In a Swiss valley, energy sobriety as the first watchword

published on Tuesday, October 11, 2022 at 2:54 p.m.

As in all of Europe, Swiss households are called upon to save energy. A sobriety that comes naturally to the inhabitants of the Bavona Valley, one of the most remote places in the Alpine country never connected to the electricity grid.

Located in the Italian-speaking region of the country, this very wild valley of glacial origin is one of the steepest and rockiest in the Alps.

But twelve villages made up of stone dwellings and troglodyte stables remain there and still house a few dozen inhabitants for several months of the year, except in winter, when fewer than a dozen live there.

The uniqueness of the valley is due to the fact that eleven of these towns are not connected to the grid while the region produces a lot of electricity thanks to the dams located on the heights of the small valley.

They were built after World War II to bring electricity to the German-speaking region of Switzerland, Romano Dado, a former municipal councilor from Cevio, on which the villages depend, explains to AFP.

To bring power to Val Bavona, transformers would have to be built, but “people here didn’t have the money for that,” he says. Only the last hamlet could afford this luxury.

Over the decades, the population living in the valley dwindled, from around 500 to less than 50 according to Romano Dado, and the inhabitants learned to go without the power grid, installing solar panels on their roofs as early as the 1950s. 1980’s and fireplaces. .

– Kerosene lamp and candles –

The inhabitants also use gas cylinders, candles and some even kerosene lamps. To wash clothes, “we go to the river as usual,” explains Tiziano Dado, a mason and Romano’s brother.

This narrow valley of about ten kilometers flanked by vertiginous rocky slopes of more than 2,500 m of altitude has been punctuated for centuries by avalanches, floods and landslides, sometimes causing deaths.

Transhumance marked the history of the region until the 1970s. Families went up to the valley with their animals from March to the end of December, and only came down again at Christmas, explains Sonia Fornera, from Orizzonti Alpini, a group of experts in history alpine and culture.

“It was a hard but simple life,” recalls 88-year-old Bice Tonini, warming himself by the fireplace in his home.

Despite his age, he still lives there from spring to October thanks to the sun. “There is so much waste of electricity” in today’s society, she laments.

At night, no public lighting prevents you from admiring the stars. A show that delights her much more than television, a rare item here.

– “Just a dream” –

“We are used to living in a very simple way, we are not afraid to save money” in terms of energy, also assures Ivo Dado, 81, proud of having installed solar panels in 1987.

With stars in his eyes, this former farmer is delighted that some cities are giving up their New Year’s lights: “This Christmas will be like before, with less light. It will be beautiful again!”

This energetic sobriety is not to everyone’s taste.

“Solar panels are a partial solution,” Martino Giovanettina, a writer and owner of one of the few restaurants in the valley, told AFP.

According to him, the lack of electricity – to which are added strict regulations for the rehabilitation of traditional buildings – contributes to the depopulation of the valley, which becomes an open-air “museum” that looks to the past instead of opening to the tourism like other neighbors. valleys.

Nothing is offered to tourists here, apart from a funicular to climb the dams. And motorhome parking is prohibited.

Originally from the region, Doris Femminis, Swiss Literature Prize 2020, tells the story of this valley in her books. Now that she lives in the Jura, she returns every two months to this “wonderful place of her childhood”.

“In Switzerland we like the idea of ​​continuing to have a corner of wild nature,” he says, but acknowledges that the places are not adapted to modern life: “It is a place from the past. No one wants to live there anymore, it’s just a dream.”

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