Bormio is a town located in the Alpine province of Sondrio in northern Italy's Lombardy region. It is a beautiful medieval town surrounded by the amazing landscape of Stelvio National Park and offers excellent ski slopes, hiking trails, and thermal baths.
Situated at the foot of four mountain passes, Bormio is steeped in history as both a post town and and regional hub. Bormio, whose name derives from the old Germanic word warm (warm) which described the nature of the spring water found there, dates back to Roman times. It is said that Pliny the Elder discovered the naturally heated springs near the town (as evidenced by the Pliny Fountain, not far from Bagni Nuovi), and Bormio was the last town before the Roman road to northern Europe started up the Stelvio Pass. Its location as the last stop before the pass helped it prosper in the Middle Ages and it became a major trading town within the Swiss canton of Graubunden, to which it belonged at the time. Later, during the Great War, battles were fought in the valleys surrounding Bormio, as Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire vied for control of the area's critical overland mountain passes.
Although nowadays Bormio is most well-known as a ski resort, it has retained its old world charm, local traditions, and alpine pastoral heritage. In the winter the town is overrun with ski-happy tourists, but the town's idyllic picturesque setting among the mountains and rich history make it one of Italy's unspoilt - and largely undiscovered - hidden gems.
Bormio is located in the geographic area known as Valtellina , or "the Magnificent Land". Lower Valtellina extends from the northeast corner of Lake Como up to Tirano, while Upper Valtellina extends up from Tirano and is comprised Valdisotto, Bormio, Valdidentro, and Valfurva.
Trenord, Trenitalia's regional operator in Lombardy, provides service from Milan and Lecco to lower Valtellina as far as Tirano. To continue to Bormio, one must continue with the local bus operated by Perego. The bus station can be found at the opposite end of the subway at the train station in Tirano. Traveling to Bormio from Milan in this way takes on average up to four hours, although some may find the journey pleasant as the train follows the shore of Lake Como before heading east up into the steep and breathtaking mountains of Valtellina.
Swiss Federal Railways also provides access to Tirano from St. Moritz via the Bernina Express, one of two World Hertiage Railways which provides breathtaking views of the Swiss Alps and Bernina Pass.
Traveling to Bormio by car is certainly preferable as it allows you to better access the thermal spas, skiing areas, and other outdoor attractions in the area around Bormio. However, if you are traveling from Milan the journey by car is not much shorter than traveling by train. Additionally, with the winter season comes hordes of ski enthusiasts, which creates a good deal of traffic and closes some roads that lead to Bormio.
There are several ways to travel to Bormio by car:
From Milan - Take the A51 towards Lecco and continue on SS38, following signs for Sondrio/Tirano/Bormio.
From Brescia - Take the SS510 north toward Breno/Edolo. At Edolo, take the SS42 to Ponte di Legno; at Ponte di Legno take the SS300 to Santa Caterina Valfurva/Bormio. Note that in the winter this route is closed due to heavy snowfall in the Passo di Gavia between Ponte di Legno and Santa Caterina Valfurva.
From Trentino Alto Adige/Bolzano - Bormio can be reached from Bolzano via the SS38, which takes you over the Stelvio Pass. NOTE that the Stelvio Pass is the highest pass in Europe and with 75 hairpin turns should only be attempted by experienced drivers. Due to heavy snowfall, the Stelvio Pass is also closed during the winter.
From St. Moritz, Switzerland - Take Route 29 south through the Bernina Pass to Tirano, then continue north to Bormio along the SS38.
Everything within the town - including the ski slopes - is within walking distance. To access the natural areas, other ski areas, and thermal baths around Bormio, it is best to travel by car. In the winter, the town provides a free local bus that travels back and forth from the slopes along various routes, although these distances are easily walkable. Perego also provides bus service to Tirano and the neighboring ski towns of Santa Caterina and Livigno.
The town - A centre of travel and commerce since Roman times, Bormio is steeped in history. A simple stroll around town gives a sense of its history - medieval frescoes, ancient carved wooden doors, and rustic fountains that still provide cool, refreshing mountain spring water (drink it!!) abound here, all surrounded by the steep, beautiful Alps. Bormio is truly picturesque, and a walk along the quiet backstreets will transport you back to days gone by.
