From stable to dance hall to a popular tavern
Crotto Valtellina is near the abandoned quarry of “Malnate sandstone” also known as molera stone. The uses of this stone date back in the Middle Ages: some ancient ashlars are present in the church of San Giovanni and the adjacent Baptistery, in Castelseprio. It was also used in the construction of different Renaissance buildings located in Castiglione Olona (such as the Cathedral, the Baptistery, and the enlargement of Palazzo Castiglioni), and commissioned by Branda da Castiglione.
It had local uses for ashlars, jambs, pillars, window sills, shelves, and fireplaces until the beginning of the 20th century. Today the quarry is the backdrop for the best dinners based on Valtellina cuisine.
Grotto Valcabrina was born after the activity of the quarry was abandoned, in the early 20th century. It was a place well known to the residents and inhabitants of the nearby villages for the coolness offered on warm summer days.
It took its name from “Grotto” a term used in Ticino and Varese to define a natural cavity, and Valcabrina, which is composed of the words “Valle”, a little village of Malnate, and “Cabrina” which refers to the goats grazing in the nearby forests.
Grotto Valcabrina was a trattoria with accommodation and stable, where the carriages that headed for Switzerland stopped to refresh the horses and enjoy the coolness of the place.
During summer, the peasants after finishing the working day in the fields used to find refreshments here, over a “bom bicèr da vin” (“a good glass of wine” in local dialect) poured from a carboy that was placed on an ancient wood table and accompanied by good cheese, chatting, and playing cards.
During the games of Morra, a referee called “Galantom” (gentleman) was responsible for watching the play so that the players did not cheat.
At the end of the game, it was a tradition to offer a glass of wine to the “Galantom”.
I met my late husband right here, in the dance hall. On my way to Varese, I saw thousands of fireflies.
It was a beautiful thing to behold.
The large rooms on the upper floor were rented to rich tourists coming from Milan, who wished to spend a weekend devoted to traditional cooking, resting, walking in the woods, and taking part in traditional festivals or crops in the charming atmosphere of the cave.
On sunny days, guests used to play cards and bowls in the area where today the parking is. This amazing period characterized by balls and parties, lasted until the 1950s when the Grotto was permanently closed. Later a cooperative for food and grains sales was opened. In 1973, the Grotto was purchased by the current owners from Sondrio, who changed the name from “Grotto Valcabrina” into “Crotto Valtellina“.