Le Chic En Rose

Diaries of an independent traveller


Tirano View Of Alps From Main Square

We don’t normally do guided tours apart from the occasional walking tour to get orientated with a new town or city. However we were keen to do a trip from Menaggio across the Swiss border to St Moritz  having fond memories of a wonderful day out on the Bernina Express a few years ago (Railway Adventures : Bernina Express Switzerland).  On that occasion we were staying in St Moritz and simply did a round trip to Tirano and back. However it isn’t as straightforward to get there by public transport from Menaggio. You have to cross the lake by ferry to Varenna and then pick up the train to Tirano, the Italian terminus of the Bernina (a scheduled service of the Rhaetian Railway). Whilst possible, it’s a very long day out on a tight schedule and you risk being stranded in Varenna if you miss the last car ferry back across the lake. Fortunately via Tripadvisor, I found a local travel agent called Il Porticciolo Viaggi who offer a range of guided day tours from Menaggio including a weekly (every Monday) trip to St Moritz. Partly by coach and partly by rail, you are taken on a magnificent tour of not only the Bernina Pass and St Moritz itself but also the equally spectacular valleys to the south of St Moritz including the jaw dropping Maloja Pass (sneak preview below!).


Maloja Pass Switzerland – Swiss Post Bus Making Its Way Up The Vertiginous Road!


After an early breakfast, we were collected from the front of our hotel, the Grand Menaggio, and set off promptly at 8am. Our tour guide, Julia, was endlessly cheerful and had an encyclopedic knowledge of Lake Como and the Swiss Italian border country. Our coach, driven by the impressively named Hermes, was just over half full and so we had plenty of personal space, which made us feel more relaxed about being on a guided coach tour albeit for one day only.



The first part of our journey took us to the northern head of Lake Como where the pre Alps give way to the towering peaks of the Alps themselves. We followed the road that wends its way up the beautiful Valtellina (the valley of the River Adda).  Populated since pre historic times (stone carvings have been found near Grosio, Teglio and Chiuro) the east/ west facing valley has a wide climatic range. On one side were abundant vines taking advantage of the sun and on the other dark and dense forested slopes. In this mountain paradise you can ski, enjoy wine tastings, or indulge in a spa at one of the many mountain retreats, which take advantage of the abundance of natural spring water. Teglio is famous for its buck wheat pasta, pizzocheri, which we enjoyed at the Menaggio restaurants along with delicious Valtellina wines (see last week’s post here).



Alas we breezed through the valley all too quickly – though definitely plan to go back and explore further for ourselves one day! Our morning coffee break was at Tirano, the pretty little border town nestling at the foot of the Alps and which we had visited briefly for lunch several years ago. Once we got out of the coach and got our bearings, we were struck by the difference in climate from Lake Como (a mere couple of hours away). The air felt crisp with a distinct alpine chill and there was a wonderful aroma of wood smoke.



We were dropped off in the centre of the little town, which naturally is well geared up for tourists on the Bernina route! Julia had suggested two cafes, one on the corner, which looked packed and apparently sold British newspapers and the other, a little bar down a side street where she assured us we would find the local men enjoying their first glass of wine for the day at 10am! We chose the latter and sure enough apart from three or four elderly gentlemen getting stuck into the local vino, we were the only customers at San Michele’s. No one spoke any English and we got by on the little bit of Italian we had acquired, some German and a lot of smiles and good humour on both sides!


Bar San Michele Tirano


Fortified by our teas and coffees (it was a bit too early for wine!) we set off to explore. Tirano is a small town dating back to Roman times and at 429 m it marks the lowest point in the Bernina Railway’s journey. There are still several gates remaining of the old city walls. In past times these provided an important defence given Tirano’s strategic location at one end of the Bernina Pass. Despite these efforts it was taken over by its neighbours from Graubuenden (now in Switzerland) in 1512 and they subsequently ruled the Valtellina for over two centuries.


The most striking landmark is the beautiful St Mary’s Church, built as a pilgrim’s shrine on the site of an apparition of the Virgin Mary to Mario Omodei in 1504.  Consecrated by the Bishop of Como in 1528, the church was not completed until 1703.


St Mary’s Church Tirano


The stunning Baroque interior is beautifully ornate and despite the large numbers of tourists is well worth a wander round.



Outside again the Bernina rumbles through the main street – just make sure you don’t get too close when it is coming by!



We had an hour or so in Tirano before heading back to the coach for the drive up to Poschiavo where we joined the train for the journey across the high Alps. More to follow!


