The Cimalegna area is an ideal place to examine the geological history of the north-western Alps, with particular regard to the geodynamic processes that in 200 million years generated continental rifting, the opening of the Ligurian-Piedmontese Mesozoic ocean (Tetide western), its gradual closure in subduction (from 90 Ma), the collision (45 Ma) between the European continental margin (Zona Pennidica) and the overlying Adriatic continental margin (Austroalpine), the final uplift of the chain.
On a global scale, we are faced with a divergent (ocean formation) and then convergent (oceanic subduction and continental collision) plate margin.
In Cimalegna and along the watershed ridge with the Lys valley we find in a short space rocks from very distant areas and very different continental and oceanic environments, a long geological history that has also involved deep portions of the earth’s crust and mantle scales lithospheric.
The natural environment is also interesting from the pedological point of view, due to the soils that are formed in particular conditions due to the presence of an almost flat area, high altitudes and extreme climatic conditions. If compared with geological times, they are formed “in an instant” constituting the most superficial film of the earth’s crust.
Easy hike, with minimum altitude and well-marked trail but with steps and some rather steep. Great for walkers with a minimum of training.
After about ¾ of an hour's walk along the trail (marked No.203) to Otro it is easy to recognize the path among the vegetation that leads to the mines in 5 minutes. You can see some remains of buildings where the ore was collected and the start of the cable car used to transport the ore to Alagna. Not far from the entrance of the mine, about 10 meters into the mountain you can still see the wooden scaffolding that supported the vault of the tunnel.
Entering the mine is not recommended, but you can observe the structures and service buildings used during the extraction activities, the terraces, stairways and trails that the miners used. Following the path you can see, in particular, two now demolished buildings that were used as storage for equipment and machinery, and the semicircular arrival of the cable car where the grafts of the hoppers can still be seen.
We recommend a visit to the site due to its fascinating environment and the particularity of the places, but taking precautions in light of the fact that the buildings are in a derelict state and crumbling and the trail, even though marked and checked, contains difficult passages and is to be considered for experienced hikers. For guided tours we advise you to look through the Alpine guides and hiking trials in Alagna.
The Manganese mines of Alagna: Town life during the Second World War.
Manganese is a metal used by man since prehistoric times: manganese dioxidepigments have been found in cave paintings of 17,000 years ago, Egyptians and Romans used it to manufacture glass, the Spartans fused it with the metal from their weapons to ensure its legendary toughness. Today it is essential for the production of stainless steel and aluminium alloys. Between the two world wars, on orders from the autarkic Mussolini government, the research of metals and manganese in particular which was used by the aviation industry, intensified throughout the Italian territory.
In this historical context, the Piedmont Ferriere, founded in 1907 and bought by the Fiat group in 1917, dedicated to the production of special steel, weapons and ammunition as well as wheels, tire-rims and pieces of bodywork, obtained permission to exploit the Manganese ore deposits at Belvedere, near Otro in November 28, 1938. At the same time they extended their interest to two neighbouring concessions: Punta Strailing in upper Val D 'Otro and the area under the Red horn which they obtained in 1940. Until then, the concession for the exploitation of the Belvedere deposit was given to A.M.M.I., a company which had many mines in Valsesia including Doccio, Balmuccia, Sella Bassa, Scopello and Becco d’Ovaga in Varallo. The A.M.M.I. gradually shifted its interest from Valsesia to Val d'Ossola, leaving the deposit in Val d'Otro virtually unused. FIAT the successor was dedicated to new research. They greeted the "discovery" of the mine-Alagna Otro with enthusiasm and satisfaction because it meant important future investments. Wally Moretti employed as a Secretary at the Mines recalls having assisted with the mineral analysis performed by engineers of Fiat “done in a craftsman manner with manual grinding "recalls their satisfaction with the quality of the ore extracted and its pink colour, which had no traces of nickel or iron present as in other mines in Valsesia. After successfully passing the stages of site evaluation, FIAT quickly started building a cable car to transport the materials to Fabbriche, a locality about a hundred meters south of the bridge over the river Otro, which was raised above the level of the road, to facilitate loading. They also built warehouses to store implements and materials, another to house the mill and the hoppers and a shelter for explosives near the entrance of some deposits. A significant number of workers were hired and a house in the village was used as offices and a small apartment for staff. The hotel Stainer provided a canteen service for employees and managers, while the miners’ cook was MrsThiebat from Valle d'Aosta. Wally says: "having work experience at AMMI, I had to quit, because my father was unwilling to accept the transfer to Val d'Ossola proposed to me. I could therefore personally appreciate the efforts made by Fiat in the initiative." Progressively, the manganese mine in the village gained the deserved importance and, in common parlance was called "Minera", almost wanting to emphasize its uniqueness. Trucks of imposing dimensions were used for the transfer of the minerals providing transport up to Varallo where the material was loaded onto wagons destined for Turin "Corso Mortara, 7," says Wally “I sent so many letters that to the management of Fiat and despite the fact that nearly 70 years have passed, I can never forget that address.
