• Michael O'Keeffe

A Trip to the Alps - Part II: Valtellina, Italy

Updated: Dec 6, 2020

After a few wonderful days in the incredible Massif des Cerces in France, I headed back east into Italy. This time I was headed to Valtellina in the north of Italy near beautiful Lake Como. Lake Como is gorgeous full of rich architecture and big mountains, but the hordes of tourists is a bit much so I opted to stay about 30 minutes away in a small town in Valtellina. Valtellina is a large river valley between two mountain ranges just south of the border of Switzerland. Over the next few days I would basecamp from an Airbnb and explore the surrounding mountains.


After a 4 hour drive from Briançon I arrived at my Aribnb outside of Morbegno, Italy. A quick nap and I was heading to the trailhead of my first hike, Val di Mello. A short 25 minute drive landed me in the small village of San Martino and the start of the hike. From the parking lot I had to navigate the twisty cobbled streets of town to reach the main trail. The valley was absolutely mesmerizing. The giant granite walls that flanked the valley looked just like Yosemite, but add an enchanting larch forest and lots of tiny stone rifugios. Something I didn't expect was just how hot and humid it would be. The oppressively soupy July heat made hiking a sweaty challenge. I felt like I was back in Kansas City or Arkansas than high in the Italian Alps. There in mind Val di Mello is considerably lower in elevation than the cool dry valley of Briançon so I should've figured. Regardless, this valley was pretty spectacular, and to prove it here are photos from my hike.

Mountain peaks as seen from Val di Mello in Italy.
The razor sharp granite peaks of the Bregaglia Range.
Granite walls in Val di Mello in northern Italy.
The granite walls of Val di Mello are reminiscent of Yosemite.
Close up of granite cliffs in Val di Mello, Italy.
A close up of the stunning granite cliffs.
 A river flowing through Val di Mello in Italy.
Crystal clear water flows down from the mighty peaks of the mighty Bergaglia Range.
A lake in a forest in Val di Mello, Italy.
A small lake sits among a larch forest under towering peaks in Val di Mello.
Lake under peaks in Val di Mello, Italy.
Crystal clear water.
A rifugio in Italy's Val di Mello.
A rifugio on the trail.
Wildflowers along a stream in Val di Mello, Italy.
Fireweed on the shores of this stunningly clear stream in Val di Mello.
Waterfalls cascade in Val di Mello, Italy.
Waterfalls cascade over granite in Val di Mello.
Hiker in Val di Mello in Italy.
Approaching Soleluna Rifugio on the wildflower lined trail.
House built into rock in Val di Mello, Italy.
A structure built right into the boulders.
Storm clouds build in Val di Mello in Italy.
Storm clouds build on the high peaks above Val di Mello.
Mountains in Val di Mello Italy.
Looking back towards San Martino.
Mountains in Val di Mello Italy.
A view on the hike back.
Granite cliffs in Val di Mello Italy.
One last look at the granite cliffs.
San Martino in Italy.
Entering San Martino at the end of the hike.
San Martino
One last look at the craggy granite peaks.


After a rest day exploring Lake Como and sleeping in at the Airbnb, I headed to Chiesa in Valmalenco for my next hike. Chiesa is a beautiful little village deep in a valley at the foot of the Bernina Range. I spent some time walking around town before driving the steep windy road up to Rifugio Ca Runcasch where I'd start my hike. The hike was pleasant and peaceful climbing through a typical Alps larch forest and then emerging in a rocky cirque peppered with beautiful pink rhododendrons. Finally, I reached Rifugio Carante where a short climb further brought me to a pass with expansive views into the heart of the Bernina Range and its large glaciers. A classic Alps hike!

Wildflowers over Lake Como in Italy.
Exploring wildflower meadows above Lake Como on my rest day.
Rifugio Ca Runcasch
A pleasant hike with larch trees and big views.
Interesting geology along the trail.
Pink rhododendrons bloom amongst these boulders along the trail.
Wildflower meadows beneath big peaks as I approach the pass.
Rifugio Carate
Bernina Range
Those high peaks mark the border of Italy and Switzerland.
Large glaciers sit among the towering peaks.
One last look on the drive back to the Airbnb.


My final hike of the trip took me to the Orobie Alps just a short 30 minute drive from my Airbnb in Morbegno. I really enjoyed this hike as I saw no other people the entire time other than at the trailhead. The hike definitely had a wilder feel than any of the other hikes I did on this trip. It quite honestly had me missing home by the end of it. Despite being homesick, I couldn't get over the fairytale like forest and beautiful golden grasses that covered the slopes. Clouds were building over the higher peaks making for dramatic lighting as they moved passed the sun. A great way to end my time in Europe!

I loved the forest on this hike.
Very unusual geology on the high peaks.
A small structure on a grassy ridge.
The structure up close with the Bregaglia Range in the distance.
A strange red colored pond. I'm guessing it's some sort of algae?
It doesn't get more enchanted than this. If you look close you can see horses grazing near the edge of the forest.
Approaching the lakes basin.
Huge peaks tower above the larch trees.
A close up across the valley to convey the massive scale of this range.

Finally at the lakes. Laghi di Tronas.
A close up of the stunning peaks.
A lone larch on the hike back.

This trip to the Alps sure was a memorable experience! I learned a lot and was blown away by how much epic terrain there is to explore. The accessibility is almost too good. It can be quite crowded, but with a little extra research you can lose the crowds pretty easily. I already am eager to return to this wonderful corner of the world!

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