Everybody to the grotto! An inviting password during the warm summer evenings when you are seeking a breath of fresh air. In Ticino, grotto (local tavern) is the synonym of relaxation, homemade food, Polenta, cured meats, pasture cheeses and wine enjoyed outdoors; a field to play bowls and maybe the sounds of an accordion. A Ticino dear to tourists, but also authentic and well-established. Next to the public grottos there are also the private ones. Mendrisio hosts a full neighborhood of them, just like Giornico and Cevio. The proposed itinerary leads to Cama (Graubünden) where, on the border with our Canton, an entire grotto enclave was recovered.
Private and public grottos
Cantina, grotto, canvetto: these places were built to preserve wine and food. They are sometimes built in the rock, are always located in cool and shaded places, often not far from populated areas, at the forest limits or on the banks of rivers or creeks. Some maintain their initial function, preserving wine, cured meats, cheese and sometimes acting as the place for private convivial meetings. Others, with time, have taken on a public character and have become meeting points where, in a rustic and informal environment, local food and products are served. Usually open from March until October, the grottos are appreciated in the summer because they offer the possibility to enjoy regional specialties outdoors.
Itinerary: Grottos of Cama (2h, see map)
They are forty-six and form a compact nucleus. These are the grottos of Cama, a village in the Italian-speaking part of the Grigioni Canton, 17 kilometers from Bellinzona, easily accessible even with public transport. Submerged in a forest of chestnut trees, their roots certainly date back a few centuries. The origins of these cellar-pantries can be traced back to the introduction of the vine to the region and therefore back to the Roman era. Preserved here were wines, cheeses, cured meats, fruits and vegetables and even milk awaiting processing. Located on the river's right bank, they have different configurations: some are totally buried, others are simple buildings with double pitched-roofs, others are equipped with a second floor.
To stop these interesting structures from being progressively abandoned, a foundation was established in 2004 that, after years of historical research and restorations, offers a salvaged centre enriched by an educational course with explanatory panels since 2009 to the population and visitors.
Along an old trail, the itinerary leads you to the medieval centre of Cama and to the church dedicated to San Maurizio (1219). Behind it, there are numerous vineyards. The prehistoric landslide and the fallen rocks are quickly visible as well as the grottos, which are for the most part privately owned.
The research that preceded the restoration works has shown how the grottos, often on lands created by prehistoric landslides, benefit from the presence of drafts of fresh air running through the mountain's clefts in the spaces between the boulders. That same draft can be felt today by putting the hand in front of the opening of a cave, which maintains the cellar's temperature stable year-round, between 3°C and 12°C.
Only three grottos are open to the public: the Grotto del Paulin, the Grotto Milesi-Belloli and Grotto Bundi alla Bellavista. The first has been run by the Prandi family for generations. The Grotto Milesi-Belloli, also results from a long tradition. The Grotto Bundi alla Bellavista, has reopened in 2018 after a wide renovation which has however allowed to keep intact the old part (where cheeses, wines and dried meat are kept). These grottos offer a renowned selection of cured meats including the remarkable and typical raw ham of the Mesolcina valley, as well as Swiss Italian wines. During the summer, they serve several traditional plates, such as polenta, rabbit, kid and fresh cheeses, as well as their excellent cellar-seasoned cheese. In autumn game is also on their menu.