Civic Museum of Bormio - Located in the old town hall, the museum features a variety of historical artifacts from medieval times in Bormio up to the Great War. Don't miss the basement exhibit, which features an interesting and eclectic selection of tools and carriages and documents the local agricultural and skiing history. Museo Civico di Bormio, Via Buon Consiglio 25, Bormio, ☎ +39 342 912 236, . M-F 9-12, 3-7. €7. edit
Mineralogical and Natural Museum of Bormio - A collection of geological specimens from both the local area and around the world that tells the geological history of the formation of the Alps. Entire museum collection assembled by local amateur geologist Edy Romani. More information at the Bormio Tourist Office. * Mineralogical and Natural Museum of Bormio, via Ortegara 2. edit
Pasquale - Prior to the Easter holiday, the men of each of the town's five districts spend weeks preparing elaborate religiously-themed floats. On Easter Sunday all the town residents dress up in traditional costume and the women and children pass out flowers while the men carry the floats in procession to the Kuerc or town square. There a winner is chosen and much celebration follows. Pasquale is the biggest event of the year in Bormio - the celebrations are great fun and the atmosphere hearkens back to bygone times.
Bormiadi - A sort of local Olympics held by teams composed of residents of Bormio and its surrounding villages. The Bormiadi are taken very seriously by some locals, and much fun and celebration surrounds the competition. Held in October; inquire at the tourist office regarding event venues and times.
Relax in the bagni (thermal baths) - Bormio has been renown since Roman times for its thermal baths and their quality of water. There are two thermal baths in Bormio, Bagni Vecchi ("Old Baths") and Bagni Nuovi ("New Baths") . Each bath features a variety of saunas, steam rooms, aqua massages, and outdoor pools with breathtaking scenery, while Bagni Vecchi features a pool in an ancient Roman tunnel. Entry to either thermal bath costs about €70 and is well worth the price, especially after a long day of hiking or skiing. In the high season after Christmas, make sure to call and make an appointment several days in advance as the baths are quite crowded at this time.
Downhill skiing - With over 50 km of slopes and 15 lifts/cable cars, Bormio is a skier's paradise. Vallecetta, the main skiing mountain that towers over Bormio, is home to the Audi FIS Ski World Cup and features the longest vertical altitude drop in Italy, 3012m to 1225m. The Stelvio Slope, which goes from Ciuk to Bormio, has been called the most challenging slope in the world by some professional skiers. The neighboring mountain of San Columbano also offers a variety of downhill slopes and cross-country trails, and is less crowded and cheaper than Vallecetta during the high season. A day lift ticket during the high season will run you about €40 at Vallecetta and €27 at San Columbano. All ski gear can be rented from outfitters at the foot of Vallecetta for about €20 per day. The neighboring village of Santa Caterina Valfurva, a mere 15 minutes' drive away, also offers 35 km of slopes and 10 lifts. A day lift ticket during the high season costs €40.
Cross-country skiing - Unfortunately, Bormio does not provide many opportunities for cross-country skiing. Past the lift at the foot of Vallecetta that goes to Bormio 2000 there is a track, but it is mainly an open field. Cross-country enthusiasts are better off taking the bus or driving to Santa Caterina Valfurva, where the ski area maintains 10 km of trails. Daily passes are €7 and all gear can be rented from the ski area for €15-20 per day.