The staff of the mine grew rapidly: from 17 in 1940 to 66 in 1941 and declined just as quickly after the war. In 1946 there were 64, 31 in 1947 and 1948 there were 26. It still continued running until the summer of 1949 with eight men. In October, by the time the permit expired, the site had already been abandoned. "Those were the years when on the entire road that lead to Val d'Otro not a twig could be found on the trails. The woods were clean because workers returning home gathered wood on their way. “It seemed asif the trail to Otro had been cleaned by the cleansing department says “Franco Fanetti, who used to work at the mine during the war years. His father Joseph, who was in the Police, was guardian of the explosives used to overnight there, because in those difficult years it was necessary to protect them from thieves. At the mine there was a fatal accident that claimed the life of Emilio Berta from Balmuccia. Alberto Gualdi born in 1919 says, an unexploded charge “gravia”, as it was called in jargon, exploded while the miners were trying to defuse it. "Not everyone knew how to mount charges, you had to have experience and many went to work in the mines to avoid going to war and so there was no time to train them. When the first charge exploded the acetylene lamps were extinguished by the blast and you remained in total darkness, perhaps 100 m underground, and you had to remain calm and count that all the charges had exploded. But those who were not prepared, got scared, they were afraid. A boy, who was sent with me, ran away screaming in the tunnel and I did not know how to catch him again. I liked to do that job. There was silence after the blast and it was hot in the tunnels and you could even get some sleep '.
The mines and the miners were the beating heart of Alagna during the war years, the men who did not go to the front worked there, working created a semblance of normal life and the proceeds of the mine helped many families from starving. It was at the mine shop where the end of the war was celebrated with a grand ball which everyone attended. Apparently it was a big party with a demijohn of wine placed in the centre of the room where everyone could drink from, and there was accordion music and dancing and probably a great fight too. It was a magnificent celebration that has remained alive in the hearts of those who are still alive today to remember.
Short walk but on uneven ground and often overgrown. Curious place to visit carefully
From the Church of Alagna follow the road for the natural park, walk about 20 minutes pass over the bridge for Pedemonte and the Walser museum and reach the bridge for the Wold area (5 min). 10 m after the bridge on the opposite side enter the path to Merletti, turn left and follows the path (10 min)
The lime kiln in Merletti, step of the ecomuseum route leads to Merletti. The kiln is located at the head of the hamlet on the side of rio Fornace. It is a conical stone structure with a diameter of 2.7 m at the base and 2 m in height. In the bottom is an opening into which the wood is placed. The limestone, extracted from a quarry near the watercourse was inserted about 70 cm from the burning embers.
Wood and stone are the main resources used individually but combined produce a unique and indispensable element for building in the Alps and beyond.
The oven in Merletti is the largest and most important and was last used in 1922 for the construction of Henry Grober's villa.
A nice walk in the heart of the antique hamlpets of Alagna: the Ronco
Go to Pedemonte (900 m from Alagna centre) and follow the road 100 m after the hotel Montagna di Luce. There stast the path for the hamlet Ronco (10 min). Better avoid to use the car to reach Pedemonte because of the lack of parking places
The bread oven of Ronco sits well-balanced on the mountain slopes which becomes steeper from Pedemonte. The small hamlet of the bred oven is a small conglomerate of houses kissed by the sun. As in all villages, here too you will find a bread oven built in the middle of the hamlet. It is built in stone with wooden beams and leans onto a dry-stone wall of a nearby house. The date 1618 has been engraved on an external wall. An iron door closes off the baking and combustion chamber. After the restoration the stones have been replaced with refractory bricks. Opposite in a covered space, the crates for the dough and wooden shelves for the baked bread are placed, everything ready for bread baking which happened twice a year in the past, in spring and in autumn.
