Off-Grid Stone Villages of the Bavona Valley, Switzerland
A remote valley in the Italian-speaking Swiss canton of Ticino is home to villages embracing a pastoral way of life in harmony with nature – electricity not included.
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II stand by the towering Forgolio waterfall, where a fine spray rises in tandem with a deafening roar that fills my ears. The falls cascade 330 feet down a steep morainic slope, the waters narrowing through rocks and boulders before emptying into the Bavona River which flows along the valley floor. The sound echoes off the high rocky cliffs of this glacial valley, reminding visitors like me in Ticino, a remote region in the southn Switzerland, that the forces of nature not only shape the landscape but also the lives of the people who try to live there.
The falls tower above the small, photogenic village of the same name, made up of a tight cluster of gray stone cottages called rustic. Stroll through the narrow streets between the 15e-century church, houses and stables, i can see clearly that the rustic were built of local stone in a simple and modest style.
What I don’t see is any trace of buzzing wires, poles or transformers. There are none to be found. Like most of Bavona ValleyForoglio is off the grid.
A glimpse of life in a harsh landscape
Foroglio is one of 12 villages, called earthwhich are almost equidistant from each other by about half a mile in the Bavona Valley, along a winding road that was not paved until after 1950. The villages of Bavona stretch for 7.5 miles and feature more than stone cottages and village centers. A two-mile walk from Foroglio to Fontana takes me past several votive chapels, splüi (buildings under stone outcrops), “hanging meadows” on rocks, birch and chestnut forests, grassy fields with sheep and cows grazing, and sometimes cave serving refreshments to passing hikers exploring the trails up and down the valley.
Not so long ago, the harsh winter climate of the valley and the lack of sunshine ensured that habitation was only possible in summer. The migratory pattern of human movement in and out of the valley centered around bringing animals to the mountain pastures, a practice that continues today, echoing centuries of tradition still going strong in many alpine villages in Switzerland.
“Farmers used to come here between winters, which were spent in Cavergno,” says Veronica Lafranchi, herself a summer resident ath owner of a rustico in Roseto, north of Foroglio. “That would ensure they would have enough grass to feed their goats and cows.”
Today, in the villages of Cavergno and Bignasco, an information route begins informing visitors about the tradition of the ascent of cows in the mountain of the Bavona Valley. As I walk part of the way, I notice that the landscape is still marked by transhumance activity, with flowery meadows and grassy fields separated by low gray stone walls which enclose grazing cattle. Despite the poor quality of the soil, the vines wind over the fences, framing fields once planted with rye, millet and potatoes, but which now serve as pastures and scenic backdrops for my photographs.
A sustainable choice to stay in harmony with the territory
The seasonal rhythm of pastoral life in the valley changed in the 1950s. The development of hydroelectric dams and power stations above the valley allowed people to connect to the Swiss electricity grid. However, apart from the village of San Carlo, which accepted electricity (including for its cable car linking it to the lakeside hamlet of Robiei) at a reduced rate not extended to its neighbours, the local Bavonesi voted against, wanting the valley remains as it was.
As a result of residents choosing to continue living without the luxury of electricity, the remote valley remains much the same today as it has for centuries.
“Val Bavona is one of the most extraordinary places in Ticino”, notes Anna Bezzola, local guide and owner of Alps and beyond. The fairy-tale setting and its unique architecture illustrate “how people lived in harmony and symbiosis with the land and nature, and their ingenious survival techniques”.
At 21st century, the inhabitants continue to adapt. For generations, Veronica Lafranchi’s family has had a rustic in the village of Roseto which dates back to 1579. The family opens the cottage in the spring and uses solar panels and candles to light and power the house. To cook, the 50 inhabitants of the village draw on a centralized natural gas tank which has replaced the more dangerous and unnecessary transport of individual bottles.
This simpler, more sustainable way of life has offered respite for Lafranchi and his family, particularly over the past two years when much of their vacation has been spent in the village and exploring the valley.
One night in a rustico village
While the remoteness of the valley, not to mention the pandemic, has kept visitors at bay, there are options for guests to experience life as it was and still is, even if only during a day or short-term excursion. holiday. the Bavona Valley Foundation hosts “working holidays” where volunteers can work alongside locals to restore landscapes and learn how Bavonesi lived in harmony with the seasons. Travelers can stay in a village rustic and discover the peaceful environment and layers of culture, tradition and living history of the Bavona Valley.
How to arrive
From Locarno station in the city of Locarno, take bus 315 towards Cavergno, Paese. Get off at the Bignasco, Posta stop. Take bus 333 to San Carlo. The journey takes approximately 90 minutes.
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