Photo: Typical landscape in the Val Verzasca.
I first went to the Val Verzasca in September 2015. Despite having spent 3 months already exploring some of the most famous places in Switzerland this utterly blew me away. With the hidden feeling and tumbling water everywhere it always felt more Rivendell than Lauterbrunnen to me (though Tolkien never came to this area).
The social media friendly bridge at Lavertezzo is the best known part of the valley, but the whole thing is worth exploring. Towering cliffs, cascades of clear water, and stone Rustico villages – I have learnt that this is very common in that area, but it is as good a showcase as any.
Ohrwurm: Something in the local language.
Route: Lavertezzo – Sonogno. Signposted as Stage 1 of Route 74.
Length: 14km, +650m, -275m.
For more hikes in Switzerland see my list of hikes.
Season: My favourite times of year have been mid-May (bright green new growth) and late October (autumn colours and crisp clear air). It is doable in winter if there isn’t much snow, but care needs to be taken with the icy path.
Arrival/Departure: Arrival on public transport by Postbus to ‘Lavertezzo, Paese’ / return from ‘Sonogo’. Locarno-Sonogo. This takes 1hr14min and costs 11.80 CHF for full adult price. Sit on the left hand side of the bus on the way up for the better views, especially of the dam. Buses run mostly hourly (but sometimes with a 2 hour gap around midday). There are a series of regular bus stops up the valley so it is easy to start or stop where you like. They usually send 2 or 3 buses if they expect it to be busy; so if you see a big crowd and only 1 bus at first don’t panic (it might however still get cosy).
Supplies: There are restaurants in some of the villages along the way for food/drink. I would suggest bringing food to eat on a rock by the river. Brione has a little shop, but mostly there are few supplies to be had in the valley.
Alternate routes/shortcuts: If you are short on time or energy then I think the most impressive section is from Lavertezzo to the stop at ‘Brione (Verzasca), Piee’ (6km, +320m, -120m). Otherwise if you want to expand it then start at ‘Corippo, Bivio’ where the river enters the lake (adds 2.4km, +130m, -90m). The official route suggests 2 days. The other day takes you alongside the lake and down to Locarno. This section doesn’t really appeal to me. With another day in the area there are more interesting bits of valley (dam lakes are rarely anything special) and there better views to be had than from the top of Locarno. Getting up the sides of the valley means a whole lot of steep climb and steep descent. I have been meaning to follow the valley up beyond Sonogo to the source of the Verzasca, or up to Monte Zucchero and down into the Valle Maggia.
Exposure/Hazards: The water is cold, but not glacial (no glaciers feed into the valley). It is appealing to take a dip in but can be dangerous in places; previously the road up was lined with signs in various languages warning you to take care and not die (plus a few more signs scattered around for good measure).
This is a fairly popular destination. There will always be some people around Lavertezzo which is the main focal point for tourists. The bridge and water around Lavertezzo are common on social media. I think I first went because the bridge at Lavertezzo showed up in my research, and it has only become better known since then – famously going viral with half of Milan showing up one weekend in 2017. The bus can be very full and the limited parking spots taken, but once you start walking along the valley the people spread out so it is easy to be alone on most of the route.
I have done this at various times of year and in both directions. Usually as a day trip from Locarno which has a number of direct connections (sometimes you need to change at Tenero), but also Bellinzona and Lugano. I have even met people doing this as a day trip from Zürich.
I will do this going uphill. Either way is fine. Up is maybe slightly more scenic with the higher parts sticking up in front of you. But Lavertezzo is a more interesting spot to wait for the bus.
The route is fairly constant uphill. The path is stable and never exposed, the biggest danger is being distracted by the views and tripping over a step.
Notes along the route
The ride itself is very scenic and beautiful. If you are on the bus then it is especially interesting to see the drivers swing around the hairpins.
The giant Contra Dam is an impressive sight. Previously I have said it isn’t worth the stop on the bus due to the 2 hour wait, but now that the buses are more frequent an hour to wander around on it might not be the worst idea. This is the dam from the start of Goldeneye. It is funny to think what was meant to be deep in some harsh Russian mountain range is actually ringed by vineyards and palm trees. If you have 200 CHF spare then you can recreate the jump yourself.
The dam lake ends at Corippo (slightly famous for being the smallest political commune in Switzerland with a population of about 12) and this is where the riverside walk begins for those who want to extend it a little.
Lavertezzo with the double arched Ponte dei Salti (not Roman) is the most iconic and popular spot in the valley. One thing you might not expect is that the bridge only has knee high walls and is quite narrow – this might well freak a few people out a little bit.
There isn’t a whole lot to say. Initially the valley is quite narrow and the river very lively, then about halfway up at Brione the view opens up and the valley gets a bit wider and gentler. Otherwise it is cascades, cliffs, and stone houses all the way. There isn’t any boring or bad part of it.
The land use there has always fascinated me. The amount of work put into developing some of the paths and villages using just stone is amazing. Life must have been very hard in such a rugged valley. The children’s book and film the Die Schwarzen Brüder set in the valley is based on the actual Spazzacamini practices related to selling children off to go work as labours.
Sonogno at the end of the bus line is another pretty village and is worth a look around. The farm shop on the path leading out to the north-west sells some good cheese.
Bonus: the view from the dam.