Meet your trip leader at the Milan, Italy, Malpensa (MXP) airport at 2pm. A private transfer from Malpensa to Bellagio is provided. Bellagio is one of the most charming villages of Lake Como, or Lago di Como, in the Italian Lake District. Located in the middle of the ancient glacier lake, the village provides amazing views of both branches of the Y-shaped lake and the Prealps. The Mediterranean climate is perfect for bougainvillea, olive and lemon trees, as well as elegant lakeside gardens and villas. After checking into our lakeside hotel, we will have a gentle walk through the historic center of Bellagio and the small fishing village of Pescallo before making our way to the 19th-century Villa Melzi Botanical Garden. Enjoy a welcome dinner and discover the ancient recipes of the lake. We spend the next three nights in Bellagio at a lovingly restored 17th-century lakefront hotel. Dinner included.
Walking: 2 hours.
This morning we board a ferry for a short ride to Varenna, a picturesque village with brightly painted houses and a medieval castle. Our hike to Bellano follows the historic Pilgrim Path, which links the Alps to Milan. Along the way, we take time to admire the Santi Nazaro e Celso, a Romanesque church built in 1348 AD with beautiful rose windows and frescoes of the Lombard School. After lunch we return to Bellagio by ferry. The late afternoon is free time to relax or take a swim in the lake. Tonight we head to a restaurant in the forest to taste the typical food of the mountains surrounding the lake, such as pizzoccheri and toc, a polenta and cheese dish. All meals included.
Hiking: 5 miles, 4.5 hours; elevation gain/loss: 1,280'.
We begin our day at the Madonna del Ghisallo Church, home of the patron saint of cyclists and a huge collection of historic cycling memorabilia. We then transfer to the base of Mount San Primo and begin hiking through a beech forest and past an alpine farm that produces local milk and butter. We are soon rewarded with panoramic views of the rugged limestone cliffs of the Grigne Mountains. Upon reaching the peak of Mount San Primo (5570'), we admire the views of Lake Como. Weather permitting, we might see the sparkle of the tallest buildings of Milan to the west. Our afternoon highlight is a tasting of wines and cheeses of the Valtellina Valley, which is tomorrow's destination. Dinner is on your own tonight, providing the opportunity to experience the local fish, risotto, osso buco or other specialties. Breakfast and lunch included.
Hiking 8 miles, 6 hours; elevation gain/loss: 1,300'/2,300'.
After a short ferry ride on the lake, we drive to the Italian town of Tirano to begin our train journey. The Bernina Express is the highest rail line in Europe and is arguably one of the most beautiful rail trips in the world. Our journey starts at Poschiavo Lake, passing through tunnels and crossing suspension bridges before arriving at the Piz Palu Glacier. We continue, crossing over the Bernina Pass at 7600' and reach the famous resort town of St. Moritz, Switzerland. St. Moritz owes its original fame to its therapeutic springs which were visited by guests as early as the Middle Ages. The Upper Engadin Valley, with approximately 90 mountain lakes and dramatic glacier-capped mountains, is a mecca for hikers and climbers. This afternoon we enjoy a moderate hike up to the fabulous Lej da Staz (Lake Staz). We overnight in St. Moritz the next three nights. All meals included.
Hiking: 2 miles, 2 hours; elevation gain/loss: 650'; vehicle transfers: 1 hour 45 minutes; train transfer: 2 hours 15 minutes.
We hike in the footsteps of painter Giovanni Segantini, known as the Van Gogh of the Alps. Departing from our hotel, we hike to Alp Suvretta in the Bernina Range. An opening in the peaks will reveal some of the most legendary sights in the history of mountaineering including the Piz Bernina and the Biancograt Ridge. In the valley below, the colors of the lakes and ice melt into one as we look out over four alpine Engadin lakes. Returning to St. Moritz this afternoon, we visit the museum dedicated to Giavanni Segantini to view his masterpieces. Tonight's dinner is on your own; our guide will suggest restaurants for a hearty meal of traditional Swiss mountain specialties such as spätzle, cheese fondue or Rösti und Spiegel mit Käse gratiniert (Swiss potato dish with sunny-side up eggs and cheese). Italian influences abound and the pizza or gnocchi will not disappoint. Breakfast and lunch included.
Hiking: 5 miles, 5.5 hours; elevation gain/loss: 1,968'.
A transfer by public bus brings us to Pontresina (5,922'), the gateway to Roseg Valley, one of the most beautiful valleys of the Alps. We hike beside the Rosegbach River past European larch, stone pine and mountain pine to the Hotel Roseg Gletscher (6,562'). In the distance, the first glaciers of the Bernina group reveal themselves: the Caputschin, the Piz Roseg and Piz Glousciant. From the hotel we hike towards the Chamanna Tschierva Mountain Hut (8,441'), enjoying exquisite views in in all directions. Biancograt, the legendary ice ridge to the summit of Bernina, and a sea of 13,000' snowcapped mountains provide a backdrop for our picnic lunch. Our hike returns us to the Hotel Roseg Gletscher, and from here we take a one-hour horse-drawn carriage ride down the valley to Pontresina. We take the train or bus back to St. Moritz in time for dinner. All meals included.
Hiking: 11 miles, 6 - 7 hours; elevation gain/loss: 1,879'/2,520'; horse and carriage ride: 1 hour.
Bidding farewell to Switzerland, we depart for Milan. Our scenic, sometimes winding drive features the 5,955' Maloja Pass, ancient stone villages and green hillsides. We stop at the Cascate dell'Acqua Fraggia, an incredible 328' waterfall that so impressed Leonardo da Vinci, he commented on it in his "Codex Atlanticus." We continue to the small, incredibly scenic mountain town of Chiavenna. Walking the cobblestone streets that border the Mera River, we reach the Paradiso Botanical Archaeological Park and explore the open air gardens and thousand-year-old fortress at the summit of the hill. Following lunch in a grotto (cave) that's been converted into a restaurant, we continue to Milan. Tonight we have a celebratory dinner and raise a toast to our adventure and newfound friends. All meals included.
Walking: 4 miles, 3 hours; transfers: 3.5 hours.
After breakfast, transfer on your own to Milan's Malpensa or Linate airport, or continue your travels in Italy. Arrivederci! Breakfast included.