Copyright © 2016 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved



32 thoughts on “Tirano – Exploring The Valtellina

  1. I would like to live in Italy, it is never too early for wine!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes the Italian way of life is very appealing and you wouldn’t need to apologise for drinking wine before 6pm (that’s my weekday rule!)


      1. East or West of GMT? Time zones can make a rule like that conveniently flexible!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Well we’re currently 7 hours ahead of you so not sure what that means – you could find a case for drinking anywhere in the world at any time of day on that basis!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Rashminotes says:

    Looks so picturesque; what a treat Rosemary:) Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I love this part of the world – high up in the mountains and yet so close to Lake Como it’s wonderful! We took so many photos! 🙂


  3. Very beautiful place. Thanks for the tour. (Suzanne)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Suzanne am glad you enjoyed it! The tour was a great way to see some places that we wouldn’t have got to otherwise. The Valtellina was a real discovery and we’re keen to go back! 🙂


  4. Heyjude says:

    Sometimes an organised trip is the best alternative. We’ve done a few day trips which have always been good and I have done a couple of longer ones in Australia where it made more sense (and was cheaper) than doing it myself. Another nice thing is that as you are not driving you actually can have that glass of wine or two at lunch time (maybe not at 10 am) 🙂 Fab photos from a part of the world I would love to see for myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes that’s a good point Jude – we certainly found this to be the case. No way we could have done everything we did on this day trip so easily by ourselves. I would have been petrified driving some of the mountain passes especially as we would have been on the opposite side of the road to normal – certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed the scenery as much!! Being able to relax and enjoy a glass or two of wine at lunch time was very enjoyable as well 🙂 I have a couple more posts to come on our trip this was just the first stage! It’s a wonderful part of the world and hope you can go and see for yourself one day too 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Heyjude says:

        I hope to get there, probably go on a tour – as you say, driving on those roads is not for the faint-hearted!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes I think a tour is the only way to see some of the high valleys and mountain passes. Having said that our younger daughter, Mlle, went up to Livigno high up in the Alps when she was staying at Teglio with friends (in the Valtellina). Her friend’s dad drove as it was the only way they could get up there – she said it was terrifying but the scenery was magnificent!

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Anabel Marsh says:

    Beautiful, I love the view of the mountains from the main square.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Anabel 🙂 It’s such a pretty little place – those views were superb love the mountains! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. RuthsArc says:

    Thanks for another delightful virtual trip to Italy 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re very welcome Ruth – glad you could come along! More to follow! Hope you’re not knee deep in snow – gather it’s very cold in Tassie at the moment (is here too but no snow though possibly frost) 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. RuthsArc says:

        Snow is forecast overnight down to 200 meters. I actually like snow days, so won’t be too bothered by the weather.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. You may soon have a Winter Wonderland Ruth – am sure it will be very pretty!

          Liked by 1 person

  7. The mountain of Colico with the sail boats in front and the terraces vineyards were stunning

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Lisa! The area in the northern part of the lake and the Valtellina Valley (the river Adda flows into Lake Como) is not as well known as some of the central parts of the lake but just as stunning as you can see. The mountain above Colico qualifies as an “alp” due to its height – it’s the only one actually on the lake!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. lucky you that this area is not as well kniwn! It should be 👍

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I know Lisa – one day it may well be!!

          Liked by 1 person

  8. kayrpea61 says:

    Fabulous part of the world and thank you for your beautiful captures, Rosemary. The shot standing outside the bar betrays our common interest – coffee 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Ken – am glad you enjoyed the photo tour! Am sure you’d love the little bar too – very authentic 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Just stunning Rosemary, what a beautiful place. We tend to veer away from guided tours as well but sometimes they just really do make it all so much easier. We did one to Sintra earlier this year from Lisbon and I was so impressed. This sounds like a great one too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes it is such a stunning place Joy – certainly one of our favourite places so far! The tour was excellent and there’s no way we would have been prepared to drive some of those mountain passes even though the road were well maintained- I was nervous even with an experienced coach driver! The trip to Sintra must have been lovely – Mlle stayed there as I mentioned before and loved it! It looked like the sort of place I’d love too..one day! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. restlessjo says:

    Wow! Simply spectacular, Rosemay! I wanted to be on that tour with you. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Valtellina is a real gem Jo – next time we’d like to explore some of the other little towns and hill villages. Good food, wines, spa towns, interesting history, mountains – am sure we could stay a few days here! The tour was a fantastic introduction but we couldn’t linger as we were en route to St Moritz via the Bernina Pass 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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