In the middle of Valtellina, in Noth Italy, sits Sondrio, a small town surrounded by the Alps and plenty of vineyards. Sondrio is a jewel you can’t miss if you visit Valtellina or want to enjoy food and wine tourism in the area. With its old (but well kept!) and pedestrian city centre, Sondrio can be visited in a couple of days. I suggest spending time also enjoying local product shopping and eating pizzoccheri matched with good red wine from the region!
Tourism must-see: what to visit in Sondrio
The city centre is really pretty, with narrow streets, elegant buildings and wide squares. You can organize your tour along a couple of different itineraries to visit all the most interesting spots.
La via dei Palazzi : The Palaces road
This nice walk that starts from the westers side of Sondrio, it crosses the Maller river and goes through the old town centre. Most of the buildings on this route are not very well pointed out. For this reason, if you want to make sure you’re not missing any of them, you better check where to find them on a map before you set out to explore.
Let’s start from Piazzatta Carbonera, a small, two levels little square. On the north of it, there’s the Carbonera palace, a Renaissance building from the XV century. The palace is privately owned, therefore visiting its interiors is sadly not allowed.
From the square, we take Via Romegialli, a narrow street that reached the west bank of Mallero river. There are many interesting houses, honestly not very well kept. House Sertoli Rajna, from the XVIII century, and house Romegialli are the most beautiful ones. Halfway on the hand left side, there’s the fresco by Pietro Ligari “Coronation of the Virgin” and, just before the Mallero, on the same side of the street, the statues of Saints Protasio and Gervasio.
The bridge on the Mallero river is modern and it has been built instead of a previous one that for centuries was the connection between the two banks. The view towards the castle deserves a stop!
Passed the bridge, we can take a short detour to visit the ancient Via Fracaiolo covered lavatory. From the middle ages to the last century, a lock system and watermills were the main motion power for all kinds of work activities.
We’re now in Cavour Square, or “Old Square”. It’s one of the oldest squares in town and it used to host the city market. Between the many buildings from the XVII century, a steep and narrow staircase called Salita Ligari leads to Masegra Castel on top of the hill.
From Piazza Cavour we take Via Longoni, which turns into Via Angelo Custode and finally Via Lavizzari. On the way, we meet the Church and Oratory Angelo Custode, and the palaces Longoni, Marlianici and Sassi de’ Lavizzari. On the hand left side, Vicolo San Siro, an even narrower street, twists and turns going up the hill.
Via dei Palazzi ends in Quadrivio Square when it meets Via Scarpatetti. At the center of it sits a small fountain and the south end is occupied by Palace Sertoli, from the XVII-XVIII century. I haven’t been able to visit it, but I believe it opens to the public during special occasions.
Scarpatetti neighbourhood climbs up the hill to the back of Sondrio. It grew around Scarpatetti Street, which even though it’s the main street, it’s pretty narrow. It used to be the peasant’s area and it still keeps its countryside look of the past centuries. Most houses are made of stones with wooden balconies and thick beams. From the outer walls, you can still see the old oil lamppost holds.
Every few hundred meters there’s a small chapel. The most famous one is the Virgin of the Grapes, with a wooden statue from the XVII century. As a matter of fact, along this street, some terraced vineyards are still as much worked as decades ago.
Scarpatetti Street end at Masegra Castle with a wonderful view over the valley.
The castle was built with military and defensive goals. But during the centuries it changed its purpose multiple times, becoming an upper-class mansion for many years, then a farming company and later on a military barrack.
Today, Masegra Castle houses the Mountain Museum, with three exhibitions on climbing, mountaineering and local nature.
The view from the castle is really impressive, especially at sunset and sunrise. From up here, you can see the old city centre, the Mallero river and, in the background, the mountains that surround Sondrio and Valtellina.
The square takes its name from the statue of Garibaldi that sits at its centre. It’s a wide square from the XVIII century and many elegant buildings stand on all four sides of the squares. Most of them are nowadays banks and offices, but among the most beautiful we also find Teatro Sociale (the theatre), Martinengo palace with its medieval walls and the Grand Hotel della Posta (a fancy old hotel).
The town hall and the main Sondrio’s church overlook Campello square, where politics and religion used to meet. The Collegiate Church of Saints Gervasio and Protasio, the patrons saints of Sondrio is a medieval church heavily renovated during the centuries. Pietro Ligari, the local artist we’ve already met during the Palaces tour, designed some of the interiors and decorated them with frescos. The belltower has been curiously built without any connection with the main church building, and it also dates back to the ‘700.
