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The old town in Chiavenna (in Lombardy) has preserved a significant part of its medieval character, with narrow streets, palazzos and squares with fountains, towers and historic churches and also has some interesting bars and restaurants that occupy ancient caves called crotti and carved in the soft rock.
Explore Chiavenna: tourism and travel guide
The most prestigious historic monument in Chiavenna is the Collegiate Church of Saint Lawrence and its associated museum so that is where we suggest you start your visit...
Collegiate Church of Saint Lawrence
The church was probably founded in the 5th century. Over the centuries it was expanded and renovated several times but it still preserves its romanesque plan. The associated arcade was built in the late 17th century to mark the cemetery and to create a space for processions.
Overlooking the collegiate church is the 16th century bell tower while above the lintel of the portal you can see the emblem of Chiavenna City.
From the porch you enter the baptistry. The font inside the baptistry was built in 1156 from a single block of soapstone and is decorated with a relief that describes the ceremony of Holy Saturday.
The Treasury Museum has a vast collection of vestments and church ornaments, wooden statues from the 15th and 16th century, a rare musical code of the 11th century and the so-called “Peace of Chiavenna”, covered gospels of the 11th-12th century, embossed in gold filigree, gemstones, pearls and enamel and a masterpiece of medieval jewellery.
Other Chiavenna highlights
After exloring the collegiate church continue along Via Picchi to reach the Piazza Castello which was built in 1477 - and destroyed fifty years later. It was only rebuilt in 1930, saving the outer walls with the two towers.
To the left of the palace, the Via Quadrio takes you to the archaeological botanist park called "Paradise Park", which includes the hills of Paradise and the Belvedere. There are sections for both archaeology and botany, and the so-called "Caruga".
The 'Caruga' is an ancient soapstone quarry, used to produce 'Laveggi' (pots) and to create architectural elements such as portals, adorned with inscriptions and coats of arms, similar to that of the Palazzo Salis (a 17th century building in Dolzino Street.
More local highlights
Another park in Chiavenna is called the 'Marmitte dei Giganti' ["Pots of the Giants"] and here you can see evidence of thousands of years of erosion by ancient glaciers, with smooth rocks, furrows, basins, and especially the "Giant Pots", which are deep wells formed more than 10,000 years ago by the water from glaciers.
The area has a landscape of a particular beauty and contains a considerable variety of vegetation with numerous easily walkable paths and trails that pass through the natural reserve. Another natural highlight near Chiavenna are the waterfalls of the Acqua Fraggia in the village of Prosto di Piuro.
Also worth visiting is the Vertemate Palace, a 16th century villa rich in frescoes and inlaid woodwork which is now a Civic Museum and, in Borgonuovo, the local museum exhibits some historical artefacts from this ancient and flourishing village.
Eating out in Chiavenna: discover the crotti!
Your long walk through Chiavenna should end with a gastronomic break! The town can certainly be considered a destination for lovers of good food.
Chiavenna is famous for its “Crotti”, which are special cellars dug into the deposits of ancient landslides and leaning against fallen boulders, known as “Sorei”. The peculiarity of these cellars is the constant temperature, about eight degrees Celsius throughout the year.
The "Crotti" are not just basements or storage of goods, but real meeting places and gourmet restaurants.
Local specialities to try include the chestnut dumplings cooked in chicken broth, and polenta in all its variants; or the so-called "rustiment de Mees", a "poor" dish, consisting of cold “polenta”, boiled potatoes, vegetables and cubes of cheese and salami.
There is also a soup of cornmeal served with hot milk called "melònz" or "zèmola" and, finally, also worthy of consideration are the "strozzaprevet" [“Strangle-priest”], the "gnoch de pan", the unique soup of black cherries, and game cooked with the “piòta in beola”.
Among the cheeses try the magnòca, a low-fat cheese that only needs a quick maturing and is used to prepare dishes such as the so-called “polenta ‘taragna’.
See also history of Chiavenna
Where is Chiavenna?
You can find more local travel ideas in the Lombardy guide.