The Smugglers’ Trail: a hike through history and culture

Retracing an ancient route between central Valtellina and Switzerland

Passing stunning vineyards and quaint old hamlets, this is a hiking route on the Rhaetian Alps side of Valtellina that follows an ancient smugglers’ trail. Steeped in history on these mountains, it was used by local Tirano residents attempting to cross the border discreetly while laden down with various goods. Their haul depended on what was currently in demand, but usually involved coffee and manufactured tobacco. The objective of the smuggling was to curb the number of locals who were choosing to emigrate to other parts of the world by ensuring that the local economy could survive.

Setting off from Tirano, follow Via Roma past the church of Sacro Cuore and onto Via Quadrio and up to the Piazzetta Trombini. On the north side of the square there’s a small park where you can admire the monument to Valtellina and Valchiavenna’s emigrants.

Heading further along Via San Giuseppe you’ll reach the small square of Pievani, where the ancient church of San Giacomo is now home to the Paolo and Paola Maria Arcari civic library. This is where the ascent starts, first passing the winemaker Cantina Vinicola Pozza before darting onto a centuries-old mule track. As the climb edges up the mountainside to reach Baruffini at an elevation of 792 metres, expect scenic views over Tirano, the Adda valley, nearby Teglio and the beautiful, apple orchard-lined Valchiosa.
A succession of narrow lanes leads you through this cute little cluster of homes and onto a road that ramps up from the word go towards the former barracks of the Guardia di Finanza di Sasso del Gallo (1,239 metres), now abandoned. Just a few metres further on from this customs post, you’ll cross the border into Valposchiavo, Switzerland, provided you have a valid ID.

From the border the trail flattens off with panoramic views. Once through a forest you’ll reach Zocca (1,232 metres), then Prà Fontana (1,216 metres) after a short stint on a paved road then a dirt track. The signs will then direct you downhill to a road that runs from Baruffini to Pra Campo. Follow the road for around 800 metres before a trail on the left takes you through the chestnut trees and back down to Baruffini (792 metres). To return to Tirano, follow the same mule track that you left on.


13,3 Km
Starting point
End point
spring, summer, autumn

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