TICINO - ITALIAN FLAIR WITH SWISS ORDER
End of February – Carnival is about to explode in my home city of Düsseldorf. As every year, a good reason for me to travel, this time to Lugano in Ticino, the sunniest canton in Switzerland. A comfy flight with SWISS to Zurich (you even get a drink and a croissant free of charge!), then by train with the SBB down South. My heart opens up while I am looking at the snow-capped mountains and palm trees. A few Carnival jerks here and there but it does not matter. Final destination: Lugano, the largest city in Switzerland´s most Southern canton with just 60,000 inhabitants. „Italian flair with Swiss order“, that´s how Jutta of Tourism Ticino describes this heavenly region. So true! And I am very happy to be able to practice my Italian after a long time. Che bello!
SLEEPING IN A HISTORIC HOTEL
My home for the next few days, the Continental Parkhotel***, is located close to Lugano Central Station, so convenient. And no worries, the area around the station is not bad at all. Right the contrary, you have marvelous vistas of the city, Lake Lugano and the snow-capped mountains in the background. Switzerland at its finest!
The traditional hotel was built in the end of the 19th century and is a real architectural masterpiece, owned by a local family. „Belle époque“ at its best! I love the colorful furniture in the lounge and the elegant bar with access to the garden but will get back on that later.
Wine Tasting "al fresco"
My first stop is the Fattoria Moncucchetto (I have to admit that it took me a while to remember that name…), a very modern winery designed by the famous Swiss architect Mario Botta. Located on a hill at 425 m, with wonderful views of the city and the lake. The historic vineyard with its vine of more than 40 years surrounds the chic Fattoria.
David Nieus, „Chef di sala“ at Moncucchetto, proudly shows me the casks and lets me in on the secrets of wine production. The Mediterranean climate with the many sunny days are a perfect basis fort he wine cultivation close to Lake Lugano. After a short time, I feel like becoming a real wine expert! So far, I could just differentiate red from white wine. „Now we will taste a few types, white, rosé and red.“ With pleasure, dear David. On this lovely day, the wine tasting can even happen on the terrace with breathtaking views over the lakes, just next to the own vineyard and vegetable garden. While sipping a bit of Merlot and Chardonnay, we enjoy local cheese. „Many events are taking place here,“ says David. „Apart from groups, we get many international individual visitors who come for wine tastings.“ I even did not know there is a white Merlot so I have to taste that one. Simply exquisite! Sparkling wine is also produced at Moncucchetto. „Actually, it is even a champagne, but we are not allowed to name it like this since the French region Champagne is the owner of this expression,“ explains David. And additionally, he tells me about the surrounding mountains, - Monte Salvatore (1.962 m) , Monte Generoso (1.701 m) und Monte Bré (925 m – this one is said to be the sunniest mountain in all of Switzerland). All of them offer a spectacular 360 grade view on the lakes in Ticino and Northern Italy. I cannot wait to see more of Ticino!
Dinner with a Taste of Italy
The delighted day ends with a dinner at Grotto della Salute – an elegant but casual restaurant with lots of art in Massagno, just a few minutes from Lugano. The so-called grotti were larders where sausages, cheese and wine were stored. Today they are popular meeting points in summer in order to enjoy local specialties. At the Grotto della Salute I have, of course, to taste polenta, a very typical dish for the Ticino and Northern Italy. This corn mush used to be a meal for the poor. Today, it is often offered in trendy restaurants, with different ways of preparation. I enjoy again a Merlot of the Fattoria Moncucchetto – and yes, I am already in love with this heavenly place. While having a chat over dinner, I even learn that Italians (and Swiss in Ticino) rather say „grazie mille“ than „mille grazie“ which means „many thanks“. Got it! Vinously, I spend the night at the Parkhotel Continental. La vita é bella – life is good!
After a hearty breakfast with a view and two delicious espressos (espressi as the Italians say…) I have a stroll through the wonderful hotel park and discover a pool, surrounded by pristine nature. Another reason to come back to Ticino in summer!
