Be Afraid But Be Astounded by its Beauty

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An expedition down the Toce river reveals that the Orridi di Uriezzo are actually quite beautiful

One of the main forces that have shaped the landscape of the Ossola valleys is water.

"the waters of the Orridi di Uriezzo"

During the last ice age, all valleys – main valley and seven side valleys – were covered by approx. 1 km of ice (the scenery would have looked very different from what it looks now, with only the highest summits peeking out of the ice), and when all that ice melted, powerful streams formed that dug themselves deep into the rocks.

Nowhere are the effects of this natural phenomenon more dramatic than in the Giardino Glaciale (the “Ice Age Garden”) near Premia and Baceno.

A few hundred years ago, in a period more besieged by benighted fears than our own, the depth and narrowness of the ravines were enough to scare the bejeesus out of the local villagers.

In ancient folk tales, our guide told us, the canyon was a place where dreadful things happened. (Although, in the locals’ defence, the term “orridi” for steep ravines is rather common across the Italian Alps.)

"entering the Orridi di Uriezzo ravines"

If you think you are (wo)man enough to take these “orridi” on, you can rather conveniently get there by public transport.

Take the bus from Domodossola’s central bus terminal (diagonally across the train station) to Formazza, getting off after approx. 20 minutes at the very last stop before the bus leaves Crodo for the final time (it’s a rather sprawled-out village).

Sorry for sounding so vague, but the correct stop is a trifle difficult to describe. At any rate, be on the lookout for a large car dealership called Gambini, located between the bus stop in question and the town exit sign.

Right before the bus stop, there is a sign pointing right towards Il Piccolo Ranch, a cooperative that sells a wide range of local specialties but is specialized on fabricating tea.

"herbal tea leaves"

In fact, the place is full of dried leaves, which are stored not only in bags and on shelves but also loosely on the floors and in every available nook and cranny, so much so that we called the place the Marijuana farm (jokingly, of course.)

The shop is run by a bunch of very friendly middle-aged ladies, so why not pay the gals a visit if you pass by and the doors happen to be open. The ladies will surely be grateful for visitors. (As you may have noticed on your walk, they did not exactly pick a midtown Manhattan location for their enterprise.)

The small agricultural road past the shop will eventually lead you to a fork where you have to turn left towards the Orridi di Uriezzo.

After about 1 km, there will be a bridge across the river Toce, approx. 50 metres on your right hand side. (You have to look out for it, otherwise you may miss it.)

"waters in Orridi di Uriezzo"

Underneath the bridge, observe how the river swirls around the Marmitte dei Gianti, the “Cauldrons of the Giants”, which were also created by the melting water from the glaciers. Watching them is quite a spectacle.

"waters of the Marmitte dei Giganti in Orridi di Uriezzo"

From here, the orridi are only about another kilometre away. Actually, they are not horrid at all but, with their strong colours and jagged shapes, resemble nothing so much as abstract paintings.

"jagged shapes of the rocks inside the Orridi di Uriezzo"

Those villagers must have been a very, very fearful lot. But as our guide explained to us, the people in this part of the world were for centuries cut off from European mainstream thinking. Apparently, even Christianity caught on very late in the Ossola valley, only towards the end of the Middle Ages, and even then, the people over here were reluctant to let go of their ancient folk beliefs.

"the Orridi di Uriezzo in Ossola"

Once you leave the Uriezzo ravines, you are practically in the outskirts of Baceno. After a few minutes, you will be able to see the tower of the church of San Gaudenzio where the walk ends.

"San Gaudenzio church in Baceno"

But don’t leave without visiting the church from the inside. It is full of the type of splendour that you would not expect in such a remote and small town.

"the splendour inside the San Gaudenzio church in Baceno"

If you started your hiking day early, you may still have the time to try out a couple of trails that start in Baceno. You can either hike to Croveo along the “Witches’ Path” which explains the history of the witches’ trials for which the area was once notorious (our guide was right!) or return to Domodossola on the Via Spiritualità. Both trails are part of the CoEUR network (“In the heart of European paths”) of hiking trails that connect Italy and Switzerland.

But if you think you have seen enough for the day, you can also take the bus back to Domodossola. (Find the stop right underneath San Gaudenzio church.)

That way, you will make sure that you still have enough energy for our next walk in the valley when we familiarize you with the charms of Lake Antrona.

"Lake Antrona in the Ossola valley"

See you then!

Be sure not to miss our next post about the beautiful Lake Antrona where, at every turn, the sights are postcard pretty. Subscribe now to our free updates by email or by following us on Facebook,  Instagram and Twitter.

4 comments to Be Afraid But Be Astounded by its Beauty

  • Glad to have been of use to you, Jo. Hope you enjoyed the walk as we did!

  • Jo

    Just back from a visit here, based on your recommendations and I can’t thank you enough – not something I would have found in the usual tourist information places but what a treat.

  • Emiel, there’s water in abundance in that region, I can tell you. I’ve never seen so many waterfalls along our hikes. Thanks for dropping by!

  • Interesting story with great pictures. I was imagining that landscape covered with ice, surreal sight. You feel so tiny if you realize how many years that water has shown its strength to create those sculptures. I love how you take us to these undiscovered places!

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