New life for Switzerland’s hippy valley

A bohemian mountain community in Ticino has rejected national-park status – and fast-track development – in favour of small grassroots projects

The yellow postal bus lurches up the narrow, dead-end road that winds through Valle Onsernone, blasting its horn in warning as it rounds one cliff-hugging hairpin turn after another. Just a flimsy-looking guardrail separates us from the yawning ravine below. Heart somewhere in my throat, I wonder how many previous buses have tumbled over it into the churning Isorno River. For the record, the answer is none – this is Switzerland, after all.

Just 25 minutes ago I was in the manicured lakeside resort of Locarno, watching wealthy holidaymakers clink Aperol spritzes. Now, as I shakily disembark in front of the Villa Edera hostel, I’m surrounded by birdsong, the hum of insects and towering peaks in innumerable shades of green. On the sunny northern side of the river, a chain of tiny hamlets stretch to the Italian border, their architecture a mix of traditional slate-roofed houses and ornate villas built by boastful émigrés. To the south stand a handful of solitary stone huts, accessible only on foot.

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