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The Lago Bianco ring at Pian dei Cavalli

On the balcony of the Spluga Valley: from Starleggia to Pian dei Cavalli, Lago Bianco and Monte Bardan.
4:00 h


If you want to visit Pian dei Cavalli, the quickest access route is the trail that starts from the village of Starleggia. This choice not only saves our legs a few hundred meters of elevation gain but also allows for a beautiful loop hike back through the Starleggia Valley.

We drive up the steep slopes overlooking Campodolcino until we reach Starleggia (1565 m). Even from here, the panorama is superb, with the prominent peak of Pizzo Groppera towering directly in front of us, and Campodolcino down below.

We set out on foot, first crossing meadows laden with the blooms of red flowers, then entering a forest. The ascent ends near a chapel and a seventeenth-century bell tower, built on the edge of a rocky ledge, away from the main body of the San Sisto church so that the sound of the bell could reach the lower village.

In front of us lies the majestic Starleggia Valley, a verdant basin dotted with farmhouses and alpine huts, dominated by the pyramid-like massif of Pizzo Quadro. Not far off are the houses of San Sisto. Without reaching them, we search for the trail that ascends back into the sparse woods on the right, leading us among the scattered huts of Alpe Toiana first, then Alpe Zocana. As the panoramas expand (Stella and Groppera bow to the massifs of the newcomers, Pizzo dei Piani and Ferrè), horses, the animals that give the area its name, begin to appear around us.

We can cross Pian dei Cavalli in two ways: the first is to follow the path alongside the stream, at the foot of Monte Tignoso, allowing us to see the karst formations of the Buoi Valley; the other is to traverse the northern edge of the plain, following the route marked by informational panels. In both cases, we arrive at the splendid Lago Bianco cradled by the scree descending from Monte Bardan (those following the panels will need to veer sharply southwest to reach the lake and cross a kilometer-long wall).

In the clear waters of the lake, we can see the entire Spluga Valley reflected: still towering are Pizzo dei Piani and Pizzo Ferrè, while the Suretta group, Emet, and Groppera overlook from above the grassy slopes enclosing the lake.

For those seeking a bit more challenge, from Lago Bianco, one can ascend to the 2812 meters of Monte Bardan. To reach the broad ridge crest, we take the trail that veers away from the lake in a southwest direction. From the 2600 meters elevation, finally reaching the Italo-Swiss border, the ascent becomes monotonous; the ridge is long, wide, and with a too gentle slope. Then, suddenly, there it is: spacious, welcoming, a high-altitude football field; on the edge, a small cairn with a modest wooden cross. A little further on, still on this wide high-altitude plateau, is the Cima di Barna (2862 m).

The descent, along the same path, brings us back to Lago Bianco.

From Lago Bianco, we continue the loop by taking the trail that, on a slight incline, winds its way to a col. Here begins the descent into the Starleggia Valley: the path descends steeply among rhododendron bushes, while below, various alpine pastures (Gusone, Morone, San Sisto) present themselves, neatly arranged in the verdant basin. And once there, the elderly woman will always know how to convince us to buy her local cheese.

With our backpacks considerably heavier, we reach San Sisto where we reconnect with the trail from earlier in the day, and shortly thereafter, we are back in Starleggia.






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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