Ticino’s Lake Lugano in southern Switzerland has a Mediterranean vibe. // © 2013 Thinkstock
As the people of Ticino, Switzerland, frequently told me, this southernmost canton of the country offers a taste of the Italian lifestyle run with Swiss efficiency. The influence of neighboring Italy is evident in the culture, language and cuisine, and when combined with the ease and functionality of the Swiss travel system, Ticino truly seems to offer the best of both worlds.
There are three UNESCO World Heritage-designated castles in Ticino’s capital, Bellinzona. Castelgrande, Montebello and Sasso Corbaro, along with the city walls, are considered to be some of the finest examples of medieval fortification in Switzerland. Bellinzona was used as the southern entrance to the Alps and the northern entrance to Italy. The castles were built to control access between the two.
Top Spots in Ticino
Lake Maggiore and Lake Lugano are popular vacation spots for the Swiss, though they are perhaps less famous on an international scale. This is likely to change, however, as these hidden gems offer a Mediterranean atmosphere complete with palm trees and some of Switzerland’s sunniest weather — sometimes with the snowy Alps visible in the background.
During the warm-weather season in the Ascona-Locarno region, bikers ride leisurely around Lake Maggiore, while others relax on the shore or enjoy a meal at a lakeside restaurant. For a unique local experience, visit Terreni alla Maggia, a working farm and vineyard in Acona that offers tours and tastings. The farm is touted as the world’s northernmost rice plantation.
Visitors wishing to stay in Ascona or Locarno should consider The Giardino Hotel Group, which offers two luxurious properties in the area. The elegant Hotel Giardino is a quiet oasis in Ascona, while the fashionable Giardino Lago is a boutique property overlooking Lake Maggiore. Both properties are gorgeously designed and have gourmet restaurants that serve inventive and delicious food.
Around Lake Lugano
I spent most of my time in Ticino discovering the city of Lugano, which offers a bevy of unique experiences. The city center affords ample opportunity for shopping, but is also an ideal place to simply wander around and enjoy the scenery. During the summer, festivals and concerts are offered in parts of the city center as well.
Be sure to tell clients about a number of free tours offered through Lugano Tourism, including a guided walk through the city center, a tour of Lugano’s parks and gardens and even scenic excursions to nearby points of interest.
The Olive Grove Trail is a beautiful and peaceful hike around Lake Lugano that leads to the picturesque hillside town of Gandria, which directly borders the lake. The hike is a great option for travelers interested in a relaxing excursion, as it isn’t particularly difficult, and the scenery along the way is breathtaking.
The Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola is within walking distance of both the city center and the Olive Trail. The upscale property mixes classic taste with modern amenities. It features views of Lake Lugano as well as a sculpture garden and other on-site offerings.
Swissminiatur is a great attraction for clients traveling with children. The museum features an outdoor miniature replica of Switzerland’s most famous attributes, buildings and monuments. The expansive model even features the Swiss transportation system, with boats, trains and mountain funiculars that are actually in motion. The park also includes small rides for children and an on-site restaurant.
Getting There and Getting Around
To reach Ticino, visitors can take a direct train from Zurich to Lugano, which takes approximately three hours. Short connections can easily be made by train to other parts of Ticino as well, including Locarno and Bellinzona.
Visitors who will be traveling around Switzerland should consider investing in the Swiss Travel System’s Swiss Pass, an all-in-one ticket for unlimited public transportation within the network. The pass covers 75 Swiss towns and cities, including trains, boats and bus lines, plus discounted rates on special transportation tickets. In addition, pass-holders receive free admission to more than 400 museums throughout Switzerland. Passes start at $223, depending on the type of pass and the number of days.