Ice Skating - Bormio has a skating rink which features open skating during the afternoons and evenings in the high season. €6 for entry and €3 for skate rental. Palaghiaccio, via Manzoni, ☎ +39 342 903 600. edit
Curling - Curling is a great way for groups or families to spend a morning or afternoon. €25 per morning session, €40 for the afternoon, and €50 for the evening; divided among a group, this is a relatively inexpensive activity in Bormio. By reservation only. Palaghiaccio, via Manzoni, ☎ +39 342 901 482, . edit
Snowshoeing - Until recently, snowshoeing was nonexistent in Bormio or seen as something of a tourist sport. However, in recent years snowshoeing has become popular thanks to the hundreds of kilometers of trails in Stelvio National Park and Bormio/Santa Caterina's location at the foot of the park. Snowshoes can be rented from local outfitters for €6 a day with discounted prices for extended rental. For information on Stelvio trails, visit the Bormio Tourist Office, via Roma 131/b, ☎ +39 342 903 300, . edit
Dogsledding - Dogsledding is available in both the summer and winter seasons (although in summer it appears to be more like hiking while tethered to two sled dogs) in the village of Arnoga in Valdidentro, about halfway between Bormio and Livigno. On winter sledding excursions trained dogsledders teach you how to "mush" or drive a sled led by dogs. Excursions are by appointment only. Husky Village, Strada Decauville, Loc. Arnoga, 23038 Valdidentro (Half hour drive east from Bormio on SS301), ☎ +39 347 7960 309, . edit
Horse riding - Only one possibility for horse riding in Bormio. Appears only lessons and short local excursions available. Call Silvia for more info. Wild Horse Bormio, ☎ +39 335 6451 991 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . edit
Cycling - Both mountain and road cycling enthusiasts will be satisfied by the opportunities available in and around Bormio. For mountain cyclists, Vallecetta is open in the summer, and the trails in the Stelvio National Park will satisfy even the hardiest of cyclists. Road cyclists can challenge themselves on any of the three mountain passes surrounding Bormio: the Passo di Foscagno, between Livigno and Bormio; the Passo di Gavia, between Santa Caterina and Ponte di Legno; and the Passo di Stelvio between Bolzano and Bormio, which is part of the Giro d'Italia every other year. For more information, contact the Bormio Tourist office, via Roma 131/b, ☎ +39 342 903 300, . edit
Hiking - Hiking is possible in all seasons and there are trails for all hiking abilities. All trails are in the Stelvio National Park and are clearly marked by wooden signs indicating the time it takes to hike to the next destination, not the distance. Some trails can be quite arduous for inexperienced hikers, so always make sure you are adequately prepared for the trail, and don't forget to bring a camera! Trail maps and information can be found at the Bormio Tourist office, via Roma 131/b, ☎ +39 342 903 300, . edit
Golf - Bormio Golf Club maintains a 9-hole course outside of town. Challenging fairways and rough in a picturesque alpine setting. Also features a club restaurant, Buca 19. Closed in winter. Bormio Golf Club, via Guistizia, ☎ +39 0342 910730, . Green fee €25 during low season, €30/40 during high season (July/August). edit
Due to the chilly alpine climate, local Valtellina fare is quite hearty. It is a bit much for a summer lunch, but after a long day of skiing the local cuisine can hit the spot. Some of the local specialties include:
Bresaola - Beef or horsemeat that has been soaked in wine and dry cured. A delicious common appetizer, also enjoyed on sandwiches.
Local cheeses - The most common are bitto and casera, both locally-porduced hard cheeses that are mild and buttery in flavor and used in local dishes.
Sciatt - Balls of bitto or casera dredged in a grappa batter and deep fried to a golden brown. Decadently delicious.
Pizzocheri - A local buckwheat pasta served with bitto, potatoes, and Savoy cabbage. A hearty dish that warms the soul. Make sure the pizzocheri are made fresh.
In addition to the multitude cafés, paninotecas, and pizzerias, Bormio offers a variety of restaurants to accommodate all budgets. Most major hotels in town also host their own restaurant.
Almost all restaurants serve only traditional local and Italian fare.
Bagni Nuovi and Bagni Vecchi - Both thermal spas host their own hotel with cafés and restaurants. There is a small osteria in Bagni Vecchi while Bagni Nuovi's restaurant is situated in its magnificent ballroom and offers over 100 varieties of wine. Bagni di Bormio, via Bagni Nuovi 7, ☎ +39 342 910131, . €€€€. edit
Al Filò - Fresh traditional local and Italian fare made with local ingredients. A variety of succulent dishes and an excellent wine selection. Al Filò, via Dante 6, ☎ +39 342 901732, . €€€. edit
Ristorante Enoteca Guanella - Outstanding traditional Piemontese fare. Select wine from the wine list or choose from the adjoining wine shop for a €10 corkage fee. Staff are professional and knowledgeable and the food is magnificent. Ristorante Enoteca Guanella, via Roma 30, ☎ +39 342 910 1120, . €€. edit
Vecchia Combo - The best place in town to enjoy local specialties. Fresh homemade sciatt and pizzocheri in an Old World ambiance. Space is limited, so it is necessary to make a reservation in advance. Ristorante Bar Vecchia Combo, Piazza Santuario 4, ☎ +39 342 901 568. €€. edit
Heaven 3000 - In addition to the ski lift, the summit of Vallecetta hosts a small bar and restaurant serving local specialties. The food is good but the view is to die for, especially in winter. Drive or take the lift to Bormio 2000 to catch the cable car to 3000. Or just take the lift up from Bormio and ski back to town! Heaven 3000, Bormio 3000, ☎ +39 327 441 2936, . €€. edit
Sunrise Ristorante Pizzeria - Best place in town for pizza. Also serves traditional local and Italian dishes. Sunrise Ristorante Pizzeria, via Don Peccedi 24, ☎ +39 328 768 9315. €. edit
Bar Nuovo - Café with excellent sandwiches. Bar Nuovo, via Milano, near the traffic light. €. edit
Bar Adalgisa - A total dive of a bar, yet the sciatt are the best in Upper Valtellina. Order only the sciatt. Bar Adalgisa, via Milano 90. €. edit
Lower Valtellina is home to a number of vineyards that produce several high quality and delicious wines, particularly reds. Due to the altitude and cooler climate, Valtellina wines tend to be less sweet and slightly more acidic than wines from other regions of Italy, but still full-bodied and flavorful. Nino Negri is a local vineyard that produces some of the best wines of Valtellina. Most Valtellina wines are made with Nebbiolo grapes. Some popular varieties include:
Sassella - Acidic yet sweet. Aged about 18-22 months in oak casks.
