5 reasons you will love visiting Alagna Valsesia

5 reasons you will love visiting Alagna Valsesia

Alagna Valsesia – 5 reasons you will love visiting this stunning mountain resort

There's a beautiful alpine village in the Italian alps which you may not have heard of but you should probably visit. In this article a photographer in Alagna discusses 5 reasons you should visit Alagna Valsesia, Italy

Table of Contents

Visit the beautiful Unesco World heritage village of Alagna Valsesia

If you have been seeking a beautiful mountain village, unspoiled and full of history where time seems to have stood still (you haven’t?) then you have found it in Alagna!  I’ve visited many mountain towns in the Alps, and lived in a couple, but nowhere have I come across a place quite like Alagna.

It is a unique place in this modernised world –  comprising of ancient architecture left by the Walser people, while being surrounded by a huge and wild alpine environment.

Combined with endless freeride skiing, hiking and adventure opportunities, Alagna is a place like no other.

Alagna Valsesia village in winter snow
Alagna Valsesia village in winter snow
It’s a place where alpinism and agriculture go hand in hand, in harmony with a wild alpine environment.  The locals genuinely enjoy foreign visitors and you always feel welcomed as a friend.

History and Architecture

Alagna was founded around 1200 AD by the Walser people who immigrated from Valais in Switzerland.  You will notice a German influence in some of the street names, and even the appearance of some of the locals.  However aside from the distinct architecture; Alagna has a very Italian alpine feel.

The Walser architecture is unique to the region, and compliments the environment aesthetically and unobtrusively.  Constructed from a combination of local wood and stone the houses were designed for functionality.  Traditionally animals would be housed in the lower level during winter for shelter from the frigid weather while providing heat for the occupants above.

Externally the distinctive wooden rails which line the patios were used to dry grass for animal feed during the winter.

In most of the little hamlets surrounding the valley you can still find a beautiful stone fountain which used to be the main source of drinking water, and remains a clean source of water to this day.

Visit the Second Highest Mountain in the alps, the Monte Rosa

Perhaps you’ve never heard of the mighty Monte Rosa? Many people overlook Western Europe’s second highest peak in favour of more famous Mont Blanc (or Monte Bianco in Italian).

But those in the know will take a trip further east to Monte Rosa, which stands at only 175 metres lower and has a fraction of the visitors the highly commercialised Mont Blanc receives each year!  

The Monte Rosa massif rises almost directly from the charming village of Alagna Valsesia and offers endless possibilities for high altitude alpine skiing and touring, alpinism, climbing and trekking.  On top of that (well right on top) the massif is home to Europe’s highest mountain refuge, the amazing La Capanna Refugio Margherita!

The Refugio can be accessed from the Punta Indren lift, which after starting your lift journey in Alagna you are whisked to 3275m on the massive.  The walk is mostly non technical, but alpine equipment is essential and a guide is highly recommended as you will need to cross glacier terrain, while alpine weather can change quickly.

If more serious alpine adventures are your thing, the Monte Rosa Massif is home to no less than 12 peaks over 4000m to climb.

The Monte Rosa also makes for spectacular viewing and photography from Alagna, and while you are exploring some of the endless trekking around all sides of the massif.

For more information about trekking in Alagna, see the dedicated section further down in this post.

 

