Park of the Breggia Gorge
An excursion in the Park of the Breggia Gorge is an authentic journey through time. In the Mendrisiotto region, along the river Breggia, one can observe exceptional geological contents. Thanks to the river's natural excavation activity a geology profile has been brought to light covering the period between the Jurassic and Tertiary, dating back 80 million years! Within these rocks are live testimonials of ancient seas: fossils, remains of underwater landslides and signs of climatic changes that took place before the appearance of humankind on Earth.
Itinerary: Breggia Gorge (4h, see map)
Switzerland's first GeoPark located between the communes of Balerna, Castel San Pietro, Morbio Inferiore and Morbio Superiore, is rich in natural or manmade testimonials of great interest even to those that don't have specific knowledge of the subject. The Breggia Gorge offers a fascinating walk thanks to the beauty of the landscape.
The old Ghitello mill of 1606, located behind the parking lot of the Breggia Shopping Centre in Balerna, is one of the departure points. The trail leads to the little lake and continues along the river with some factories scattered on the way, including a cement factory and a brewery. After crossing the Breggia, the trail ascends the valley to the San Pietro hill where ruins of a medieval castle and the Chiesa Rossa (Red Church) can be seen. The church dates back to the 14th century and is decorated with beautiful frescos (visits can be arranged).
Following the indicated trail, you will be lead down to the bridge Punt da Canaa. Along the way you can observe rocks that are clearly stratified: they are the park's most ancient ones (190 million year-old flint limestone). Your will then be led to cross a deep and narrow gorge by means of a recently built bridge and proceed onto the right bank. You will still be surrounded by the layers of rock, crossing some singular biotopes, and will finally return to the Ghitello mill where more recent deposits are visible (Tertiary and Quaternary).
Upon request, the Park organizes guided tours and educational activities specifically for schools, whereas in the summer the local tourist office offers tours to the public.
The Cement Course
Offered only as a guided tour, it is possible to follow another itinerary in the Park of the Breggia Gorge but it is rather difficult to combine it with the first option. The Cement Course is the most visible element of ex-cement factory Saceba's redevelopment, located at the entrance of the Breggia Gorge and part of the namesake geological park. In 1972-1973, during the period of peak production, Saceba produced up to 200'000 tons of cement a year for a total of over 2 million tons in approximately 20 years of activity.
The educational tour uses the structures of the old factory to illustrate the transformation process of rock into cement. The recovery of the industrial area is a unique example in Switzerland. The itinerary takes place along a 2 km trail: from the open air caves to the tunnels used to extract the material, to the mill where the rock was ground and ending at the oven towers, the heart of the cement factory used today as an exhibit and educational space.
The temperature in the tunnels is cool (10-13°C) and humidity high (over 80%). It is therefore recommended to dress appropriately. Helmets, headlamps and reflective jackets are provided on the spot. It's an easy walk although not recommended for people suffering from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, claustrophobia, epilepsy or other serious handicaps.