Photo: Looking over the Valle Maggia and over the Alps from Madone.
This is another world to the classic gentle green meadows of the Oberland. If the Oberland was made by a benevolent deity who wanted to craft god’s own country out of lush meadows, then the valleys to the north of Locarno were made by an angry one with a chisel. This a rugged steep and rocky landscape with only a few bits of high meadow. It probably looks much nicer in summer, but for whatever reason I have only seen the higher parts of Ticino when everything is brown and a bit sad looking.
This route has beautiful views over the local valley and over a big sweep of the Alps including the high peaks of Valais and the back of the Jungfrau region. Including seeing the highest (Monte Rosa, 4634m) and lowest (Lago Maggiore, 193m) points in Switzerland at the same time. Plus being on the south side of the Alps the sun is lighting the range up and doesn’t create glare in photos or get in your eyes.
Done as a day trip from Locarno.
Ohrwurm: Back into the Aussie music.
Route: Cimetta – Cima della Trosa – Madone – Porchesc – Mont di Cortoi – Mergoscia.
Length: 11.7km, +720m, -1600m.
For more hikes in Switzerland see my list of hikes.
Arrival/Departure: Arrival with the Cardada cable car from Locarno to the top station at Cimetta (15 CHF with half-fare card). Return with the hourly Bus 312 to Locarno from Mergoscia (sit on the left side for the best views).
Supplies: There is a restaurant at the start, and depending on the day/season there might be a food truck in Mergoscia at the end (10:00-18:00 Thurs-Sunday). Otherwise there is nothing.
Alternate routes/shortcuts: A much easier but less scenic version of this would be to go up to the Cima della Trosa and then straight down the middle of the valley to Mergoscia (10.5km, +363m, -1243m.). This would be a big reduction in the height gain/loss and probably be much less steep, but you wouldn’t get the better view from Madone and would lose the expansive view much sooner. Easier still would be just going up to the cable car station and possibly to the peaks. Even if you just take the cable car up then you can enjoy a good chunk of the view.
Exposure/Hazards: Constantly up or down and often steep. At times scrambling up rock faces. Wear good shoes. The route is mostly very exposed to the sun. The last 4.5km is in the forest which would normally provide some nice shade. This was an abnormally hot day for mid-April with temperatures of 27C in Locarno, but was too early/dry for the trees to have sprouted leaves and was in the sun the whole way.
Despite it being a gorgeous Saturday on the Easter long weekend I was surprised how quiet it all was. 95% of the time I was totally alone. There was a small crowd at the cable car stations, and a few people going up to Cima della Trosa. There were three people at Madone when I arrived but they left quickly, and I didn’t see anyone else until almost at the end.
Notes along the route
Bus up the hill to the cable car station (normally you can take a funicular, but that is being worked on at the moment). Scenic coffee and a detour to the lookout point with .
The first section up to Cima della Trosa is a steady but easy climb. Had a chat with a swiss German bloke who just carried his bike up almost as fast as I walk.
From the cross at Cima della Trosa there is a blue ‘Alpine’ route going down to the saddle. This is steep and a bit of a scramble at times, but not dangerous or exposed. You can also double back a little bit and take the less direct but shallower red.
The climb up Madone is constantly uphill and steep with a few little scrambles, but again this was not exposed or dangerous.
Madone is a stunning view point. It is only 2000 but feels much higher, possibly because it is quite rugged, and possibly because the valley floor is at 1700m below. Whenever I am high up in Ticino I start drawing up routes.
Doubling back a little bit of the peak of Madone and following the sign to Mergoscia. Initially this stays close to the ridge, then drops a little way down the valley side. Going by the faded way markers this was once a blue ‘Alpine’ route, which made some sense as it was often off-camber and narrow.
View into part of the Val Verzasca
Reaching the forest and Rustico villages the endless descent started. This is typical of the mountains around here which could be summed up as “Fuck your knees”. It is monotonous enough that you start to phase out, but rough enough that you start to trip over things.
I took a minor diversion to Mont di Cortoi. I figured this would have a good view of the dam (it did).
Mergoscia also has good view of the dam and the benches by the church are a very scenic spot to wait for the bus. Otherwise there isn’t much of interest. There is a fountain for water, might be a food wagon, but otherwise no shop or restaurant. It felt more like a suburb mixed with holiday home resort.
The bus ride back is quite scenic. It passes by the dam then stays high up going through the upper parts of Locarno with fantastic views over the town and lake region. I have only really stayed low down in Locarno before, so it was interesting to see just how much of it there is (and how expensive most of the higher part looks).