Story: A family trip to the Lodano Valley

In the wood wide web

When the forest becomes a resource: 240 species of plants and 180 species of mushrooms. In the Lodano Valley, a branch of the Maggia Valley, the discoveries are endless.

Those lucky enough to accompany forest guide Luca Goldhorn on a hunt for rare birds, shiny bugs and edible plants will discover a whole new world. The Lodano Valley – with its wealth of history and protected nature – is an experience the whole family will enjoy.

THE CHARACTER

Luca Goldhorn, forest tour guide

Luca Goldhorn, forest tour guide
I’m still hoping to see the Alpine longhorn beetle one day – it has this stunning blue-grey shimmer.

The suggestion comes as a surprise: “Now touch the anthill!” There’s a moment of silence. Guide Luca Goldhorn knows just what his guests are thinking: “If you don’t want to touch it, then put a tissue down. Now give it a good sniff. It’ll stop an asthma attack or unblock your nose!” Formic acid is a natural remedy. One thing becomes clear moments into this hike through the Lodano Valley: this is no ordinary nature walk! And the kids definitely won’t be bored.

Despite being fairly unknown, the Lodano Valley is a breathtakingly beautiful and wild side valley of the Maggia Valley. It’s full of history, surprises and mysterious creatures that visitors only get to see if they’re in the right place at the right time. But not even the expert can be sure when or where that might be. 

THE FULL STORY


Valle di Lodano

“When I tell the kids to keep an eye out for the collared flycatcher in the chestnut grove, they’re up before you know it.” Luca Goldhorn, who was born in 1960 and is an expert on the Lodano Valley, tells us about Switzerland’s rarest breeding bird. To find the bird in its natural habitat – which includes the forest reserve above Lodano – you need to be able to recognise its call. Goldhorn plays its tweet on his smartphone. But the youngest hikers can’t control their excitement any longer – they’ve already gone into full explorer mode. This nature conservation area – whose beech forest have been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site – still has a wealth of surprises in store.

The zip lines saved around six kilometres. The logs had to be switched over several times.
Valle di Lodano

The 780-hectare forest reserve has been protected since 2010, and nature is free to develop without any human influence. A network of hiking routes gives visitors the opportunity to explore the area, enjoy the proven mental health benefits and learn from history. It’s important to remember that conservation isn’t a given: “They were cutting down the forest here well into the 1960s,” explains Luca Goldhorn. 

“The wood was a really important resource.” But what was it used for? Firewood? Construction? “Yes, but it wasn’t only that. Chestnut bark was used as a tanning agent in the leather industry and the demand was incredible.” Huge amounts of wood had to be transported away to the Maggia Valley over some practically impassable slopes. 

Valle di Lodano
Valle di Lodano

Just how they managed to do that is explained along the Sentiero paesaggistico (Lodano Cultural and Natural History Trail), an easy path which runs through the valley floor of Lodano: alongside the path, visitors come across the remains of some simple zip lines.

Lodano, Vallemaggia
Pro tip
In addition to the forest walk, there are four other official itineraries. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, there are others with overnight stays on the Alp da Canaa or crossing the Alp di Pii, Canaa and Tramón.
The excursion into the Lodano Valley starts at the infopoint. Information boards provide details about the nature and history of the valley and explain the historical use and current conservation projects, the forest reserve and the cultivated landscape.
240 plant and 180 mushroom species are found in the Lodano Valley. There are 45 types of bird including the collared flycatcher, boreal owl and hazel grouse. 22 mammals from the ibex to the marmot and the snow vole.

Charcoal was another important export from the valley. A number of charcoal production sites can still be found today, including some along the trail. A so-called ‘charcoal pile’ has also been set up to show visitors how charcoal was made by slow burning these mounds.

Valle di Lodano
Valle di Lodano

But the days of exploiting the forest reserve for industry are long gone. Nature has reclaimed its rightful place – just a quick glimpse of the swathes of green growing along the paths are proof Mother Nature is back in charge.

Valle di Lodano
Valle di Lodano

“There are between 15 and 20 different types of fern alone, and you can cook some of the leaves like spinach,” explains our guide. “But you can only use the young plants that are still curled up, and only in spring.” Ferns should only ever be cooked by experts, as they contain poison. Goldhorn originally worked as a cook before becoming a tour guide in 2007. He collects the offerings from the forest on his hikes up to the Alp da Canaa. After that, he prepares a delicious meal for his fellow walkers. 

The younger hikers, of course, are more interested in sweet berries. And Goldhorn shows them how to identify the wild strawberry: “It has little white flowers and the fruit hangs downwards.” Get it wrong and you’ll be eating the rather less tasty mock strawberry.

Valle di Lodano
Valle di Lodano

One of the walkers is bitten by a horsefly, so the guide reaches for his first-aid kit of natural remedies: “St John’s Wort is just as good as any chemical product” and the little yellow flowers are all over the forest floor.

Valle di Lodano
Valle di Lodano

Goldhorn is convinced that all plant life can communicate through the ‘wood wide web’ with its complex network of roots. The young beech tree seems to know to have a growth spurt when the large beech tree next to it starts to die. And how otherwise would beech trees know which year is a ‘mast seeding year’? In such years, they seem to instinctively produce particularly large numbers of beechnuts. And they do so at the same time all over the world. However, even our expert admits he hasn’t seen everything: “I’ve been looking for a Rosalia alpina – an Alpine longhorn beetle – all my life. They’re beautiful little things with a blue-grey shimmer. And I know that they live here in the Lodano Valley.” The fact that the little insect is classed as vulnerable is partly because they need old, rotting tree trunks as part of their reproductive cycle. “A healthy forest should be about 30% dead wood.” This is why it’s so important that humans should not be allowed to ‘clear up’ the area.

“Every metre of forest offers something new. Two hours turns into a whole day.”

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