a day in Vallemaggia: torba, grà and water mills

We are who we are because they were who they were

titlevalle-01Yesterday I was on the phone with my sister, discussing what to do with the kids today. I suggested taking them to the Maggia Valley to show them our roots, the place we were born. This valley starts just a few kilometres away from Locarno and its villages get more and more picturesque the further away you drive. My niece had a date in the afternoon so we decided to rediscover Moghegno, a village only about 20 minutes away from our house. I printed an itinerary called “Moghegno e la gra” from the net and off we went. Because we had the kids with us, and they are only 4 and 6 years old, we only did part of the walk, but we enjoyed it very much. I felt like a tourist, even though I knew all the places from many years ago.

We started the tour from the church and then walked along the narrow street to the centre of the village. Soon we saw the first religious painting on the wall of an old house, it was one by  the famous local painter Antonio Vanoni. Wherever you go, in the Maggia Valley, you will find a lot of religious paintings, small chapels or churches. I remember I wasn’t very impressed back at elementary school when our teacher kept telling us about them, but today I thought they all looked wonderful, even the ones that were in a very bad state. We soon came upon the first torba. A torba is a “wooden construction built on a plinth of masonry which usually housed the stable or storage. The wooden bit is isolated by a given number of stone ‘mushrooms’, composed of a stem (wood or masonry), frequently topped by a roughly rounded granite plate to hinder mice from reaching the wheat stall. The stall was the safest place to preserve different products such as rye and barley, protecting them from humidity and, as mentioned earlier, from rodents.” (Sentieri di Pietra) We soon came across a second one, tucked inbetween the more modern buildings. The two torbe in Moghegno were built around 1460, yes, they are over 500 years old! Impressive, isn’t it? valle7a We then walked to the upper part of the village where we looked for old wine cellars that were hidden under rocks. The ones we found are next to some old buildings, but if you go into the woods, you can sometimes find similar cellars that are literally built under rocks! Those were often used to store cheese too.

valle8aThe children were very happy to spot a big fountain further down the road. This particular one was build against the rocks and was quite large.
valle9aThen we discovered the grà, a small building that was once used to desiccate  chestnuts. Basically the construction has two floors, on the ground floor they lit a big fire and on the second floor, on a grate, they put the chestnuts. The fire stayed lit for about 25 days, when the chestnuts were all dry and ready to be stored all winter long by the poor people who lived in the valley. They then ate the chestnuts with milk, cream, or they made chestnut flour to bake bread. In Moghegno they still use the grà once a year, towards the end of October, and when it is working you can see the smoke coming out of the stone roof. By the way, I thought the walls of all these old stone buildings looked just amazing.
valle3aAfter the grà we entered the wood and soon came across a few buildings along a small mountain stream. They used to be water mills but nowadays only one is still in good condition as it has recently been restored.
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valle5aGoing back into the village we saw the old wash house, it was my favourite building. I could very well imagine how a hundred years ago the women of the village all came here to wash their clothes and gossip. What made this wash house even more pretty was the fact that there was water in it. And look at that beautiful stone fountain to its feet that was carved into one single massive rock!
valle11a valle10aAfter getting back to our car we picked up the picnic and went down to the Maggia river. We strolled on the suspended bridge for a while, it was really shakey (!), and then the kids had some fun throwing pebbles into the water. Our plan was to light a small fire and cook some sausages on it, but unfortunately it soon started to rain so we moved to the car and ate crisps and a sandwich.
valle2a valle6aAs we still had some time on our hands, my sister had the idea to drive into Coglio, the village we grew up in. It’s a very small village, with only about a 100 inhabitants. It was quite emotional for the two of us and we had many great stories to tell the kids. We took them to see the famous ossuary, I can’t believe we used to hide in there while playing with the other kids!
valle12a valle13a valle1aBefore going home we stopped for an ice cream in a grotto and decided to come back to rediscover another village of the valley as soon as possible.

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