I stumbled upon the Valposchiavo quite by accident several years ago after a research trip to the Italian Valtellina for Piano. I was looking for buckwheat or grano saraceno. Buckwheat is the noble cereal that has fed this alpine region for centuries but sadly very little is grown here today. I’d heard one might still find some cultivated here and there on the odd mountain terrace above Teglio but I’d had no luck finding any. Giving up, I decided to leave the valley at Tirano and follow the road to St. Moritz via the Bernina pass.
Shortly after leaving Tirano I crossed the Italian border into Switzerland’s canton Graubunden and the Valposchiavo. Tirano had been clogged with the traffic that seems to perpetually bog down the major towns in the Valtellina, situated as they are on the only highway through the narrow valley. I’d also endured quite a bad meal and it was unseasonably hot for early September so it was a breath of fresh air to begin the climb into the Valposchiavo and leave Italy behind.
The small town of Poschiavo is the heart of the Valposchiavo and is one of those very rare mountain villages that today are an endangered breed. A lack of modern resort development is usually what accounts for the preservation of towns like Poschiavo whose geography does not lend itself to alpine skiing. While there are tourists in Poschiavo, most of them are hikers who tread lightly.
Once I arrived in Poschiavo I knew I had to spend a few days. The silence of the valley, the beautiful town and the gorgeous surroundings were an easy draw so I checked into the historic Hotel Albrici on the main square and settled in. The Hotel is situated in a stunning old palazzo. A restaurant and bar occupy the ground floor.
The first floor (the piano nobile) had a huge common hall with 4 public salons off it. They were full of beautiful antique furniture, wood paneled walls adorned with gilt framed oil paintings and high vaulted ceilings. It was maintained like a museum – everything polished and shining. The guest rooms on the top floor were spotless too, but very puritan – no phones, no television, bare whitewashed walls, cosy flannelette sheets and a shared bathroom down the hall. I silently congratulated the owners for leaving the noble floor intact for all their guests to appreciate instead of converting it into luxury hotel rooms. I was more than happy to sleep in simplicity on the top floor in what would have been servant’s quarters and share a bathroom in order to make myself at home in the apartments of what once would have been one of the town’s wealthiest families.
I made my way downstairs to the restaurant for dinner where I found several specialties from the valley on the menu. I decided to order capunet e misolta. The capunet, a dish I’d never heard of before, turned out to be delicious green spatzle type dumplings coated in a rich cheesy sauce. It was accompanied by several generous slices of Misolta, the horse meat salami made in the valley. The meal was perfect and I ended up going back for lunch the next day.
Poschiavo had many rewards for me, and one of the best one was the discovery of the preindustrial Mulino Aino, a water powered mill still in use today that grinds buckwheat and corn into flour as well as other heritage grains. Here I finally found buckwheat growing. After a couple of days in this blissful setting I moved on to the Bernino pass and the Engadine Valley. Experiencing Poschiavo was like meeting a new friend you hope to have for life. Poschiavo was a surprise for me, I hadn’t realized it would be so perfect. It was a wonderful place to retreat to, to take a deep breath of fresh mountain air, listen to the silence and appreciate the sublime perfection of nature. I’ve been back to Poschiavo many times since, most recently a couple of weeks ago with Michael to celebrate a birthday. It did not let me down.
Take a stroll with me here through the hotel and the town…….
Stay tuned for my next post and a recipe for Manfrigole…