Highlands Lakes


"Forts and Cadorna Line" - From war trails to peace roads" is a a cross-border cooperation project which values the great fortification system built during WWI along the Swiss-Italian border, from Val d'Ossola to Orobic Alps. A complicated and, from a certain point of view, amazing system of trenches, forts and Alpine roads, not for war, but for hiking.

1) Project Partners

Italian leader: Province of Verbano Cusio Ossola
Swiss leader: Regional Agency for Bellinzona Development and Valleys


  • City of Ornavasso
  • City of Premosello Chiovenda
  • City of Mergozzo
  • City of Varzo
  • Val Grande National Park Management Agency
  • City of Aurano (project supervisor)
  • City of Cannero Riviera
  • City of Oggebbio
  • City of Trarego Viggiona

2) Project costs

The project has been financed to the 80% with funds of the European union with resources PO Italia-Svizzera 2007-2013 European Fund of Regional Development. The remaining 20% was secured by the project participants with their own resources and activities carried out by its staff.

Subject Auto financing (20%) Public Contribution (80%) Total
Province of Verbano Cusio Ossola € 85.000,00 € 340.000,00 € 425.000,00
Val Grande National Park Management Agency € 20.000,00 € 80.000,00 € 100.000,00
City of Ornavasso € 36.000,00 € 144.000,00 € 180.000,00
City of Varzo € 5.000,00 € 20.000,00 € 25.000,00
City of Mergozzo € 15.000,00 € 60.000,00 € 75.000,00
City of Premosello Chiovenda € 6.000,00 € 24.000,00 € 30.000,00
TOTAL € 167.000,00 € 668.000,00 € 835.000,00

3) Cadorna Line

Cadorna Line is a system of military fortifications that had to defend the nothern border of Italy next to Switzerland. The name derives from the Chief of Army Staff, General Luigi Cadorna from Pallanza who was its promoter. In Val d'Ossola and Verbano it covers a vertical gap of 2,000 meters between the plain of the Toce and Mount Massone and between Lake Maggiore and Mount Zeda.

The system of fortifications was built along the Swiss-Italian border between the summer of 1915 and the spring of 1918, during the First World War, when they feared that, penetrating from the mountain passes of the central Swiss Alps, the Austro-German troops could quickly reach and occupy the industrial and economic centers of our country.

"Cadorna Line" was never used and was abandoned. Today these military mule trails allow you to walk in the mountains and fortresses, from which a gun never fired, they offer the opportunity to discover a tragic moment of the twentieth century.

4) Fortification in Verbano Cusio Ossola

We are at the beginning of the twentieth century, during the Great War.
It's a dark period in Italy, which was lacerated and overwhelmed by the war storm. These were years of misery and grief, with the scourge of a terrible epidemic, the "Spanish", against which even the medicine is powerless.

While the boys of '99 are at the front, the Ossola and Verbano mountains are a forge of activities and work. They are bricklayers and stonemasons, carpenters and mule drivers, surveyors and engineers, simple laborers, soldiers and civilians, men and women who are building this imposing fortified system that will go down in history as Cadorna Line.

Today it remains a long line of trenches and communication paths, bunkers, small hospitals and military housing, service mule tracks and connecting roads. A complex, and even amazing, Alpine road system not for war, but at the service of hiking.

From about 1925 on,  a huge military artery was built between Alagna Val Sesia and Macugnaga in Anzasca through Turlo pass and it could be walked by troops on foot and by mule trains, instead of the existing trail.

In the period between the two world wars there were no new significant fortifiers interventions in the area, except to the imminence of the Second conflict with the rehabilitation of old stations and the construction of some impressive works in the cave at Iselle and especially in San Giovanni as part of Vallo Alpine or "Vallo Littorio", a fortified line extended from Liguria at the Yugoslav border.

If almost all of the 64 km of roads for trucks, built in the Verbano and Ossola, were recovered in the decades after the construction of the ordinary road (those of Montorfano and Pian Vadà remain in original conditions), the mule tracks have remained the same as in the past. They demonstrate, after ninety years, the high quality of the work performed.

The hiking interest for itineraries made to discover the Cadorna Line is made not only by the possibility of combining knowledge and action (the route in the natural environment and the discovery of the theater of a war that never took place), but also by  the chance of contemplation (great views that allow you to look down on the world).

An extraordinary resource for the historical tourism between pre-alpine lakes and Great Alps.

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