LAC Lugano - a very special cultural Experience
Time to go downtown. Bella Italia is only 40 minutes (by car) away, you can feel that with every step you make. Architecture with an Italian stamp, palm trees over and over again and stunning vistas of the lake and the majestic mountains. Over and above, glamorous boutiques, cafés and restaurants along the lakefront. I walk up to the so-called LAC, „Lugano Arte e Cultura“. This ultramodern cultural center on the lake opened its doors in 2015 and is a fantastic contrast to the traditional architecture. Well done in my opinion and a must-visit!
„At the beginning, there was a lot of resistance,“ says Mario Sorgesa, manager of the LAC. „However, in the meantime the locals are proud of their new landmark.“ No doubt! Concerts and ballets with renowned international artists and exhibitions are taking place at the LAC. Until August 2020, you can admire the art of Cézanne, Monet and van Gogh. The high windows allow a stunning view of the spectacular landscape.
Exploring through Augmented Reality
And another highlight is waiting: I get 3D glasses to closely experience augmented reality. With acoustic and visual instructions through glasses and a headset I walk from the LAC to the historic area Santa Maria degli Angeli with a Franciscan monastery and an old church just next to it. What a fantastic symbiosis of old and new! There is a fresco of the crucifixion in the church, an artwork of Bernardino Luini who was educated by Leonardo da Vinci. My walkabout lasts 40 minutes. Should you ever visit Lugano, don´t miss it. It costs 10 Swiss Francs (as per March 2010) and is absolutely worth the money.
A royal Lunch
I have some time until the boat tour to the picturesque village of Gandria, so I walk along Lake Lugano and have lunch at the patriarchal Grand Café Al Porto (since 1803 the so-called „parlor of Lugano“). Many important people have already dined here - Sophia Loren, Clark Gable, the Aga Khan and Gustav Stresemann, just to name a few. And now me, wow! I have a look at the historic boardroom „Cenacolo“ on the first floor with all its paintings and boarded ceilings. Lots of grand air, a fantastic service, delicious pasta and desserts to die for. Definitely not the cheapest choice but who cares. I declare this Friday as my personal day of indulgence. And talking about prices: the Ticino is said to be the least expensive region of Switzerland. Cost of living is much less than in Zurich. Not really cheap but let´s put it that way – good value for money!
Exploring picturesque Gandria
Ship ahoy! From the landing place right downtown I take the boat trip on Lake Lugano. What a gorgeous day – the sun is already warming in February while a snow-capped mountain is emerging in the background. Mamma mia, che bello – how nice! After 20 minutes, we reach Gandria which is probably the most photographed village in all of Ticino. Tip: take the best photos from the boat!
Just 200 inhabitants are living in this little spot, located on the steep hillside of Monte Bré. Almost nothing has changed here over the past hundred years. Labyrinthine alleys, steep staircases (not convenient for handicapped people!), houses of the 16th and 17th century, arcades and, of course, no cars. Romantisc cafés and restaurants with lake view invite visitors. The San Rocco chapel, built in 1645, is the landmark of Gandria, the last village in Switzerland so to say. Some of the summits you can see from here already belong to Italy.
My tip: do not miss the excursion to Gandria, best to do is one trip by boat and the other one walking.
Olive and Palm Trees and absolute Tranquility
I take the olive path, the „sentiero dell´olivo“ back to Lugano which takes approximately half an hour. It is so quiet, unbelievable. Hardly any people, the shimmering lake underneath, impressive mountains in the background and a little house here and there. Educational boards tell everything about the cultivation of olive trees which you can see everywhere, as well as palm trees. I stop here and there just to take a deep breath and simply watch the nature. Almost like meditation! I spot little pedestrian bridges with staircases into Lake Lugano. The water is clear enough for a nice swim in summer. And look there – a little charming hotel right on the lake that will open its doors in the Easter week.
