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The trait Isola-Montespluga

Due to the influence of the natural landscapes and of the short spaces offered, the trait Isola-Montespluga today represents an occasion which cannot be missed to combine the pleasure of an excursion of average engagement with the glamour of covering a road dense with history, travelled over for centuries by merchants, pilgrims and armies.

To make this excursion we must get to Isola, in the municipality of Medesimo, proceeding at the exit from Chiavenna, on the trunk road 36 of the Spluga. Isola is situated at 18.5 km from Chiavenna. To get there, we must reach Campodolcino and, leaving the village, take the left turn (indications for Isola); leaving to the right the road for Pianazzo, Medesimo and the Spluga pass. After a few kilometres in a landscape of great beauty (amongst other things we can admire, on the right, the famous Pianazzo waterfall, with a drop of over 200 metres), we get to the houses of Isola, situated upriver of the artificial reservoir. The name of the village derives, probably, from the fact that in the past it was placed exactly in a sort of island, surrounded by marshy lands.

At 1268 metres, we are welcomed by the beautiful church of St Martin and St George, probably originating in the fifteenth century. The village is enclosed between a double wall of the mountainside of the Lepontine Alps on the west, near the opening of the wide Febbraro valley, and the Alpi Retiche on the east, which present an impressive steep and scarped mountainside on which a road climbs leading to Pianazzo, a short distance from the Medesimo-Passo dello Spluga crossroad. To take the mule tract, we leave the car in the parking place above the church and descend to the beginning of the village, where we find the Cardinello inn. While proceeding on a short asphalted road, via Cardinello, we get to the bridge which takes to the opposite side of the valley. We are slightly upwards from the hydroelectric power-station and from the departure point of the road to Pianazzo, and the Liro torrent is on the left. A sign indicates the Via Spluga, which, in the first trait, is made up of an unpaved slope which goes up to the houses of the hamlet of Torni (mt. 1360), with the characteristic engadinese aspect. To the right the Prati dei Torni, scattered with some large rocks, lead up to the bottom of the steep mountainside made up of over-hanging rocks. Beyond the Torni, the unpaved road leaves the way to a wide path which, before distancing itself from the Liro track, offers the possibility of admiring an impressive gorge: in fact by descending a few steps with respect to the path, we can notice a beautiful waterfall from a large rock protected by an extremely appropriate parapet. On the side opposite ours, the landscape is wonderfully charming, and shows, from the south (left), the large plateau denominated Pian dei Cavalli, the exit of the Val Febbraro, the Bosco dei Foi, the Val Vamlera and the Bosco di Rasdeglia.

The mule track is then linked, with the alternative route which comes from Rasdeglia and Soste, on the opposite side, and angles slightly to the right, going up a ridge made of larch trees and small pastures, before reaching the opening of Cardinello Valley (or Gardenello). The most suggestive trait starts here, cut along the side overlooking the valley, with some stair-cased parts in the bare rock. Some handrails, in these sections which require more attention, do not spoil at all. Furthermore, generally speaking one should proceed with caution, and avoid going along the mule track when there is snow or ice. The valley angles towards the right, that is towards north-east; while we are ascending, there suddenly and unexpectedly appear the walls of the Montespluga dam, which produces a singular contrasting effect between the impressiveness of the manufactured object and that of the rocky bastions which nature has built up in millions of years. The exit of the valley is not far away: after having passed a last door in the rock, there we are, in fact, at the top placed plateau, to the east from the point where the trunk road 36 of the Spluga reaches the Casa Cantoniera di Stuetta.

Without reaching the trunk road, we proceed on the old track, which leads to the western entrance (the left one) of the walkway which covers the retaining walls of the large dam built in 1931. This dam has a capacity of 32 million cubic metres of water. The landscape is one of great beauty: on the opposite side of the great artificial lake (mt. 1901), towards north-west, from the right appears the elegant sequence of the Spadolazzo, Ursaregls and Suretta peaks, which, with its 3027 metres, dominates this mountainous group. Further to the right, the rounded off profile of the Emet peak is at the background.

The Via dello Spluga continues gaining height slightly, on the left, and running slightly above the western side of the Montespluga lake, while the trunk road is on the opposite side. After having performed a circular arch towards left, we get to the bucolic plateau where la Val Loga ends, extreme north-western spur of the mountains of Valchiavenna. A small bridge enables us to cross the torrent which descends from the valley and to reach the first houses of Montespluga (mt. 1908), a village created to accommodate those who were crossing the Spluga crossing (mt. 2115), which is reached by travelling along the trunk road for another 3 km. The ascent from Isola to Montespluga requires about 2 hours and 40 minutes, and involves a slope of about 650 metres.