The oven works perfectly and is still used on special occasions now as then, for social get together events and celebrations. This is where the production chain linked to grain ends, the previous stop over being the mills of Uterio.
Easy walk to the hamlet Uterio whe you can see the old mils still working
From the Church of Alagna follows the road to the natural park; after 800 m, turn right on the ridge and reach Pedemonte (here you can visit the Walser museum). Enter the firs road on your left after 150 m, pass the small wooden bridge, and you see the mills in fron of you.
Once you get to Uterio, you immediately notice two small structures in wood and stone: the water mills where the population ground the grain into flour for centuries. Carved into the stone architraves you can read the dates 1552 and 1694. Below in a semi-open space, you can see the hydraulic wheels placed in a horizontal position with half bowl-shaped paddles (to use even with minimum quantities of water) and small wooden canals that channelled water from a diversion of the Sesia. The doors open into small rooms where the stone grinders were kept sheltered by wooden covers and crates to catch the ground flour.
It’s not difficult to imagine the men walking with backs bent under the weight of the sacks filled with grain. Mainly rye was cultivated at these altitudes and was harvested in great quantities on the terracing in the area. Even though the mills of the hamlet Uterio are not the only mills, they are however considered to be the most representative, because they are placed strategically next to the bread oven of San Nicolao and near the hamlet Pedemonte where the Walser house-museum is. They therefore fit well into the stages on the Ecomuseum route, an ideal itinerary to get to know the Walser Alagnese community.
The walk for everyone: flat, panoramic, along the Sesia with ample spacet to play, picnic areas and "beaches" along the river.
The path follows the left side of the Sesia river. First part goes from Schenine bridge at the entrance of Alagnato the Balma bridge in Riva Valdobbia (30 min). Second part gos from Balma bridge to Gabbio bridge (15 minuti). Third part reach the Isolello bridge, goal of the tour. From Alagna to Isolello there are 5 km
The terraces of Schennine (Walser language for "to beautiful places ") is located between the town of Alagna and Riva Valdobbia on the left bank of the river Sesia. The gentle slopes between the mountains and the river were once completely cultivated. The large terraces are the result of a long process of land clearing and the subsequent construction of embankments and ditches for the use of subsistance farming, typical of mountain dwellers. It's a form of architecture that sculpts the territory wonderfully and optimizes the space of which the mountain is so stingy. Today, a development project will once again bring to life a new season of crops in an area once abandoned, but within easy reach, to promote an agricultural economy of quality, while respecting the territory and its culture. This stage not only represents traditional agriculture and its past, but also its future.
A walk through the centre of Alagna, paying attention to the cornes that go unnoticed to most
From the Church to Regina Margherita square passing trough the old path of the centre; visit of Pedelegno, Reale, Giacomolo e Resiga (45 min) first and on the way back Reale superiore crossing the large meadows of the area. (45 min)
The hamlets in the town centre are the second Walser settlement after that of the hamlets Pedemonte and Ronco. The members of some of the Pedemonte families founded this hamlet on the property belonging to the monastery of San Nazaro. It originated at the foot of Alpe Alagna, Lania or Olen and thus became Pè de Alagna, Pè de Lania o Pè d'Olen (Pedelegno). In one of the first documents its stated that Pietro Enrigone sold his property to Pedemonte for 80 Imperial Lire and settled in Pedelegno with his mother, in the year 1328. Throughout the XV century the colonies gave life to other settlements like Pè d'Otro (today Resiga) and Riale.