More gastronomic Treats and lots of Anecdotes
A Food & Wine Tour in the evening is a perfect completion of a wonderful day. Patricia Carminati, the chairperson of the local association of tourguides, has been working in tourism for 30 years and knows here home in and out. For a few years, she has been specializing on gastronomic tours through typical shops and restaurants in Lugano. I like this charming and very communicative lady from the beginning. „In Ticino, you will find many producers of excellent organic products. Some of them you will only find here,“ explains Patricia who runs her tours in English, German and Italian. „Sustainability plays a big role for us, and there is no overtourism here, of course.“ Patricia´s tours are tailor-made for international clients and provide many interesting anecdotes. „It is so important for us to maintain our culture influenced by Italy, we are only 300,000 people in Ticino which means just 4% of the whole Swiss population.“ Switzerland - small country but many different cultures.
We have a look at six shops and restaurants, all of them mostly offering local products. Some have been owned by families for generations and stand for the best quality. I enjoy a glass of sparkling wine and delicious finger food at GastroSnack Bernasconi.
Hermann Hesse and the Ticino
Meanwhile, Patricia tells me that the famous German author Hermann Hesse lived in Ticino for 40 years. Some of his most popular books (such as „Siddhartha“) were actually written here. As a teenager, I loved his novels – and now I am following his tracks in Ticino! What a pity though that I don´t have time to visit the Hesse museum. Next time! We continue our food tour to the classy Bottegone del Vino, where chef Rodolfo offers an excellent monkfish with broccoli and lentils. And another local Merlot, of course – this time red. Dessert anyone? Not me since I know that another restaurant visit is yet to follow. And I have to keep an eye on my fitness, of course.
Wine in the Lake?
We stroll through a lovely park up to the Antica Osteria al Porto right on Lake Lugano. It´s Friday and this lovely restaurant is fully booked. However, Patricia always manages to get a table. This woman is incredible. I finish off the day with a homemade pasta stuffed with yellow boletos, followed by a nutty liquor called Nocino. Out of this world! I even get a farewell gift, organic chestnut honey from the Azienda Bianchi. „Imagine, they store some wines in the lake at 20 m of depth. Divers regularly control the storage,“ says Patricia. How cool ist hat? A last view of the mountains, lake and the illuminated villages and off to the hotel for a nice sleep!
The following morning I have another walk through the garden of the Parkhotel Continental, before I continue my trip by train to Milan in Italy. I will tell you about that visit in my next article.
My summary: Ticino is a wonderful year-round destinations for all who appreciate nature, culture and an excellent gastronomy. And why not planning a city break in Lugano – in particular in times of „overtourism“ where so many European metropolis are crowded.
Lugano is offering everything in small format: Architecture, culture, shopping and an interesting food scene. And all of that with breathtaking views! I definitely want to come back to the Italian part of Switzerland to try some biking and hiking.
Some interesting facts about Ticino
* 2.170 hours of sun per year
* More than 130 small lakes in the mountains
* 3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
* 4.000 km of hiking trails
* Capital city: Bellinzona
* Largest city: Lugano
* Italian is the official language in Ticino. Most people also speak English and German.
More than 100 partners grant discounts on services such as mountain railways and major sites.
How to get there
From Zurich through the Gotthardbasistunnel (57km) with the Swiss Railway or by car in less than two hours. The train ride is very comfortable with great landscapes during the trip.
SWISS is offering flights from most major European cities.
You can reach Lugano from Milan in Italy by train in a bit more than one hour. Read more about this fascinating city in my article about Milan.
Where to sleep
Via Basilea 26
6900 Lugano, Switzerland
Where to eat (and drink)
Via Crivelli 27
Grand Café al Porto
Via Pessina 3
Via Nassa 2
Bottegone del Vino
Via Magatti 3
Antica Osteria del Porto
Via Foce 9
Grotto della Salute Via Madonna della Salute 10 6900 Lugano-Massagno
Want to know more?
Here you will find more info about Ticino and Lugano.
Why not combining Lugano with a few days in Zurich? Here are my tips for Switzerland´s largest city.