Claudia Da Rin

The Alps, off the beaten path

A stone’s throw from Milan and Bergamo

Summer in the mountains is a joy, with bluebird skies and brightly coloured flowers, adventurous hikes and delicious, hearty food. The Italian Alps provide a staggering wonderland, replete with lush meadows and jagged mountain scenery, interlaced with romantic lakes and a vast cultural heritage. Your gaze wanders from colossal four thousand metre-peaks to razor-sharp, vertical Dolomites, and in-between sit several secluded places which conquer any visitor’s heart. Val Seriana is one such jewel, capturing your imagination with its verdant mountains, fresco-covered churches, appetizing food in droves and the typical warm hospitality that welcomes everyone with a smile. And all this a stone’s throw from Milan and Bergamo. Once you enter this marvellous realm, you will not want to leave.

1. Presolana, the fairest of them all

Rich in legends and stories, multi-peaked Presolana is allegedly the prettiest mountain in the Bergamo area. Sure, Pizzo di Coca is the highest – at 3050 m – but none is as imposing, majestic and regal. Ask any local and they will tell you that Presolana is THE quintessential mountain, rich in challenging and easier climbing routes, where pages of local mountaineering history were written. Made up by several peaks, if you reach the top of the highest one, West Presolana at 2521m –a superb view opens in front of you, and on a clear day you can even spot the Monte Rosa group and the Monviso. Its rock is similar to the Dolomites, dating back to more than 200 millions of years ago; back then, in the Triassic age – we are talking pre-dinosaurs – a tropical sea was in the area, as seen in the many fossils that have been found. You can learn more at the Paleontological Park of the Cene in the middle Val Seriana, which hosts a nature park, hands-on activities and a prime collection of fossils, one of the most important in Italy. It’s Jurassic time!

2. A realm of outdoor experiences on Presolana

There’s a world of outdoor activities in the Presolana range: seize your chance and discover them all. Hike up to Monte Visolo, setting off from Passo della Presolana and enjoy views towards Val Seriana and stretching across Lake Iseo and Val Camonica. A more demanding route takes you to the Grotta dei Pagani – the Pagan cave – via the Baita Cassinelli. Choose the Salto degli Sposi – the bride and groom cliff – at the Passo della Presolana if you’d rather rest and have a picnic. The lovely place is named after a couple of Polish lovers who reached this place and fell into the void as if to seal their eternal love. Fiumenero, close to Valbondione, is the place to go for thrilling canyoning: toboggan, slides, jumps and abseils offer a world of fun! Climbers will enjoy the Foppella crag, close to the Presolana pass, with an overhanging wall and a slope with several pockets; it’s a difficult affair in the renowned Cornalba crag, in Val Serina, where you are guaranteed strenuous effort and grades start from F6a and reach F8c!

A cycle path goes from Ranica, north of Bergamo, and reaches Clusone: all along the Serio river for stunning views. From there, another cycle path connects you to Valbondione, to savour the marvellous scenery. Other cycle paths abound, for road bike lovers, and of course a wide variety of mountain bike trails will satisfy every rider: choose the Monte Bronzone round ride to reach the panoramic west Sebino peak or take the challenging trail up to Monte Arera, the princess of the Orobie, taking in lakes and the “flower path”, an area showcasing a special microclimate and many rare flowers. Ride from Val Brembana to Val Seriana if you are superfit: a tough-going affair for 65 km of pure adrenaline. And we’ve only just begun… Pick your ride and explore the beauty that abounds in the area. 

 

3. A powerful heritage: Val Camonica

To the east of Val Seriana and north of superb Lago d’Iseo lies intriguing Val Camonica. The valley is famous for its Camuni population, who lived in the area in the first millennium BC, the iron age, and left more than 300,000 petroglyphs: these rock carvings reveal such beauty that they became the first UNESCO protected site in Italy, back in 1979. A stylistic version of the rose  – rosa camuna – is the symbol of the Lombardy region and you can admire some of these precious areas by following the Val Camonica cycle path. Going south towards Lake Iseo, you will set off in Capo di Ponte, which hosts an interesting museum, then go along Breno to admire its imposing castle on top of a hill and a lovely old town. Darfo Boario Terme hosts an exciting Archeopark and then you can start your loop around the lake, with pretty Pisogne hamlet and the picturesque Bögn ravine. Save some time to visit Monte Isola in the centre of the lake: this is Europe’s biggest lake island and well worth a detour.

 

4. Where art runs bountiful

Highly praised by Vasari, the Renaissance artist Jacopo Valle Nigretti, known as Palma il Vecchio was born in a small place in the Serina valley, close to Bergamo, called Serina. His works can be found in London’s National Gallery, the Louvre, Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden, to name a few, and testify his great skill. He then moved to Venice, where he trained under Giorgione, but he always felt close to his native place. You can also find some of his precious works in Alzano Lombardo, Peghera in Val Taleggio and the parish church in Serina.  Do not miss the celebrations for Giovanni Battista Moroni, another renaissance maestro who stems from Albino in Val Seriana. 2021 marks 500 years from his birth and a series of impressive events have been staged: exhibitions, conferences, storytelling events, and even a London double-decker bus tour along Val Seriana to celebrate the many works by Moroni in the National Gallery and the exhibition dedicated to him that took place in 2014. Isn’t it wonderful?

5. A world of precious flowers: saffron at Fino del Monte

The finest of species, saffron was first documented with an Assyrian botanical treatise dating back to the 7th century BC. A history dating back to the dawn of times for what is a most delicious, aromatic spice that gives colour to our lives. Iran covers 90% of the world’s production, but you can find small crops in other areas in Europe and they are magical. Fino del Monte, to the south of Castione della Presolana, is fascinating. Hike to the Aprico meadows and admire the full bloom of this exceptional violet flower. Organised tours take place in the summer and autumn too, giving you the chance to admire nature at its best, be it the auburn, warm hues of foliage or the vivid, intense summer colours. You can also take part in a gastronomic journey on Monte Vaccaro, where another agricultural enterprise organises a saffron-based meal in a mountain hut: delicious indeed.

6. Italy’s highest waterfalls: Cascate del Serio

A triple-bill for an exciting hike that reaches Europe’s second highest waterfalls, Cascate del Serio originate from a dam higher up in the valley and their five annual openings are sensational. Plan your hike from Valbondione and reach the wide rock ledge at the bottom of the waterfalls with a gentle path. From there, you can proceed up to Rifugio Curò and then the Barbellino Lake, via a steep, at times exposed route. Your elevation gain from the trailhead to the lake is about 950m for a two-hour hike. Get ready to savour the best of this wild area. 

7. Get your very own, ad-hoc tour

Do you dream of riding the famous Giro d’Italia cols, following in the footsteps of cycling heroes, or riding along picturesque cycle paths that skirt dreamy Lake Iseo? How about throwing in a wine tasting in the acclaimed Franciacorta region or savouring exquisite local dishes, then getting on your bike again? Our guides and experts are certified mountain bike guide with “car with driver” licence is your ideal biking companion. You may choose a multi-day tour to discover Val Seriana and Val di Scalve, exploring bubbly Franciacorta, tracking the ancient Camuni population in Val Camonica and any cultural hotspot along the way. Touching in on Lovere, Clusone, Presolana, Monte Isola and many other top locations, tours can be tailored to suit your needs and interests. Pick-ups and transport can be arranged, to make your experience extra special. 

WHERE TO STAY

Grand Hotel Presolana