The Val di Mello in Italy has become famous internationally over the past decade through the Melloblocco bouldering festival, which takes place every year in early May and brings together thousands of climbers from all over the world. But whether you like getting away from the crowds, hard sport climbing, hiking, trad multi-pitching, big walling or alpine climbing, chances are this beautiful valley has something for you.
The area commonly referred to as Val Di Mello usually refers to a group of 3 valleys:
• Val Masino, where you'll find most accommodation, shops, plenty of single pitch sport-climbing and bouldering, as well as a little multi-pitching and trad
• Valle dei Bagni, a small side valley of Val Masino, home to a huge bouldering area in the forest, as well as some family friendly hikes
• Val Di Mello, the much larger side valley of Val Masino, a natural reserve home to all forms of climbing of the highest quality
See this map of the area with Val Masino and Val Di Mello (Valle Dei Bagni is the unmarked valley opposite Val Di Mello). The Val Di Mello valley was made a natural reserve in 2009. The south side of the valley was given the status of 'complete reserve' ("riserva integrale"), with restricted access. Luckily for climbers, the rock on that side is of much lesser quality, chossy and often damp due to its little exposure to the sun.
The rest of the valley was given 'special status' ("zona speciale"). This area includes a few traditional rural villages as well as a few restaurants and accommodations submitted to strict sustainability regulations. There is a car park towards the start of the valley at which small buses also stop. Access by car is closed during the summer (park in San Martino) and paying the rest of the year (though a lot of Italians seem to ignore this, to the benefit of the carabineri when they make the journey up from the Sondrio valley). The area is a popular destination for Italian families, particularly from the Milan area (2hrs drive) and expect to see a lot of hikers on Italian bank holidays and over the summer. A lot of the hiking and bouldering is very family friendly, as well as the single pitch sport climbing in the Val Masino area.
Thanks in large part to the Melloblocco festival, the whole area is home to some world class bouldering. New areas are regularly developed with some world class problems. The downside can be that some of the less popular areas described in the guidebook can some years be overgrown and mossy if they haven't got the favours of the locals. Thanks to the opening of competition boulders every year and a strong local climbing community, the area is home to an unusual number of incredible problems in the 7B to 8B range. Also thanks to the work of said locals, there is a lifetime's worth of classics in the lower grades as well.
Bouldering in Val Masino is the most accessible, with many popular areas (Tarzan, Zocca, Remenno, Nosferatu, Tetto di Filorera, Campeggio). Bagni di Masino is more shaded, stays wet longer after the rain (which to be fair isn't saying much as the granite in other areas often seems to dry so fast as to make you wonder if you imagined the rain) and is therefore more popular in the warmer months. Val di Mello, given a reasonable walk in (30-60min), is home to the most scenic bouldering and a popular full day out area. On sunny days the bouldering areas of Il Francese, Proprieta Privata or Casciana Piana see dozens of friendly Italian boulderers pile up the pads and shout encouragement at each other. The popular areas mentioned here are often home to decent landings, many having been cleared during their development. Some boulders can be quite high, and the boulders higher up the slopes can have much rockier landings.
You can potentially boulder all year round, though the temperatures during the day in the summer can be sweltering and the winter sees snow. Autumn and spring are your best bets.
Bouldering must dos: • Tendine Dello Yetti (5C) • Idrojet (6A+) • L'Arco del Tetto (6B+) • Il Francese (6C+) • Titanic (6C+) • Spigolo Della Carrozza Di Rame (7A) • Il Sogno di Tarzan (7B) • Oscurita (7B+)
Val di Mello can't really be considered a sport climbing destination, but it does boast of some good, if popular, quality lines, which can make for a lighter day between big trad outings. Most of the "modern style" sport climbing to be found in the area is on "Sasso Remenno" and it's surroundings. Nicknamed "the biggest boulder in the world", Sasso Remenno is home to many well bolted long sport routes, mainly up to 6b+. Its steepest face is home to a dozen harder routes as well as some instructional aid routes. Scattered very close by are many huge boulders home to very short and powerful climbs. The area is popular with climbers from the Sondrio valley (20-30min drive) who come up for day trips, mainly at the weekends. The mountain sides, particularly in Val di Mello, are also home to single and multi-pitch sport climbs. However, the single pitch climbs are often isolated and best combined with an outing on a multi-pitch. As for the multi-pitch climbs, though some are bolted, that bolting is often run out and may require trad gear as well.
Sport climbing must dos: • Simon Templar (6a+) • Via del Bosca (6b) • Spana (7a+)
Trad climbing & Big walls
Though the granite of this part of Italy makes for wonderful bouldering and sport climbing, the historic climbing in the valleys is to be had on the big granite walls that surround them. Here there is a bit for everyone, including single pitch sport and trad, though most of these see little traffic due to the relative isolation of these pitches. Most areas only boast a handful of short routes. When it comes to long routes, link-ups and big walls, things are more interesting. From 7 pitch partly bolted routes to 14 pitch full trad routes and even alpine big walls, if an adventure is what you're looking for, then Val Di Mello has a lot to offer. Most sport big routes require trad gear, and most trad routes have in-situ belays as well as pegs on hard to protect cruxes. Don't be fooled though, the technical cruxes are rarely the hardest part of a climb, with off-width cracks, run out friction slabs and exposed 40m pitches making for a huge variety of challenges. Some routes require some aid climbing, though many classics do not.
