Autumn is the season of unexpected beauty, and the Lombardy mountains are a treasure trove to be explored slowly, as you admire the colours of the foliage in forests ablaze with orange, yellow and red hues. This is the time to leave behind the city traffic and climb up on high, to experience fairy-tale scenery, savour nature’s produce, discover seasonal recipes, ‘stock up’ on sunshine, romantic mists and special views, explore the valleys and then relax at a spa, surrounded by forests and mountain peaks.

Seven ideas for a special autumn in Lombardy

At the Bagni di Masino springs

A magical place in Val Masino, in the heart of Valtellina: Bagni di Masino are located along a route through the woods. Near San Martino you walk through a forest of fairytale-like hues, through white birch trees and moss-covered rocks. After a few hairpin bends, you will come to the former spa complex, built in a place that since the fifteenth century attracted nobles from Lombardy and nearby Switzerland, drawn here by the healing properties of the waters. Here you can still admire the spring from which the water gushes out at 38°C.

Nearby is a one-kilometre sensory path, also suitable for the visually impaired and blind as it enhances the sense of touch, hearing and the scents of the forest.

Lake Aviolo and Valle Camonica, a prehistoric ‘artist’s palette’

For keen photographers, in autumn, few Alpine lakes are as ‘photogenic’ as Aviolo, in the upper Valle Camonica. At an altitude of about 1,900 metres it is surrounded by larch trees that turn a deep yellow from mid-October and are reflected in its waters. The best shots are taken shortly after sunrise, when the light hits the branches and takes on golden hues. This is just one of the many wonders of the Valle Camonica, famous (and unique) for its rock engravings. Recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site these symbols tell of a very ancient history.

Another way to fully enjoy the colours of autumn is by bike: in the upper Valle Camonica, in the Pontedilegno-Tonale area, there are 500 km of trails to explore on the saddle of a mountain bike, all mapped and gpx tracked; some of them also allowing you to explore the amazing trenches used by soldiers during the First World War.

The Triangolo Lariano and its special ‘mushrooms’

These are the perfect mountains for lovers of the great outdoors, climbing and high-altitude hiking. In autumn, the so-called “Triangolo Lariano”, the triangular area between the two branches of Lake Como, is also popular for its chestnut trees, which have been fundamental to the economy and landscape for many centuries. Here, in addition to picking these delicious fruits, you can admire some remarkable trees such as the Castanun de Buncava, in Barni. Another must-see in this area are the very unusual ‘earth mushrooms’, surprising natural conformations that look like large gnomes with hats. These are erosion pyramids, columns that rise naturally from the ground with a flat boulder on top. This excursion is also a perfect excuse to taste real mushrooms, especially porcini, which grow abundantly at the foot of the chestnut trees.

Wooden masks and trenches from the Great War: treasures in Valle Intelvi

There is a path in the Valle Intelvi regional forest called the Sentiero delle Espressioni where artisan woodworkers, using chisels and other tools of their trade, have populated the forest with characters and sculptures on logs and bark. Strolling through the wood, here and there along the path you will come across strange faces that are funny or allegorical, about sixty in total, all just waiting to be discovered~one step at a time. Still in the area, you can walk up Monte Generoso, and follow the route of the trenches that starts at Dogana di Valmara: with 12 levels of trenches, this area played a fundamental role during the Great War.

Mining Archaeology in the Valle Trompia Valley

In Valle Trompia, in the Brescia area, discover a long-forgotten historical and cultural heritage. Walking along the Via del Ferro e delle Miniere (Iron and Mining Route), you are following in the miners’ footsteps, into the mineral heart of the mountains. It is a journey through time and place that takes you through the mines’ tunnels and surface installations, the ancient smelting furnace of Tavernole, where Leonardo da Vinci also passed through, and the iron-working forges, today the Sarezzo Tilt Hammer Museum. Today, thanks to the “Ecomuseo Valle Trompia. La Montagna e l’Industria” (Valle Trompia Ecomuseum. The Mountain and Industry), the valley itself is a huge, scattered museum, with themed itineraries, educational activities and entertainment. Particularly interesting are the tours organised in the Marzoli Mine and the Sant’Aloisio Mine, which allow adults and children alike to learn about many aspects of the lives of generations of people and communities who worked hard to extract and transform the precious local iron.