The route reaches 2 important stages of the ecomuseum of the territory and Walser culture, a project that tells the story of the Walser civilization focusing on work, homes, religion, games and allows you to get to know their habits, ancient crafts, curiosities about their daily life and the work of the people who used to live in the ancient hamlets in Alagna. It proposes an experiment where the visitor who takes a walk between the rural settlements, becomes the conscious protagonist.The ancient rivulet route is the original main road of Alagna from the previous century, and runs through the heart of the hamlets in the centre of the town. A diversion of the torrent Olen at times runs next to the route, which in the past, used to fill the fountains, public wash houses, drinking troughs and watermills in the town. A paved walkway starts from the portico of the Parish Church, near Caffè del Centro and after a few meters the rivulet, today without water, is clearly visible. The open part stops against the mountain hut Gnifetti, which was a mill in the past, and continues its way under the town hall in the direction of the hamlet Pedelegno . The first part flows into Belvedere Square in front of Casa Smitt, an elegant 19th century building built for the purpose of hosting elite tourists who characterized the revival of Alagna together with the budding interest in alpinism on Mont Rosa. The remains of the Belvedere's cable car, the very first ski lift in Alagna can be seen here. It was removed in 1974 after a terrible accident that caused the death of 4 people. The entrance to the hamlet Pedelegno is on the opposite side of the square, which by now has fused with the modern buildings in the centre of Alagna. It reveals all its poetry in the intricate way the roofs were built following each other and the houses arranged close to the heart of the village. The new square with the Necer fountain, ariose architecture by Michele Necer a famous marble artist from Alagna who emigrated to Bern, is situated on the place where the rivulet used to fill up a public wash house. The road turns in the direction of the hamlet Reale and runs along the side of villas built at the start of the 20th century. Near the Indren Hus stone building is the oratory of the Visitazione built higher than the road; the Chapel dedicated to Santa Maria delle Grazie and a big stone cross, ex voto of a Walser woman who escaped the fury of an avalanche. Here the antique route leads into the more modern Centro street and continues until a narrow hairpin bend, called 'curva del Perello'. It is so-called because of the historical shop that belonged to the Perello family facing the road and which for decades has been the main emporium of the Alagnese community.
The house where Teologo Farinetti lived in his later years is also situated here. He is the indisputable protagonist of 19th century Alagnese culture and the companion of the parish priest Gnifetti on his first ascent up Mont Rosa. Back on the ancient route in the hamlet Giacomolo, is the house where don Giovanni Gnifetti was born. He was born in 1801 and was the parish priest of Alagna for 38 years. In 1842 he conquested the summit Signal, whence the name Punta Gnifetti, where Capanna Margherita is situated today. The latter is the observatory dedicated to the Queen Margherita of Savoy. A little further is the house of D'Henricis, the family to whom the brothers Melchiorre, Giovanni and Antonio (known as Tanzio from Varallo) belonged to. They are the indisputable protagonists of Valsesian Baroque. Tanzio was a far-reaching national artist, known as the Caravaggio of the Api, whose works of art are displayed in the most important Italian art galleries. Next to the house, the small chapel dedicated to San Defendente can be visited. On the inside you can still see a wooden ancone with the names of the purchasers: Eva and Giovanni D'Enricis. The hamlet road leads onto the Principale road (Main road) once again and ends at the bridge of Otro, the perfect border between the communes of Alagna and Riva Valdobbia. Before the bridge, the Walser road starts and not far up ahead, are the first houses of the hamlet Resiga. It is so called because of the presence of a water sawmill that leans against a spacious, level area. This area was chosen for the abundant water supply from the torrent Otro and for its position ( it is the lowest lying hamlet in Alagna), which facilitated the transportation to the area where the logs were cut. The sawmill, an ecomuseum stop, is still in working order today. It moved by a paddled hydraulic wheel called “veneziana”, fed by water which was led into a feeding channel. Leaving the hamlet, in the middle of the meadow you can see a massive rock called “ der Pulferstein” that broke off the mountain in the 17th century and destroyed the hamlet, Pè d'Otro. A century ago, a room used to keep mining gun powder in, was carved out in the centre of the rock. Today it is used as a rock gym by the guide Corps of Alagna.
Continuing along the Walser route, you will reach the hamlet Reale. The route leads to the oratory of San Pantaleone and continues until the small hamlet square with a monolithic fountain, surrounded by beautiful Walser homes. On one of these houses an evocative 16th century Madonna with child can be seen. The paved trail after the small bridge on rio Fuar del Reale leads directly to the hamlet Pedelegno in the vicinity of Unione Alagnese, an ecomuseum stop. This splendid stone building is the theatre and was inaugurated on the 30th December 1900. Its start of the century charm is still intact and it is an active centre where the Alagnese residents regularly come together. On the inside the allegory paintings of Ars and Labor, works of the Valsesian painter Camillo Verno (Campertogno 1870-1942) and the scenography of Ercole Sormani can be seen. Back on via Centro (Centro road), continue in the direction of the church, Casa Stainer can be seen on your right, near the post office. It is a beautiful mountain hut and perfectly preserved. On the opposite side is the house of the presbyterian Giovanni Bruno. Today it is partly reconstructed and displays two coat of arms ( one made of soapstone and the other, white marble) on the front, signs of its history and past splendour.