Some interesting facts about the Monte Rosa
  • The Monte Rosa is the highest mountain in both Italy and Switzerland, sitting on the border between the two countries.
  • Part of the kitchen in the Refugio Margheritta is reportedly in Switzerland, while the rest of the hut is in Italy. But don’t worry you will pay Italian prices.
  • The longest skiable couloir in the Alps is the Marinelli Couloir on the eastern flank of Monte Rosa and descends around 2000 metres at a pitch or 45 – 50.  This is not for the inexperienced alpinist as it’s a very committed high alpine excursion – and very few have skied it.
  • It was first climbed in 1855 by a group of 8 climbers departing from Zermatt
  • The name Monte Rosa which would probably translate as Pink Mountain from Italian, is actually derived from the word roëse, which is a word from the Aostian Patios  dialect meaning “Glacier”. This is an apt name for the glaciated peak, with no less than 16 named glaciers, the largest being the Gorner Glacier (German: Gornergletscher) which is the second largest in all the Alps.
The Best time to visit.
  • For the best views of the massif – it’s difficult to go past winter and Autumn when skies are more often clearer, and the colours are stunning making for amazing photographs.
  • If you want to climb to the Refugio Margherita – summer is best as the lifts in combination with the rifugio margherita will be open, while the temperatures will be more manageable for high altitude excursions.
     

Some of the best freeride skiing in Europe, without the crowds

Most who seek out Alagna generally come for adventure skiing, where long freeride adventures take you on a journey through history amongst wild scenery; probably ending in a remote refugio with an ice cold beer & some of the best views in the world.

If you haven’t heard of Alagna – fear not, it may not be so well known in English speaking countries but it’s definitely on the list of must visit places for many of the worlds best skiers and ski mountaineers from throughout Europe and the World.  Home to the aptly named Alagna Freeride Paradise, the lift system that takes you directly onto the Monte Rosa massif at an altitude of 3275 metres, Alagna is a one of a kind place to ski. 

The roof of the world at 3275m, the lift station at Punta Indren has one of the best views in the Alps, and also some of the best freeride skiing.

I once spoke to a skier who had spent 10 winter seasons in Alagna and he still reckoned he had only scratched the surface of what is possible. 

Once you are dropped off on the Monte Rosa massif at the Punta Indren lift station there are an endless number of  descents through untouched wilderness, many of them dropping a whopping 2000m in vertical.

There is everything from marked off-piste itineraries, to many very long adventures such as La Balma, and serious technical itineries requiring ski touring and alpine equipment such as Malfata and Vitoria.

I once spoke to a skier who had spent 10 winter seasons in Alagna and he still reckoned he had only scratched the surface of what is possible.

That’s not to mention the endless possibilities in the lift connected valleys of Gressoney and Champalouc.  It’s fair to say the adventurous should never be bored skiing in Alagna Valsesia.

While on your adventure you will pass through glaciated terrain, hidden valleys far from the lifts, ski past tiny ancient Walser settlements in the middle of the alpine wilderness and come accross remote refuges with a welcoming fire and even more welcoming locals! 

If off-piste or freeride skiing is not your thing then don’t worry, the lift system in Alagna connects directly to the Monterosa ski area or the Italian version of the three Valleys which is a huge resort comprising of the villages of Alagna Valsesia, Gressoney, and Champalouc.

It’s a beautiful area with a massive variety of pistes to suit all abilities.

And of course, being located in Italy, the entire area is littered with charming mountain huts and restaurants serving amazing food, wine and coffee at very reasonable prices.  All the while being treated to amazing hospitality and stunning views of the Monte Rosa massive and surrounding alps.

It’s a perfectly acceptable pursuit to spend a day or two just to explore the area in search of fantastic cuisine and the best refreshment locations.

It takes a certain type of individual to seek the less ordinary.  If you are looking for something different to the commercialism & hyped prices of the large famous resorts and you want to experience an authentic alpine experience untouched by mass development then I can confidently say Alagna should be high on your bucket list.

Aperitivo, amazing mountain food and fine wine

If you haven’t experienced Italian Aperitivo, you really have been missing out.  Similar to tapas in Spain, Aperitivo is the very important cultural phenomenon in Italy of the pre dinner drink accompanied by a complimentary snack.

Aperitivo has a long history in Italy, dating back to Roman times when it was known as gustatio.  In those times the practice was reserved for the elite, but in around 1786 with the invention of vermouth in Torino (Turin); Aperitivo become an a event accessible for the masses.
You can still find vermouth at aperitivo today in the famous Negroni, which is an aperitif cocktail consisting of Gin, Vermouth, Campari and a slice of orange.  Though you don’t have to drink something that strong as practically any drink goes.

