Ticino, Switzerland’s Italian Region
During our stay on Lake Geneva, we decided to spend a few days in Ticino, the Italian part of Switzerland. We drove through Bern, Lucerne and the Gotthard tunnel (10.5 miles long) and arrived in Ticino in the afternoon.
We spent the first two nights in Lugano. We stayed at the Bellevue au Lac, a comfortable hotel on the Lugano lakefront. It was located near the old town. We walked there from the hotel. There are plenty of bars, restaurants and world class boutiques. The squares and arcades have a Mediterranean style. We dined on a terrace at the restaurant Federale. They had a nice selection of pizza and Italian food.
The next day we took a short drive to Melide and visited Swissminiatur. It’s an outside attraction featuring miniaturized versions of Switzerland's landmarks. You walk through churches, castles, mountains, etc. Very informative for adults or kids.
Then we went back to Lugano and stopped in the Paradiso neighborhood where we took the funicular to the Monte San Salvatore, known as the Sugarloaf Mountain of Switzerland. The view is spectacular. There is a restaurant named Vetta, which has an open-air terrace and a panoramic veranda. We had lunch there. They serve some typical dishes from Ticino such as saffron risotto with porcini mushrooms.
After lunch we took the funicular down and drove to the city of Bellinzona, the capital of Ticino. It’s a thirty minutes’ drive. Bellinzona is known for its three castles named Castelgrande, Montebello and Sasso Corbaro. We visited the first one. The castles have been an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000. We also spent some time in the medieval town, which is very picturesque. On our way back we drove past Lugano and stopped at Riva San Vitale, a village located at the southern point of Lake Lugano. We visited the Baptistery, which is an important religious and historic site. It's the most ancient stonework Christian monument in Switzerland, dating back to the 5th century.
For our last night in Lugano, we had a reservation at the Trattoria Galleria, a very good Italian restaurant located in the old town.
We really enjoyed Lugano. It has a very nice flair and we will definitely come back.
The following day we drove to Morcote. It’s on the lake about ten kilometers from Lugano. Morcote is known for being one of the most beautiful villages in Switzerland. We had lunch at the restaurant Oasi, which has a nice terrace on the water.
From Morcote, we drove to Locarno, where we spent our last two days. The town is located on the northern shore of Lake Maggiore. Locarno is known for hosting the Locarno International Film Festival which takes place every year in August and involves open-air screenings at the main square, the Piazza Grande.
The next day we visited the Madonna del Sasso, a sanctuary and pilgrimage church located above the city of Locarno in Switzerland. It is the principal sight and goal of pilgrimage in the city. Afterwards we drove through the Valle Verzasca known for its emerald-green river. Some of the bathing places are called the “Maldives of Switzerland”. Our first stop was the Verzasca Dam, not only famous for being one of the highest dams in Europe, but also because it was the setting for the opening scene of the James Bond movie GoldenEye starring Pierce Brosnan. Afterwards we stopped in the town of Lavertezzo to look at the Ponte dei salti" (jump bridge) that crosses the Verzasca river. It is a typical medieval construction made of stone. We ended up in Sonogno, the last village of the Verzasca Valley.
We drove down past Locarno and spend the rest of the afternoon in Ascona, a town known for its mild climate, its Old Town and its lake promenade. They are a lot of street cafés, restaurants and small boutiques. Later that evening we had dinner at ristorante Sensi in Locarno. They have a very elegant terrace and the food is quite good.
The following day we drove back to our home base on Lake Geneva. We took the shorter drive though Italy without knowing that heavy snow would start falling once we reached the Simplon Pass (6,578 feet). We were in May and our car did not have snow tires. We made it through, but it was not an easy drive.