The Versante Sud guidebooks offer good indication of the type and quality of protection, though it often pays off to discuss routes with fellow climbers as some of the topos can be out of date or misleading (belay stations in new locations, etc.). Most routes are well maintained, but having some spare tat or slings can be wise on some climbs. Some of the higher walls and summits can require sleeping in a refuge, make sure to check the guidebook (this concerns mainly the big walls, not the Val Di Mello multi-pitches). It is also worth bearing in mind that as with many big granite climbs, a sizeable rack of cams can be useful, including a few on the larger end of the spectrum (a couple of pitches on Kundalini and Luna Nascente can be quite tricky without a BD4 or above!
Trad climbing must dos: • Il Lamone e sue Placche (6a+ - 7 pitches, partly bolted) • Il Risveglio de Kundalini (HVS/E1 – 10 pitches) • Luna Nascente (E1/E2 or HVS/E1 by aiding the first 2 pitches – 9 pitches) • Oceano Irrazionale (E3/E4 – 14 pitches) • Transqualidiana (E4/E5 - 21 pitches)
Mountaineering, ski mountaineering and winter-climbing
The Masino-Bregaglia-Disgrazia alpine ridge offers many summits of varying difficulty. The area has a reputation for being "serious" at the grade, and the weather can be unpredictable.
Mountaineering must dos: • Pizzo Badile - SE wall (Molteni) D+ • Punta Sertori - S ridge (Marimonti) follow for the Badile AD+ • Pizzo Cengalo - S ridge (Vinci) TD • Torrione di Zocca - S wall (Parravicini) TD- • Punta Allievi - S edge (Gervasutti) TD+ • Punta Rasica - SW ridge (Bramani) D+
For those looking for a few other activities, Val Di Mello offers mony of the usual mountain activities. Mountain biking and hiking are popular in the area, the walk up Val di Mello all the way to Casera Pioda (3hrs) offering dreat views of the valley. More refreshing, a swim in the river will be for the braver of the lot. For more serious hiking, the Sentiero Roma is a 3 to 4 day walk in unforgettable and wild sceneries.
Top tips for Val Di Mello
Learn a little Italian – Many locals speak very little english. A few words to say hi, ask for directions and order food and drink will go a long way to making your stay more enjoyable!
Prepare for every weather – Like many alpine destinations, the temperature differential can be quite drastic! Climbing shirtless one day, frost on the tent during the night and a downpour the next morning aren't a rare occurrence. Luckily everything gets warm and dry within minutes of the sun appearing.
Do a food shop before entering the valley, or eat out – Only a few small shops are available in the different villages of Val Masino. These will do for snacks and occasional top-ups, but substantial shopping will quickly add up. Luckily in most pizzerias a pizza will only cost you 6-8euros
Have a donkey steak – The restaurant at the campsite Sasso Remenno is open to all and serves a delicious "pizzoccheri" (local buckwheat tagliatelle drowned in local cheese) followed by donkey steak and chips. Surprising and delicious.
Get some advice from Simone Pedeferri – Simone Pedeferri is the main man when it comes to route setting in the area. Head "problem setter" for Melloblocco, he is the first ascentionist of most 8A to 8B boulder problems in the valley. He has also opened and bolted many lines throughout the valley, as well as freed many of the hard classics. He owns "Bar Monica" in San Martino where he can often be found giving some advice to passing climbers. Kundaluna bar, just down the road, is also a favourite with climbers and a great place to get all the beta.
When do I go One form or other of climbing is possible almost all year round, though the rock-climbing season is generally considered to be from May to September. Nights still see sub-zero temperatures well into May, and summer days can see the temperature rise to levels at which granite slab climbing can become torture. The bouldering festival Melloblocco takes place every year in early May.
How do I get there Most people from the UK will fly to Milan (Easyjet fly from Luton to Malpenza) then take the train to Morbegno and a bus up to San Martino. This can take the better part of a day but will save renting a car you'll most likely not need during your stay. The train ride past the Como lake makes the ride worthwhile.
Where do I stay There are a number of hotels available around, mostly in San Martino, as well as a few campsites. The most popular is Camping Sasso Remenno, which triples in size during Melloblocco. Camping starts at 9euros ppn per night, but decreases the longer you stay, showers are paying, 2euros for 4min.
What's the food like Though there are many restaurants around, pasta and pizza are the most common options. A pizza will usually cost 6 to 9euros, while pasta is often the first half of a 2 or 3 course meal (round 15euros). Birra Moretti will often be your only choice of beer, and most italians will end a good meal with an expresso and/or a Limoncello. Hotel Miramonti does an all you can eat side salad buffet for those with dietary requirements.
Where can I buy food and gear As far as food shopping, small shops are available in Cataeggio and San Martino. There is also a climbing shop in San Martino. However, if you are looking to do a major shop your best bet is the Sondrio valley. If you take the train up, a few hundred meters from the Morbegno train station there is a major supermarket. If you drive, there is a major shopping area about 15min from Morbegno towards Sondrio with several supermarkets and outdoor stores.
• Bouldering: ◦ Mello Boulder - Versante Sud (2014) ◦ Campeggio – Cartina Boulder (2017) - A photo topo of the extended Campeggio area developped by locals in 2017, available from local shops
• Sport climbing: ◦ Valtellina Valchiavenna Engadina - Versante Sud (2011)
• Trad climbing: ◦ Val di Mello - Versante Sud (2014) – Covers only Val di Mello but offers more on the short end of the spectrum (single pitches and short multi-pitches) ◦ Nichts als Granite / Solo granito 1 - Versante Sud (2014) – Covers a wider area, including Val di Mello, but focused on bigger days out. ◦ Nel Regno del Granito, Vol. I & II - Andrea Gaddi (2014)
• Mountaineering: ◦ Scialpinismo Tra Lombardia e Grigioni - Versante Sud (2013)