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    On the Search for Old Churches in the Leventina

    Lavorgo - Chironico - Piottino Power Plant - Altirolo - Giornico

    On the Search for Old Churches in the Leventina

    Lavorgo - Chironico - Piottino Power Plant - Altirolo - Giornico

    Those travelling the North-South Route from Airolo to Bellinzona cannot have failed to notice a group of beautiful old churches in the town of Giornico.

    There are several more churches, chapels and oratoria nearby, so we planned an easy “Church” tour that took in five historical churches plus a variety of these others as well. This tour is definitely worth doing for the historical and architectural value.

    The tour starts at the train station in Lavorgo in the Leventina Valley (trains no longer stop here, but the bus does) and heads up through the quaint town of Nivo and via a slight ascent along a forested channel and chestnut groves to the equally quaint town of Chironico, which is located on a terrace at the entrance of the Chironico Valley, a side valley of the Leventina Valley. (This terrace is unusual for the otherwise steep flanks of the Leventina, and was created by the Ticino River as it had to find a new path through the valley due to a prehistoric landslide on the opposite side).

    In Chironico you can admire several wooden log-style houses (typical of the Leventina region) as well as the always enchanting Rustico architecture. Other buildings of historical or architectural interest are the Sant’Ambrogio Oratorium (dating from possibly the 10th century) and a six-storey tower from the middle ages.

    The Parish Church of San Maurizio is located on a hill on the outskirts of Chironico. The official hiking trail goes past the Church toward Grumo (where there is also an Oratorium), but more interesting is to take the road on the North side (village side) of the bridge/river past the dammed reservoir lake and down a very steep trail to the Piottino Power Plant which perches at the entrance of the steep ravine.

    After crossing past the Power Plant, the rest of the trail to Giornico is an easy descent through chestnut forests, past the historical Church of San Pellegrino, situated in the middle of the forest. This church has vast cultural significance because of the extensive 16th Century paintings inside done by renowned Italian Artists. An appointment must be made to view the interior (contact on the Internet is Frau Solari Doris, Tel. 091 864 1987).

    Shortly past this Church is the community of Altirolo, an absolute gem with its grape arbors spanning the cobblestoned alleyways, and the old cellar structures West of the village at the base of the mountains.

    Heading South you can see the ruins of the 12th-Century Castello di Santa Maria, in whose heart stands the Church of Santa Maria.

    After crossing the railway line, you head to the side-by-side churches: the further and larger Parish Church of San Michele (first mentioned in 1210) and the Church of San Nicolao (built in the second decade of the 12th Century). The Church of San Nicolao deserves special mention as it is considered the most impressive example of Lombard Romanesque architecture in Switzerland, with its simple stone build, mysterious crypt, medieval frescoes and unusual stone animal sculptures at the base of its walls near the entrance.

    History and quaintness doesn’t stop here. As you head toward the village of Giornico, you cross two 14th-century stone bridges which connect the two sides of the village across an island in the middle of the Ticino River. In Giornico is a final Oratorium (San Carlo) to view, as well as the Tower of the Bishop Atto von Vercelli.

    And a final historical note: Giornico was the site of a significant battle fought in 1478 where a Swiss force of 600 defeated 10,000 Milanese soldiers.


    Published on 16.07.2016 by GabrielleMerk - Tour Date: 11.10.2015
    Published on 16.07.2016 by GabrielleMerk - Tour Date: 11.10.2015

    Route Details

    Download GPS-File / SwitzerlandMobility Map
    Download GPS-File / SwitzerlandMobility Map
    Time Required
    2 hours 45 minutes
    9 km
    412 m
    639 m
    Season Start / Season End
    February - November
    Level of Difficulty (Hiking)
    Starting Point
    Lavorgo Train Station
    Starting Point with Public Transport
    Giornico Village
    Return with Public Transport
    Places to Eat
    Lavorgo, Chironico, Giornico
    Things to Note
    To view the inside of the San Pellegrino Church, an appointment must be made. Try Frau Solari Doris, Tel. 091 864 1987. In the winter months, the village of Giornico lies in shadow at 2 pm.

    Route Description

    Note: There is a bus connection to Chironico so the hike could be started there. But it is worth seeing the village of Nivo.

    00:00 Start at Lavorgo Train station and follow the trail marker to Chironico

    00:10 Arrive Nivo, continue in direction of Chironico.

    00:50 Arrive Chironico. After viewing the village, head to the parish church of San Maurizio which is visible on a hill just outside the village.

    From here backtrack a bit to just across the bridge and turn right on the road called Campagna. Continue to the reservoir lake, turn right and take the left-hand trail to the little house before the steep descent. This is not quite 10 minutes from the church.

    ** For those who prefer a not-so-steep descent, continue from the church along the road and follow the regular trail markers toward Altirolo.

    01:30 Arrive at the power plant after a steep zigzag downhill hike. Continue from here along the forest road (power plant road) to the trail marker that leaves the road to the left toward the San Pellegrino church

    01:50 Arrive San Pellegrino Church. Continue in the direction of Altirolo

    02:05 Arrive Altirolo. Take the route through the village and to the West along the mountain flank before joining the trail again South of the Village. Continue in the direction of Giornico.

    It goes without saying that stops at all three churches and a visit in the charming town of Giornico are required on this tour!

    02:25 Detour to the Castello di Santa Maria

    02:35 Arrive at the two Churches San Michele (Parish Church) and San Nicolao.

    02:40 Arrive Bus Stop in Giornico.






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    Contact GabrielleMerk