The tour of the upper hamlets passes by the villages above the town centre of Alagna. These are the hamlets most inhabited by the residents, even if the road leading there is steep and narrow and seem less like a touristic village and more lived in, to the visitor.
From the Church of Alagna passing trough Montella (20 min) to Goreto and Rusa (40 min). Back to Alagna passing trough Piane and Dosso (30 min) and Fum Decco (30 min)
The high lying hamlets of Alagna: Porazzo, Montella, Goreto, Piane and Dosso. You will reach the hamlet Porazzo starting from the porch of the church and going up the staircase on the side of the cemetery.
The route, flanked by recently built houses in a construction mix of the 20th century and Walser mountain hut styles, winds along next to the re-entry piste of the ski lifts and crosses the torrent Olen over a little bridge near the road. A little further, the route starts again and rises diagonally into Montella, a real balcony above Alagna town centre, suspended between the meadows and the mountain huts. The trail runs round the oratory of Maria Ausiliatrice at the entrance of the hamlet and winds up steeply, bordering the beautiful mountain hut called “bear”, because for many years, the paw of the last bear killed in Alagna was hung on the top of it. It continues towards the magical birch forest and leads to the hamlet Goreto.
This stretch of the road adds to the poetry of the natural environment and the fascination of the antique architectural remains, now, almost submerged by the vegetation, makes the area a gracious place to visit in all seasons.
Leaving the forest, the route overlaps the road and leads to a wide plain with the hamlet Goreto leaning on its right side and on the left, the hamlet Rusa. Both are settlements from the first half of the 14th century and have remained intact over the centuries. Here you breathe in the suspended time between Alagna's past and its daily existence today.
The oratory San Giacomo Maggiore in the hamlet Goreto, blessed in 1685 and recently restructured, faces the little square where there is also a beautiful monolithic fountain with two baths.
In the hamlet Rusa, there are houses from the 15th century. Of particular interest is the stone door of casa Muretto, with the family coat of arms and the date 1406.
Inside the oratory San Giovanni, just outside the inhabited town centre and blessed in 1678, there is a beautifully preserved big, baroque, etched, polychromatic, wooden altar.
Following the trail in the direction of the oratory, you will encounter the road back to Alagna. The hamlet trail continues further, first leading to the hamlet's monolithic fountain and descends comfortably with clear signs in the direction of the torrent Olen.
After crossing a short stretch of forest with the remains of two mills on the path, it leads into the hamlet Piane near the oratory San Pietro.The hamlet trail winds along the inside of the hamlet, bordering the cultivated fields of the agricultural company Ordi delle Piane and leads to the hamlet Dosso, where an antique oven can still be seen, and descends in the direction of Alagna, snaking between moss and shrubs in a larch and birch forest. This stretch of the trail that runs under the ski lifts of Pianaluga, offers beautiful panoramas of the centre of Alagna and the lower valley and reaches the hamlet Ecco first and then the hamlet Bonda which castles above the entrance square to the ski lifts. It looks very poetic with well-preserved houses and vegetable gardens surrounding it.
Tour of the antique hamlets, where you can visit the first settlements of the Walser colony of Alagna
From the Church of Alagna follow the road to Pedemonte, passing the Zam T’achi bridge. You meet frist the hamlet Ponte (30 min), than Pedemonte. From Pedemonte go to Ronco (15 min) and Ronco Superiore (15 min). Downhill to San Nicolao and Uterio to reach than Merletti (30 min) following the path in Wold direction. Back to Alagna centre along the road connecting Alagna with the Natural Park (30 min)
The Antique hamlets of Alagna: Ponte, Pedemonte, Ronco, San Nicolao Uterio and Merletti. Between the end of the XIII and the beginning of the XVI centuries, small groups from Macugnaga arrived in this territory, which at the time was not permanently inhabited, from across the colle Turlo. They settled on monastery territory at the foot of Alpe Mud, renting the vertical strip that stretched from the top to the foot of the mountain.
