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The Cardinello Path (or Via Mala)

Carved into the rock of a narrow gorge, the Cardinello Path is one of the oldest and most spectacular stretches of the Via Spluga.


Perhaps already used in Roman times, the Cardinello Path is a trail carved into the rock that gradually ascends the Liro gorge between Isola di Madesimo and Montespluga. It's a lower variant of the Via Spluga (opposite to the higher variant of the Andossi, opened in the 1200s), and it should be imagined with a certain back-and-forth of people and goods — not just hikers as today.

One of the most notable moments in the history of the Cardinello Path was December 1800 when the MacDonald Division of the Napoleonic army descended into Italy through this gorge. 15,000 men and soldiers, along with animals and armaments, traversed a path barely over a meter wide, in the midst of winter: you can imagine how many people (and animals) may have perished, struck by avalanches or accidentally pushed into the gorge — hence the second name of the path, "Via Mala".

We start from Isola di Madesimo (1268m). You might wonder, "Island of what?": the original name was "Isolato".

Staying on the right side of the valley, we ascend through meadows to Torni and further up where the valley bends sharply to the right. Here the gorge begins to narrow, and the path becomes more airy and spectacular with each step, without ever becoming dangerous. It resembles an older and more alpine version of the famous Tracciolino Path.

When we see the retaining wall of the Montespluga dam, we are almost at the end of the Via Mala. We cross over the gorge and emerge onto the Andossi, where we can reach the Stuetta Refuge (1870m, 2.15 hours from Isola) or the village of Montespluga.

For the descent, we retrace the Cardinello Path, then at a fork about halfway through the gorge, we leave the Cardinello Path, descend to the bottom of the gorge, and move to the opposite side of the valley. We return to Isola (2 hours) on a beautiful trail, passing through the alpine villages of Soste, Rasdeglia, and Mottaletta.






The mountains are a dangerous environment: make sure you always have the right equipment — hiking or trail shoes, warm clothes and waterproofs in case of unexpected changes in weather conditions, a small emergency kit.


I've made an Amazon "shopping note" to make sure you have everything — ps if you buy from these links, 3% goes to support the development and maintenance of Hikes of the World 🙏.


  • Breathable t-shirt ( example )

  • Sweatshirt, fleece, or light jacket

  • Waterproof windbreaker (for example: men / women )

  • Gloves and hat (you never know)

  • Backpack with rain cover

  • Trekking poles (not essential, but they help to unload the weight of the backpack and ease the impact on the joints)

  • Trekking or trail running shoes (in great vogue lately because they are lightweight. These Salomon ones - for men and women - are an excellent entry-level, preferably Gore-Tex)

  • For via ferratas: complete via ferrata kit (I have this one , very light and compact, with this harness and helmet — or you can buy complete kits ). Buy in store to receive ad hoc support

  • To sleep a night in a refuge: sheet or light sleeping bag

  • Water bottle or thermos

  • Light crampons if you think you will find ice or snow on the route

  • Power bank or cell phone charger

  • Camera

  • Drone, for those who love to "fly" (used in moderation and at a distance from other people. I have had the DJI Mini 2 for over 2 years and have found myself very happy with it. The DJI Mini 3 also allows you to take vertical photographs)

  • Small emergency kit ( example )

  • Sun cream (essential)

  • Sunglasses


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