Named after its myriad adjoining valleys, the Centovalli is the stuff of fairy-tales: rising all the way to the Italian border, the valley offers unspoilt nature and villages where ancient traditions live on. This idyllic alpine destination can be fully explored with all the family thanks to its cable cars.
The most picturesque way of visiting the valley is by rail. Fifty-two kilometres of track, 31 tunnels and 83 bridges cut through breathtaking landscapes of rugged mountains and fast-flowing rivers.
It's no coincidence that the Locarno to Domodossola stretch of railway makes the top ten of Lonely Planet's Amazing Train Journeys guide. Simply put, it's a journey for your bucket list, one that will enchant young and old alike with the jaw-dropping beauty flashing by the window. Free audio guides for your smartphone will reveal the valley's secrets as you speed through.
The pristine and tranquil greenery of the Centovalli is dotted with tiny, sparsely populated villages nestled on the tight bends of the road that winds through the valley, or perched higher up on the mountainside and easiest reached by cable car.
The Monte Comino cable car is a cheery yellow egg-shaped cable car that seats four. As you glide upwards, trees rush past below and the steepest parts of the mountain, bare rock, glisten in the morning sun. 1200 metres above sea level, this sun-drenched natural plateau is also home to a farm of woolly llamas. It offers llama trekking excursions for all the family, but be warned: kids will instantly fall in love with these cute and fluffy creatures. After saying farewell to your new furry friends, quench that post-trekking thirst at with a traditional mandarin soda at the Grotto Alla Capanna.
There's only one way – apart from on your own two feet – to reach Rasa: a five-minute cable-car ride from Verdasio. Built on a plateau 898 metres above sea level, Rasa is cluster of stone houses with undeniable charm.
Here, the smells of alpine woodland mingle with floral scents from immaculately kept gardens. It's as if you've stepped back into another century, a different world: Rasa is the only village left in Ticino that is not accessible by road. There is no shortage of spots to enjoy a picnic on the grass while admiring neighbouring Monte Comino explored just hours earlier. No better place to take a well-earned break.
Pro tip – the cable cars for Monte Comino, Rasa and Pila-Costa are partners with the my Ascona-Locarno app. If you're staying in the region, you can enjoy a 20% discount!
It's the symbol of the Centovalli: Intragna's bell tower. The tallest in Ticino, it's very proud of itself, and for good reason.
It stands sentinel above a charming maze of old narrow streets. From its 65-metre summit (reached by 166 steps), the view stretches from Terre di Pedemonte across the Centovalli and the surrounding regions. This is also the place to catch the cable car to Pila and Costa, two sunny spots ideal for relaxing walks in the great outdoors. Below Intragna runs the river Melezza: the walk down along the stone path (signposted white/red) hidden in the trees is of course easier than the walk back up, but the reward is a moment in the shade to admire the stunning Ponte Romano.
After all that walking, why not take a break? On the road back to Locarno, stop at Verscio: here you will find Teatro Dimitri and its eponymous drama school.
A trip to the Museo Comico is a must: this comic theatre museum is home to hundreds of props, masks and Dimitri the Clown's most prized possessions. Verscio is also the place to taste the region's unique flavours of ice-cream, like farina bóna or Isabella grape. What better way to end our adventure in the Centovalli?