For our first experience of canyoning, our guide has taken us the Val Grande canyon in Vallemaggia. Having a good guide is the only way to enjoy amateur canyoning safely and under the right conditions. Canyoning tours generally last half a day. No need to bring any special gear: all we need is provided on-site. Our tour starts in the morning. A quick welcome is followed by some basic training. We then walk up to the starting point of our canyoning adventure. It takes us about forty minutes to get there, but on the way we get some great views and even come across some animals, like goats and ponies. On arrival, we put on the special gear provided: neoprene wetsuit and socks, helmets, canyoning shoes and harnesses. We're now ready to walk in the footsteps of the very first canyoneers, the French speleologists who explored (scientifically) the remote gorges of Verdon in the early 1900s. As we go deeper into the canyon, sliding down natural water chutes, jumping into pools under the waterfalls, and scrambling from one rock to another, it's easy to think we're in Amazonia.
Easy to believe we're in some truly remote land. Just us and our guide. Canyoning involves swimming, walking, abseiling, jumping and sliding in an exceptional environment: the mountain gorge. Of course, it's tiring. So, a reasonable level of fitness and mountaineering knowledge and skills are a bonus. However, some of these canyons are suitable for beginners and even young children. You don't have to dive into the water if you don't want to: there's always an alternative for those with a fear of heights. Canyoning is a great dynamic group activity, ideal for team-building and strengthening family bonds. Your companions are all-important: they spur you on, they encourage you and they give you a hand. Reaching the end is a bit like waking up from a dream. Tired and with adrenalin still coursing through our veins, we say our goodbyes and then take the opportunity to refuel the body in a "grotto" restaurant, enjoying the local cuisine. This experience gave us a real sense of the Ticino, having seen sights only possible by canyoning down its gorges.
Vallemaggia has the most spectacular gorges: Val Grande is one of the most beautiful and is easily accessible for most people. Val di Gei is a little bit tougher, but still suitable for non-experts. Val di Giumaglio is definitely for water-lovers and has some amazingly steep rocky walls. Val Corippo in Valle Verzasca is the most popular canyon of all. This is thanks to its bottom section being flatter and so more family-friendly, while the upper reaches are much harder and require more skill and preparation.
Canyoning is not an extreme sport only if it is done in the right conditions. Always be accompanied by an experienced guide and follow the instructions. Rivers can be beautiful and placid or roaring and impetuous, hiding their dangers well. The depth of the water, the currents and most importantly whirlpools can take you by surprise and should not be underestimated. Enjoy a carefree day by the river by following water safety recommendations.