Italy on the road

Bormio: a handy guide for travellers of all tastes

The famous destination in Valtellina combines taste, history, relaxation and winter sports

Bormio is a destination everyone can agree on, both in summer and winter. People can ski, they can relax at the spa, they can explore the historical centre’s buildings, they can enjoy the mountain cabins, and above all, they can do one thing in every season that is even more pleasant in mountain areas: eat.

Here, then, is a handy guide to choosing the famous town in the upper Valtellina region for a romantic getaway, a family holiday, or an outing with friends.

Visiting the historic centre

The centre of Bormio is a little gem of history, churches, and enchanting spots where one can spend the afternoon after getting tired on the ski slopes, waiting to go to dinner to taste the local specialities.

It is possible to wander around the town letting your instincts guide you, or plan so as not to miss the most interesting sights.

These include the Alberti Tower, a massive 24-metre-high tower, also known as the Dossiglio tower: famous for having hosted famous people and royalty. Heading towards Piazza Cavour, stop to take a look at the Church of Sant’Ignazio, with its pompous Baroque style and unusual octagonal floor plan.  

Just a stone’s throw away is the heart of the city, Piazza Cavour, which has a curious construction at its centre, the Kuèrc, a structure with an irregular plan that represents a large roof with benches underneath (in the local dialect, Kuèrc means lid). 

The narrow streets that criss-cross the centre will take you on a journey through history, buildings and mountain decorations in the windows. The town is what you expect a delightful Alpine centre to be, but it also has much more to offer.

Sport, in every season

Bormio is a favourite destination for sports enthusiasts all year round, thanks to the opportunity to go on great hikes in summer and take advantage of the vast surrounding ski area in winter.

Bormio is one of the most famous resorts in the Stelvio National Park, thanks in part to the Stelvio ski slope, stage of the men’s World Cup final. Offering over 50 km of slopes from 1,200 to 3,000 metres above sea level, it has school camps for beginners and extremely difficult ones for experts. For snowboarders, there is a snowpark at 2300 metres with a superpipe and other facilities, for the fun of those who have strapped a board to their feet. One of the advantages is that a single ski pass is valid for the three neighbouring ski resorts of Bormio, Santa Caterina and Oga San Colombano, connected by a free ski bus even at night.

Trekking is the sport to be enjoyed all year round in Bormio, from the Val Zebrù to the Val del Braulio, with tested trails of varying levels of difficulty.  Among the easiest trails are those that go round the town, while those for experienced hikers climb steeply towards Re Ortles, the Stelvio Pass and other magnificent peaks.

At 2,758 m, the Stelvio Pass itself is traditionally one of the toughest legs of the Giro d’Italia for professional cyclists. Often, its summit – called Cima Coppi because of the difficulty and length of the uphill climb – was the finishing line of the race. If you are well trained, attempting the ascent by bike is a real achievement, while if you are looking for a more comfortable but equally scenic and exciting solution, you can climb towards the summit on a motorbike. Either way, it will be worth it.

Relaxing at the Spa 

The thermal waters of Bormio, which boast as many as nine springs, are classified as hyperthermal and sulphate-alkaline-earthy, flow within the boundaries of the Stelvio National Park and have detoxifying and anti-inflammatory properties. This is why they favour a profound state of relaxation and well-being.

There is a choice between the town and the centre: the Bormio Terme, the large thermal resort fed by the Cinglaccia spring, which fills the swimming pool (the Quattro Stagioni pool) and the thermal baths without the need for heating. They are also the most recommended if you are travelling with the family because there are also children’s pools and water slides inside.

Instead, the Bagni Vecchi are – besides being a spa – the ideal place to dive back in time. One immerses oneself in the Roman Baths and then moves on to the Grotta Sudatoria di San Martino, a grotto built in 1827, which has the peculiarity of developing like a labyrinth inside the living rock. But the main highlight is undoubtedly the panoramic pool overlooking the Bormio valley: in winter especially, when everything is snow-covered, the sight is guaranteed.

On the other hand, the Bagni Nuovi are ideal for a summer trip and if you are looking for a more modern and elegant ambience. Bathtubs, treatments, sensory pathways: everything is classy and relaxing.

And if you want to return home with a very special story, do not miss Fonte Pliniana, a hot water spring named after the Roman historian Pliny the Elder, the first to reveal to the world the benefits of Bormio’s thermal waters. 

Eating local specialities

There is no doubt that eating is one of the best activities to do when visiting the town, especially since the various restaurants offer traditional dishes with slight variations, and this stimulates hunting for the sciatt or the best pizzocchero. 

You are not in Valtellina if you don’t start a meal with a plate of sciatt, the crispy fritters with a heart of cheese served hot and with only one major difficulty: imposible to stop eating them. The only way to manage to stop is because you need to leave some room for the pizzoccheri, the number one choice among Valtellina pasta dishes.

These short buckwheat noodles are often made by hand (the irregular thickness is one of the features) and are served with potatoes, savoy cabbage and a large amount of melted cheese (Casera and grana), butter and garlic. Beware of any restaurant where they try to pass off light or diet options to you. Pizzoccheri should be enjoyed in their most classic form, like those at Ristorante Vecchia Combo, with a generous helping of cheese and a dollop of butter. Peace of the senses. 

And if it is instead your sense of guilt that guides your choice on the menu, don’t be fooled by the Taroz: what is described as a vegetable soup is basically a tasty mixture with potatoes, green beans and other vegetables, but always topped with the ever-present butter.

If you prefer to skip the classic polenta taragna (with cheese), you might want to opt for a taste of bresaola or slinzega (a lean sausage like bresaola but drier and tastier), though always paired with a full-bodied local wine.

Valtellina wines mainly consist of Nebbiolo (the one commonly known as chiavennasca), and you will find them on the table as Valtellina superiore DOCG (with its 5 sub-zones Inferno, Grumello, Sassella, Valgella, Maroggia) and Sforzato di Valtellina DOCG (made from raisin grapes).

This is certainly not a light cuisine, but one of great satisfaction.

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