Sfursat - Milder and less sweet than Sassella. Aged about 18-24 months in oak casks.
Mazer - Delightfully full bodied and smooth. Aged for about 38 months in oak barrels.
Some of the finest grappa, a strong liquor made from fermented grape skins, is produced in Valtellina. Braulio and Nino Negri are two local producers among many who produce clean tasting, high quality grappa. Drink with caution, as the alcohol content of grappa is usually between 40-50%. It is advised that grappa be consumed as a small digestive after meals; drinking large quantities out of this context will elicit strange looks from locals.
Braulio is the local digestive bitter produced from alpine herbs that has been made in Bormio since 1875. To this day the recipe remains a family secret, with only four of the 13 herbal ingredients known even to Braulio employees.
Braulio is a complex tasting digestive that tastes similar to cough syrup to the uninitiated -- it is certainly something of an acquired taste. However, give it time and you will appreciate the subtle bitterness of the alpine herbs underneath the beverage's sweetness. Braulio is famous throughout Italy, and a trip to Bormio would not be complete without an after-meal Braulio!
It should be noted is that on some summer evenings, Braulio will open its cellars and provide free tours of the distilling facility explaining how the digestive is made. The tour is informative and the cellars are impressive; however, the tour is only given in Italian. Check in at Bormio's tourist office in the summer to see if the cellars are open.
Braulio also brews a small variety of beers such as a local hefeweisen, lager, and a buckwheat beer; all of these can be purchased in bottles from local supermarkets as well as on tap in Bar Braulio.
Braulio also maintains a shop and bar above its distillery.
A common occurrence throughout Italy in the early evening, an aperitive is the perfect day to round off a balmy summer day or unwind après-ski. All bars provide aperitive in the evening, although in the spring and fall (low season) many establishments close due to lack of business. The best place to go for aperitive in Bormio is certainly Bar Bormio - the bartenders are excellent and a good selection of snacks is provided.
For a small town, Bormio has a decent selection of bars in addition to ubiquitous cafés. Bars are open during the high season, but may close down in the off season.
Bar Bormio - Hands down best bar for aperitivo thanks to the excellent appetizers. Gets crowded in the high season so get there early to get a table. Bar Bormio, via Roma 79. €7 for aperitive including unlimited appetizers. edit
Bar Braulio - The eponymous bar of the locally produced digestive. An excellent selection of grappa and local beer on tap. Visit the shop next door to take home that special bottle of grappa. Braulio, via Roma 27, ☎ +39 342 903 373, . edit
Bar Clem - Watering hole popular with the local youth. 8 different beers on tap. Always a good crowd of people. Stay out of the corner of the bar labeled "Trepé". Bar Clem, via Fiera and via dei Molini. edit
Oliver - Spacious bar that sometimes has live music. Strange for Italy, a variety of Italian craft beers of tap. Oliver, Off via dei Molini below the pedestrian bridge. edit
Bar Zeta - Trendy bar a stone's throw from the foot of Vallecetta's slopes. A place to see and be seen in the high season. Bar Zeta, via Funivie. edit
Shangri La - Closest thing to a night club in Bormio. Seems to be popular with the very young. The elder gentleman behind the bar is a master bartender, however. Shangri La, via Roma. edit