Aperitivo is a great way to unwind after a day of work or exploring the mountains.  But the real purpose is to mingle with friends and perhaps make new ones – as the Italians have an infectious desire to be social.

So what better place to have an aperitivo than in a cosy mountain wine bar like the An Bacher Wi, or the Café del Guide, where tourists and locals mingle together freely.  The tradition kicks off anytime from around 5pm to 8pm.  Often it gets busy later in summer, but winter gets busier earlier, because naturally, you’ll need a drink after a hard day skiing the back country or exploring the pistes of the Monterosa Ski region!

Mountain wine bar An Bacher Wi in Alagna
Aperitivo at the An Bacher Wi in Alagna

Being in Italy, Alagna is also fantastic for food.  There’s naturally great pizza and pasta at very good prices, but you also need to try the mountain specialties such as stewed deer with polenta, braised Piemontese beef or trout.  There are a number of charming restaurants throughout Alagna, while the slopes are also scattered with amazing options for lunch.  

Try the Unione for amazing meats or Zam Tachji for superb food in a beautifully restored Walser building.

Endless trekking or hiking in Alagna amongst amazing untouched scenery at the foot of the Monte Rosa Massif

In my time in Alagna I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of the possibilities in the area for hiking, trekking and other alpine adventures.
If the ski area is known as the Freeride Paradise, then the hiking is surely heaven.

You could spend a number of summers here before you felt like you had ticked off most of the options.  There are breath-taking routes in every direction, although be warned, most go up!

But with the help of the efficient lift system which runs from June to September, many itineraries are more manageable for the less strenuously minded.  Those who like the mountains to themselves and enjoy earning the views would be wise to come in Autumn when the lifts are closed and with it the majority of the visitors gone.

What’s more, the mountains are home to many amazing mountain refugios, many of which are reachable by lunch.At your destination you will find some of the most delicious mountain food and local wines, even a cold beer at fantastic prices.  Why not, you’ve just earnt it!

The mountains around Alagna are also home to an amazing abundance of wildlife which are frequently encountered on ventures into the wild.  It’s even been known to have wild Ibex and deer sighted in and around the village of Alagna, particularly at quieter times of the year.

Wildlife includes: Ibex, Chamiox, Marmots, Mountain foxes, Whitetail deer, and recently the re-settled occupant of these valleys;  the wolf.Below, I explore a few of the amazing hiking options available from Alagna:

Refugio Barba Fererro

If you ever wondered what a mountain oasis would look like – you could do far worse than visiting Refugio Barba Fererro.  Located on the side of the Monte Rosa Massif at 2550m, the refugio must have some of the best views in the world.

A perfect spot to get a close up view of the glaciers on the south face of Monte Rosa, and the mountainous valley stretching out bellow.

After your walk up from Refugio Pastore or Aqua Bianca the arrival at Rifugio Barba Ferrero is a little out of this world.  There are cold beers and various other drinks naturally chilled by a fresh mountain water cooling system. 

There is usually even a huge barrel of the excellent local Alagna craft beer helicoptered in from microbrewery Zamstag so you can enjoy a fresh pint on top of the World. 

Lunch at Rifugio Barba Ferrero
Drinks at Rifugio Barba Ferrero

The home cooked food is amazing also, I can particularly recommend the house specialty; Polenta Concha.  I even know some locals in Alagna who will trek the 3+hr hike especially for this dish.

Alpe Campo Superiore

Located at 1923m, Alpe Campo Superiore is a tiny mountain hamlet sitting next to an idyllic little lake with one of the best views of the Monte Rosa massif.  This is not a long hike, but a steep climb of 600m in only 2 km will be sure to get the heart racing.  This is a favourite photo spot of mine.

