Bathing in ruins: a trip to Onsernone Valley
Carefully I dive my right foot into the hot pool, checking the temperature. It is not too hot and so I dive in with my whole body. A light smell of brimstone hangs in the air and darkness surrounds me. The little waves caused by my body break against the stone wall and make a quiet swashing sound. Hesitantly I advance towards the back of the pool, there must be tea lights somewhere. My hands glide over the platform at the end of the basin. It is moist and rough, every now and than I touch something soft, giving me goose bumps. It is probably moss I say to myself, what else could it be. A metallic scrabble on the stone… finally! My fingers found the tea lights, I only hope they still work. I pull the lighter out of my ponytail. I fixed it to my hair tie, so it wouldn’t get wet. Still, it takes me four times to light it up, but to my surprise and relief, the tea lights, some gentle person left behind, still light up.
The light gives me comfort, what a magical place!
Luise and me are at the Bagni di Craveggia –a former spa hotel, which lies now in ruins. It was built in 1812, right at the Swiss- Italian border, next to a clear, brawling river coming down the mountains. It was once a splendid hide-out in the mountains and meeting point for the rich and beautiful of Milan. Its border location was its death sentence. During both world wars it got damaged and was finally destroyed in 1945 by a snow slide. Since than it lies in ruins, but the lower part, which contains the hot spring pool and some fancy stoned bathtubs survived all strokes of fate and can still be used.
The Bagni di Craveggia is a forgotten paradise, which is embedded in the mountains and can only be reached by foot. Back in the days the ladies got carried here in palanquins.
The closest way to get here, is to take a car to Spruga in the Onsernone Valley in Switzerland. In Spruga you have to leave the car behind and go hiking. It takes about 40 minutes. 2/3 of the route leads along a small paved road. After crossing a bridge and the Swiss-Italian border, the path gets more adventurous and takes you up and down along a tight trail through the forest. Once you arrive, you’ll find that it was worth the effort.
Soon my skin starts to wrinkle and I decide to get out before I look like my grandma. Wrapped in my orange bath rope, which caused some amusement by fellow hikers crossing our path, I step out into the sun. I find Luise lying on a stone in the middle of a river, taking a sunbath. Our empty stomachs lead to the decision to hike back to Spruga. It is almost noon, just the right time to enjoy some goat cheese, prosciutto and white wine. We already know where – Osteria Grotto Cacciatore! Located in Crana, one of the neighbor villages of Spruga, it is the perfect spot to enjoy the combination of delicious food and a breathtaking view over the Onsernone valley.
While sipping on my Friuliano a warm feeling of happiness spreads inside me. I close my eyes and imagine how my life could like be at this remote place on earth: A grey cat appears in front of my inner eye, a fireplace, a stone house overgrown by rosebushes, I see myself hiking in the morning, and writing with the golden afternoon sun falling through the window …
If I would have lived a few decades earlier, Max Ernst, Golo Mann, Elias Canetti, Kurt Tucholsky and Max Frisch would probably have knocked on my front door to share a glass of wine with me or to ask me to join them skinny- dipping at the Bagni de Craveggia. Almost the entire intellectual elite of the twenties visited or even temporarily lived in the Onsernone Valley, most of them in Berzona.
After lunch, we drive another ten minutes to see for ourselves, what pulled them to Berzona. The question becomes clear, the minute you enter the village. Tiny cobblestone paths, steep stairs and arches entwined by roses lead through a handful of cliff stone houses, all nuzzled on to the hill.
Time seems to have stopped in this remote place on earth. Unfortunately Luises and my clocks are ticking and so we mount on our 21st century palanquin – the rental and drive back to Milan.
Fotos: Luise Müller-Hofstede