Until then the territory had been used as mid-season pastures by the inhabitants of Pietre Gemelle, and afterwards became little villages. The first was named Pè de Mud (Pedemonte) and the oldest written testimony dates back to 1302.
From the church square in the heart of Alagna, follow the road in the direction of Piazza degli Alberghi, where two historical hotels of the good era: the Monterosa and the Cristallo, known as Hotel Ferraris before, face each other. A little further, there is a bridge (not fit for traffic) on the right, that crosses the Sesia and leads onto the meadows Zam T'achi where the trail starts. It then runs alongside the left banks of the Sesia and leads to the oldest fraction in Alagna.
First you encounter the hamlet Ponte which was destroyed by a fire in 1819 and then rebuilt with stonewalls rather than wood. Only the lodges have maintained the typical local architecture. The antique oven that survived the fire and still perfectly preserved today, is the symbol of the original village. Following the trail through fields and meadows you will reach the hamlet Pedemonte, an intact Walser village where the Walser museum and the Daverio foundation are situated. The latter is a charity association that concerns itself with the preservation of the Walser culture and educating the new generations how to preserve the heritage of their origins. In the centre of the village, in the enchanting little square faced by perfectly preserved Walser homes, is the splendid village fountain made up of two monolithic baths dating 1540 and 1557.
Crossing the narrow streets shaded by the closeness of the roofs of the houses, the trail leads to the oratory of Saint Nicolao, with its elegantly painted facade, work of the Avondo brothers in the 19th century. The construction of the actual building dates back to the second half of the 17th century. The saint is particularly honored in the village and on 6th December the day is celebrated with Holy mass followed by auctioning offerings and the children handing out apples.
Following the road in front of the oratory, you will reach the start of the trail that leads to the houses of the hamlet Ronco, in five minutes. It is a beautiful hamlet that leans on the sides of the mountain and is well exposed to the sun. The narrow streets, intact houses and panoramic position, makes this hamlet one of the most captivating, built around a minuscule square dominated by a monolithic fountain dated 1581.
A little further is the hamlet Ronco, the proud holder of some of the most ancient houses in Alagna. In Ronco Superiore there is also a well preserved Stodal-bai, a farm building built on two floors with gaps in between. Such buildings where living space, stables and haylofts are generally all together in one structure are quite rare in Alagna. On the return trip from Ronco, it is possible to cross the torrent Mud on a small ford immediately to the right of the intersection of the hamlet road with the main road. After Mud you enter the hamlet territory of San Nicolao and Uterio where two important stops of the ecomuseum meet: the hamlet oven and mills. The oven was an essential component of the self-sufficient economy of the Walser. It was the property of the families who lived in the hamlet, and was used twice a year and everybody contributed in the various phases of the work. It is made up of two pieces united by a perimetrical wall: the back part is for the fire and the front part, on specifically made stone shelves, are the plates on which the dough is put. Not far from here is the fourth stop of the ecomuseum: the mill of Uterio. These mills, dated 1552 and 1694, work with the help of an old stream diversion of the Sesia, and was used to grind locally cultivated wheat, rye and barley. It consists of two mills with horizontally positioned cup-shaped wheels, like the Vitruvian type. Inside the mill,a funnel the shape of a pyramid contained the grain that was channeled by a feeder into the millstone where the grinding process worked by friction.
In Alagna there were 27 mills. From the mill of Uterio following the stream diversion you return to the hamlet trail, which starts from Saint Nicolao and leads to the hamlet Merletti Inferiore.
Here there is a well-preserved Stodal-bai dated 1646. Above the hamlet, you will reach the antique ovens used for the production of lime (5th stop of the ecomuseum), in 10 minutes. The Forno (oven) used in 1922 for the last time, for the construction of villa Grober in the centre of Alagna, using the limestone material found near the rio Fornace. The large quantity of wood in the area guaranteed the lime production for the local economy.
On the way back passing by Merletti Superiore, the little church of Santa Maria Maddalena (1691) merits your attention. It has one of the oldest chapels dedicated to Sant'Anna and still contains well preserved XV century frescoes.