In Italy’s northern region of Lombardy (capital city, Milan) there is a magnificent valley that you have probably never even heard of- Valcamonica. Sometimes written as Valle Camonica, this lush valley lies between the Orobie Alps and the Adamello group and is full of surprises! Let’s find out what to see in this prehistoric valley with a unique story to tell.
Valcamonica’s Ancient History
If you love history, it doesn’t get much older than this! How about 8,000 BC? The Rock Carvings National Park (Parco Nazionale delle Incisioni Rupestri di Naquane) is located in Capo di Ponte and was named Lombardy’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site in the year 1979. The park itself holds over 100 rock drawings that range from the Neolithic Period all the way to the Iron Age. There are over 200,000 cave drawings scattered throughout the valley with the vast majority having been created by the Camunni people depicting their daily life. Various guided and self-guided tours are available. See the official website for more details.
In the center of Capo di Ponte, you’ll also find the National Prehistory Museum located within the 16th-century Villa Agostani. For a more complete understanding of the valley and its history, this is a fascinating place to spend an hour or so. It is also a UNESCO site.
The Great Outdoors
For outdoor enthusiasts, Ponte di Legno is the perfect location for your “home base”. Situated in the heart of Adamello Park, Ponte di Legno offers just about every outdoor sporting experience your imagination can conjure up. In the wintertime, you can enjoy skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing on the Castellaccio (3,029 meters), the Passo del Tonale, and the Adamello (3,500 meters). You won’t want to miss the Pian di Neve glacier known as the “ice desert”.
In the summer months, a whole new world of possibilities opens up with hiking, mountain biking, and cycling trails galore. From Ponte di Legno you can actually cycle all the way to Lake Iseo following the Ciclovia del Fiume Oglio (a total of over 280 km), but there are also numerous routes leaving from Ponte di Legno suitable for even young cyclers in the family.
Darfo Boario Thermal Waters
Heading to the southern end of the valley, you can indulge yourself in the healing waters of Darfo Boario. The natural hot springs are known for their curative properties and recently, even for treating Parkinson’s Disease.
Bienno, One of the Most Beautiful Villages in Italy
Bienno is a village you won’t want to miss on your tour of Valcamonica. Part of the prestigious list of the Most Beautiful Villages in Italy, Bienno is a must-see. This ancient village, and the entire valley, has been known for its ironworks for thousands of years, but it was the Benedictine monks that introduced the watermill in the 10th century. You can wander the dark cobblestone streets and window shop along Via Contrizio where artisan shops have thrived for centuries. If you’re interested in the town’s blacksmithing tradition, be sure to visit the Forge Museum.
Food and Wine
Throughout your entire journey in Valcamonica, you’ll be delighted to know that the cuisine is just as fantastic as the scenery. It is especially known for its Valcamonica IGT wines (indicazione geografica tipica) including white, passito, red, Marzemino, and Merlot. Dishes here include ingredients like chestnut flour, buckwheat or corn polenta, rye flour bread, game meat, and lake fish. Be sure to try the casoncelli, a local ravioli stuffed with meat and cheese as well as the sausage (strinù) and cheeses such as Silter, Casolet, and Ricotta stagionata. In 2018 UNESCO recognized Valcamonica- Alto Sebina as a special biosphere where over 2,800 plant and flower species thrive and contribute to the centuries-old agricultural tradition.
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