the Lucomagno Pass – and the main Valle Leventina, which bends northwest up to the foot of the Gottardo Pass and the quiet town of Airolo, where the rural Val Bedretto splits off west to the Novena Pass.

You’d do well to check your planned itinerary with the tourist office in Bellinzona before you set off: although information and maps are much the same wherever you go, staff in the regional tourist offices in Biasca, Acquarossa and Airolo are less likely to be fluent in English. The brochures Alto Ticino Weekend and Itinerari in Alto Ticino – the latter more informative but dating from 1993 – give acres of cultural and hiking background to the area, or you could opt for a guided tour, run on a fixed weekly schedule by the Bellinzona tourist office (July–Oct only): every Monday there’s a nature tour from Biasca up into the Val Blenio and back (8.30am–6pm; Fr.40); on Tuesdays, a round-trip hike from Biasca into the Leventina (8.30am–6.30pm; Fr.30); on Wednesdays, a tour of Romanesque churches in Biasca, Giornico and Negrentino (10am–5pm; Fr.30); and on Fridays, a stiff climb from Biasca (304m) to the hut on Alpe di Cava (2256m) and back (8.30am–6pm; Fr.40 includes lunch). All these tours start from Biasca train station, but must be booked with tourist offices either in Bellinzona or Biasca before noon one day in advance.

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