Walser building at Alpe Campo Superiore Alagna
A view of Alpe Campo Superiore Alagna

Valle Vogna

Valle Vogna, located a short drive from the centre of Alagna and directly above the beautiful hamlet of Riva Val Dobia, is an escape to a fairy tale alpine world.  Val Vogna is well worth a trip in itself just to take in the stunning surroundings.  However, there are many more adventures that start here, such as a long walk up the valley to Rifugio Ospizio Sottile on the ridge between Valsesia and the Valle de Aosta, or a moderate walk to the unbelievable alpine amphitheatre at Alpe Larecheo.

Hikers in Valle Vogna Alagna
A Walser building at Alpe Larecchio in Valle Vogna

Val d’otro

Val D’Otro can be accessed directly from the village of Alagna by following trail No. 203 directly up from the village.  The amazing alpine valley is surrounded by tall mountains and littered with small settlements of historic Walser houses.  The valley is still partially occupied today, and is like a living museum.  There are many options for larger walks from here, including the emerald blue lakes of Laghi Tailly, or you could cross the Foric Pass to Pianalunga.  Otherwise enjoy a lunch at the Refugio Zar Senni in Val D’otro and soak up the sun and magnificent views.

Colle Del Turlo

Follow the yellow brick road up to the pass of Turlo at 2,738 m.  The amazing stone path which zigzags its way up from Refugio Pastore was built by the Alpini, the specialist Italian mountain troop unit in 1920.  The path was built to facilitate trade using mules with the village of Macugnaga in the next valley and offers easy terrain to take yourself all the way up to the pass.  But it is still a commitment so allow plenty of time and stamina to reach the end of this long path.

The route offers amazing views of the Monte Rosa and the Valsesia valley along the way.

At Colle Del Turlo you can continue down the other side to the village of Macugnaga.  This route also forms part of the Tour di Monte Rosa.

Tour di Monte Rosa

The Tour di Monte Rosa is one of the true adventures in the Alps, a 168.2 kilometre loop around the Monte Rosa through both Italy and Switzerland.  It links the famous mountain towns of Saas Fee, Cervinia and Zermatt, with the lesser known but beautiful villages of Grächen, Macugnaga, Gressoney and of course Alagna Valsesia. 

Taking around 9 days to complete, it is a committed high altitude adventure crossing many valleys with different food, cultures and architecture.  

You will cross a number of high altitude sections such as over the Theodul Pass, and also a glacier crossing which requires a guide or the appropriate gear with skills to match.

During the trek you will have endless views of the Monte Rosa from all angles, and many of the highest mountains in the Alps including the famous Matterhorn.

Most start the adventure in Zermatt, but there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t start and end in Alagna Valsesia!  Here the prices are lower, the crowds less and the hospitality is second to none.  I have to admit this walk is still on my bucket list, but I will create a journal of this adventure once I have completed it.  If you have completed this trek or are planning to do it in the future I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Cima Muta

For a spectacular view and photography spot with views of Alagna and the entire Monte Rosa massif towering behind, the steep ascent to Cima Muta is a must.  I’ve taken one of my favourite panoramas from this very spot.  This walk is accessed from the Valle Vogna, a short drive from Alagna or Riva Valdobia.

Alpe Bors

Located a modest walk up the valley from Refugio Pastore, many skiers who visit Alagna will have skied down this route after skiing the famous Alpe Balma.

In the summer and autumn, this remains a great destination and a superb sunny spot for lunch while taking in the vast alpine valley of Balma.

Easiest access is from the Refugio Pastore, but there are more demanding routes in the valley above.  During the summer months the Refugio Crespi Bors is open for some excellent mountain food and house wine.

about the author

about the author

Nick is a photographer based in the Le Marche region of Italy. Nick specialises in architecture, property and branding photography. He has a passion for capturing the story and beauty of businesses and la dolce vita. In his free time he likes to explore Italy by bike, on foot or on skis. All photos in this post are the property of the author.

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