Just past the top of the Toce Falls in a flat green meadow is the tiny town of Frua, essentially nothing more than a collection of ancient wood and stone houses.

The road to Frua

We walked among them, admiring the stonework even though much of it was in disrepair.

Definitely a fixer-upper...but I like it

One ancient stone home, with three levels of green-shuttered windows, had an modern-day TV satellite attached to the old wall, looking very out of place.

A young fellow was there working on his recently purchased house. Feeling like we were very far away and high into the Alps, somehow it seemed incongruous to find he spoke perfect English. School abroad, he explained.

What a view

We paused at a water spout pouring into a large rectangle stone fountain, drinking in the pure cold water with our hands. Pointy mountain pinnacles painted a backdrop to the blue sky behind us.

This was the end of the Val di Formazza; the road petered out a couple of miles further up, at the town of Riale. Nestled at the foot of another rise of mountains, it looked very much like a village of Swiss chalets — not surprising, since not far off was the pass that connects Italy to Switzerland.

The hamlet of Riale

We noted the stone-slabbed roofs, which were prevalent throughout this entire area. A small church, la chiesetta, sat on a little hill overlooking the hamlet.

End of the road

The end of the road and the end of the day — Gianni pointed the car back in the direction we had come and we wound our way back down the mountains, through the valleys, and past the alpine lakes. All this sight-seeing was thrilling, but it was time for a break.


La Cascata del Toce — Toce Falls

More towns clicked off: Passo, Chiesa, Valdo, Formazza.

Gianni pointed out how the signs stated not only the current Italian names of the towns, but below those were also posted the old Swiss/German names.

It was entertaining comparing the two: Valdo/Wald, Chiesa/Andermatt, Canza/Frutwald, Grovella/Gurfelu, San Michele/Tuffald. During the Middle Ages, this Val Formazza was settled by German-speaking Walsers. As evidenced by the double-named signs, the Walser-German dialect is still spoken here.

Passing through a long tunnel, we emerged to more picturesque alpine vistas dotted with tiny glacial lakes and finally, the crowning jewel of this day’s excursion: La Cascata del Toce (Toce Falls).

This waterfall, purportedly the second highest in Italy, lies in the hamlet of Frua. Since the water flow is now regulated for hydroelectricity, the falls are only at full capacity at certain times. This time wasn’t one of them. No matter, they were still beautiful.

As we approached the falls, we pulled over beside a meadow below them to look up. Gianni and I wandered further in to get a better vantage point. Then, back in the car, we continued up the remaining switchbacked road to the top.

La Cascata del Toce -- Toce Falls

Gianni at the bottom of the falls...and that shirt

A wooden viewing platform reached out over the lip of the falls providing a gasping view of the frothy water that plummeted down the rugged rock cliff and into the Toce River below. The wind whipped our faces and hair while we took turns taking pictures of each other.

Me at the end of the wooden platform overlooking the falls

View from the top of the falls

A hotel with restaurant and cafe’ (built in 1863 for the convenience of alpine hikers) stood on the other side of the bridge.

Mom making sure no one slips

Mom and Dad -- ready for a refreshment

Just to the side of the hotel was a little chapel dedicated to the Madonna of the Neve (Madonna of the Snow). Of course, I couldn’t resist a look.

Church of the Madonna della Neve -- Madonna of the Snow

The chapel, built in 1621, was a tiny treasure of white, blue, and gold. A wooden tryptich hung above the small altar and two vibrant stained glass windows glowed from either wall. Colorful frescoes covered the curved ceiling.

My favorite piece was a vivid blue explosion of cloud with a dove flying across its face. I lit a candle for Jan, adding to the orange twinkles already glowing in rows before the altar. I felt like I was inside an ornate music box.

Ready for a refreshment, we entered the restaurant. No one else was inside as we strode up to the bar. In honor of nearby Crodo, I ordered Crodino, which the barista poured for us into short flute-shaped glasses sporting the word “Crodino.” Gianni had ordered something else, but when he heard me ordering Crodino, he thought it was a great idea and changed his order to the same.

Me, Mom, and Dad enjoying Crodino at the top of the falls

Sitting next to a sun-dappled window overlooking the breathtaking Val di Formazza far below, we basked in this alpine beauty as we sipped our Crodino.

Crodo and Beyond

Continuing our journey, not far out of Domodossola we passed Oira, abundant in granite quarries. Numerous trucks laden with enormous rectangle blocks of granite attested to the area’s livelihood.

Granite quarry

And then we came to Crodo.

Crodo is now dear to my heart since I learned that from this little hamlet originates the water for my favorite non-alcoholic aperitif, Crodino. Crodino is a delicious, refreshing, orange-colored drink made from an infusion of herbs, plants, and fruits; it has a slightly bitter, but ever-pleasing, taste.


Gianni pulled off at the Crodino plant so I could take a picture of the building and the giant CRODO sign, shadowed against the mountain sky.

Further north we pushed. Mom called it “Heidi country.” This was definitely alpine country; rugged mountains, green meadows, and rough stone houses — the tinkling of cow bells completed the picture.

In the midst of these mountain vistas, we stopped for our picnic, just outside Cadarese. Cradled, as we were, in the toes of the Alps, we could easily imagine we were sitting in Switzerland.

Thank you, Donatella! Claiming a sunbathed picnic table at the side of the road, we laid out Donatella’s carefully packed lunch: meats, cheese, bread, water, wine, beer.

Mom and Dad enjoy the delicious picnic Donatella had assembled for us

Gianni, our autista bravissima

After lunch, Gianni trampled through the grass to pick an armload of dandelion greens to bring home — dinner for the pet turtles.

Gianni gathering wild greens to bring home to the turtles

The turtles are definitely going to be happy.
Note the shirt -- I told you about it earlier

Not far up the road, the next town made me sit up: San Rocco. Rocco was becoming a recurrent theme on this trip.

I've always known my Dachshund, Rocco, is a saint.
And he has a town named after him.

By now we were much farther north than the northern tip of Lago Maggiore that lay far southeast of our route. If we were to fly due east, we would truly be in Switzerland.