Photo safari in Val Zebrù, kingdom of the deer

In the heart of the Stelvio National Park in Valfurva, Val Zebrù opens up like a picture postcard with its well-kept mountain farms, alpine landscapes, and woods glorious in their autumnal hues of red, brown and yellow. As you walk up the path, keep an ear out for the bellowing of the deer who live here in large numbers, thanks also to the protection provided by the park. Its very recognisable love song echoes through the valley. Here, if you are very quiet and very lucky, you might even have a close encounter with the inhabitants of the forest: deer, ibex, chamois, marmots, and eagles. Especially if you are accompanied by an alpine guide, skilled in recognising animal tracks.

The Valchiavenna and Leonardo’s waterfalls

A mule track of medieval origin leads to Savogno, a totally isolated village that seems to be suspended in time, where there is also a mountain refuge. Someone once counted all 2886 steps that take you up through the chestnut trees and broom. Not to be missed are the Acquafraggia waterfalls, easily reached by car or along a scenic path that alternates rock and concrete steps, ladders with handrails, wooden and rope bridges –also suitable for children– and includes viewing points, streams and small natural pools.

The important thing is to reach your destination: a place so spectacular that even Leonardo Da Vinci mentioned it in the pages of his Codex Atlanticus.

Autumnal flavours: unique experiences and products

Autumn is the season of taste, in the mountains a time of chestnuts, harvests, mushrooms, polenta cooked in its special copper pan, and soups savoured by the fireside. Festivals also abound in these months: particularly those related to chestnuts, the symbol of autumn.

Among the many events to look out for is Sapori d’Autunno (Autumn Flavours), held in various locations in the Valtellina on autumn weekends. In October, themed events are organised in Val Masino, featuring mushrooms (8-9 October), game (15-16 October) and chestnuts (22-23 October), to celebrate local recipes, local produces and the season. Various specialities can also be enjoyed in Teglio, here from September until November: mushrooms (1-2, 8-9, 15-16 October), game (22-23, 29-30 October and 5-6 November) and autumn flavours (12-13, 19-20, 26-27 November). Teglio is also the kingdom of pizzoccheri, where the original recipe for these traditional Valtellina tagliatelle is still preserved, using buckwheat flour, potatoes, Savoy cabbage, cheese and plenty of butter: the perfect dish for autumn.

Those in search of a special experience that teams sport, exploration of the area and taste, can try the Via dei Terrazzamenti, an alpine walk over terraced slopes. 70 km long, it allows you to visit some of the wine cellars that characterise Valtellina. Nebbiolo is the grape mainly grown here, in terraced vineyards that are impervious and difficult to cultivate, but much appreciated by oenologists.

The Valle Camonica, with its many wineries and rich diversity is also getting ready to tell its story with a brand new race called the ‘Valle dei segni Wine Trail’. Designed by professionals, the route highlights both the cultural themes that symbolise this area such as the rock engravings and its food and wine.

At the source of wellbeing: spas in Lombardy

The perfect end to the perfect day spent exploring mountains, woods, villages, waterfalls, and trails: chilling in a spa. Lombardy is a land rich in precious waters with beneficial and therapeutic effects.

One of the most popular is the Terme di Bormio spa. For thousands of years, people have benefitted from the properties of the waters and thermal treatments here, which include mud baths, inhalations, syotherapy, and rehabilitation. The Bormio Terme complex comprises three facilities, set in the spectacular nature of the Stelvio. The spa experience can be combined with walks and sport in the dedicated surrounding areas. Also not to be missed are the other two spas: QC Terme Bagni Vecchi and QC Terme Bagni Nuovi.

Terme di Boario is another must-visit, offering its services in Val Camonica since the eighteenth century. Here, four springs ensure a constant supply of water enriched with mineral salts, with beneficial effects. Inside, there is a beauty centre and a spa with indoor and outdoor pools, Finnish sauna, ice cascade and salt room, as well as an adventure park for adults and children.

Finally, at San Pellegrino Terme you can relax with more than thirty thermal treatments, complete with panoramic pools, sensory pools, waterfalls, Kneipp sessions, Vichy showers, steam baths, and solarium garden. The complex is in Belle Époque style, with an old wrought-iron arbor, frescoes, and fine architecture blending with modern design. A little pearl of a place to visit in the area is the Grotte del Sogno caves, with stalactites and stalagmites in unusual shapes and colours.