The main facade of Pretorio Palace faces the entrance of the church. This is the town hall and in its beautiful inner court, it also hosts a touristic office. The building was first built during the XVI century but it has been renovated multiple times over the years. In the mayor very office, you can find the original Stüa Rigamonti.
Literally means “stove” or “heater”. It used to warm up a common room in the old houses. The stove rooms had walls covered in woods in order to absorb and keep the heat as much as possible.
In Sondrio there are three original stüe left: the stüa Salis, the stüa Carbonera and the stüa Rigamonti. This last one is in the very office of the town mayor!
What and where to eat in Sondrio
Visit beautiful and interesting places shouldn’t be the only focus for tourism in Sondrio. Roaming around Valtellina you can surely make your belly as happy as your eyes and mind! Take time to explore the local cuisine!
The most famous dish from Valtellina is pizzocheri and you can’t miss it. It’s a first dish of pasta with more or less the same shape as tagliatelle. However, its dough is made of buckwheat. Pizzoccheri are prepared with potatoes, cabbages, cheese (casera), butter, garlic and sage.
Likewise the pizzoccheri, Polenta taragna is another main dish made with buckwheat. It’s a kind of polenta prepared with cheese (bitto or casera) and butter.
There are plenty of interesting starters worth trying: sciatt (fried dough balls of different wheat filled with cheese) bresaola (air-dried salted meat served sliced like salami) and taroz (a mash mixture of potatoes, cheese, butter and beans).
Common second courses are brasato (braised meat) and wild games, both of which you can eat with some tasty polenta.
Whatever you eat, don’t forget to wash it down with good local wine, which is something Valtellina is certainly not lacking!
Vineyards and the “wine path” (strada del vino)
Valtellina is a hilly area, so whatever crop people want to cultivate has to be planted on terraces. Terraced vineyards are everywhere, you can see tons of them driving around the valley. There’s a virtual path called Strada del vino (the wine road), which winds through villages and small towns connecting wine producers. Many of them organize wine tasting and visits to their own wine production process, vineyards and wine cellars. Even if you don’t drink wine, tourism in Sondrio and Valtellina wouldn’t be complete without knowing more about its wineries, and I strongly suggest you visit at least one of them.
You can book visits and wine tastings on the website. I tried Cantina Marsetti, in Sondrio. The guided tour included both vineyards and wine cellars in the Scarpatetti neighbourhood, and it ended up with a wine tasting of 5 different wines. They were all quite impressive.
Local restaurants in Sondrio: the trattorie
I always ate well in Valtellina. But I’d like to recommend specifically two restaurants because both the quality of the meal and the service excelled.
In Piazza Cavour there’s Trattoria Olmo. The menu includes both classics from the area and “classics with a twist” (I ordered a bowl of unbelievable rice with blueberries!). The wine list is extensive and includes many local wines.
Trattoria Cima 11, in the town center, offers amazing pizzoccheri. You should book pizzoccheri in advance because they are freshly made every morning and they might run out of them. The service is very friendly and family-like, giving a warm feeling to an already homemade cuisine.
Valtellina is packed with wonderful places to discover and I can’t possibly talk about all of them. Therefore I’m going to name just the few that I strongly suggest including in a tour of the valley.
Tirano is a small town a couple of kilometres from the Swiss border. The main attraction is the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Tirano. From the outside, it already looks cute, but the interiors are breathtaking. The walls and ceiling are completely covered with medieval stuccoes, bas-reliefs and paintings. Every single corner of it is richly decorated, a feast for the eyes!
Tirano also hosts the starting station of the well known Trenino Rosso del Bernina, a UNESCO world heritage train track that takes you to St. Moritz through amazing mountain views and reaches up to 2000 meters of altitude.
For an outdoor adventure day, you could put your courage at test by crossing the Ponte nel Cielo (the bridge in the sky), in Campo. It’s a simple suspension bridge swinging at 140 meters over the Tartano river. The view over the surrounding mountains is impressive, so make sure you don’t forget your camera! It’s an optimal starting point for a hiking day if you dare cross the 240 meters to reach the opposite side of the narrow valley.
Between the small villages of the area, Teglio is particularly beautiful. You can find a lot of old stone houses, a couple of small cute squares and the Renaissance Palace Besta.
Bormio needs little presentation: the well-known ski resort reaches 3000 meters, with plenty of all level runs, an old and well-preserved city center and a famous spa center to book well in advance.