Summer is here! Last year we spent it in Lugano with our friends and we loved our time SO MUCH. We were so excited this time about spending it coming back to this Italian-part of Switzerland, but to explore other cities around the region! If this continues next year, it seems like a trip to Ticino will soon become our annual summer affair!
We spent a fantastic week in Ticino, returning home with satisfied pot-bellies from all the feasting, and cameras loaded with beautiful summer travel memories. Today I’m all pumped up and excited to share with you all the stunning beautiful places in this travel itinerary!
With its swaying palm trees, magnificent piazzas and 2,170 hours of sunshine (more than any other regions in Switzerland!) there’s nowhere else that radiates Mediterranean, Italian vibes like in Ticino!
CATCH MY GRAND TOUR OF SWITZERLAND: TICINO VLOG HERE!
The only Swiss canton located entirely in the south of the Alps, Ticino (also known as Tessin) is a popular holiday destination perfect for all seasons. From hiking on Monte Brè and San Salvatore, cruises on the Lugano and Maggiore lakes, enjoying films in the piazzas, to dancing to the summer soundtracks of jazz, blues and pop under the moon: there’s honestly no lack of fun activities to do in this part of the country!
How to get to Ticino?
The journey from Morges to Ticino took about 4.5 hours. We set off early in the morning at 7.30am and reached Locarno at about mid-afternoon. But if you are coming from the German-speaking Switzerland e.g. Zurich, the journey will be much shorter! For instance, Lugano is just 1.5 hours away by train.
1) Take a Dip in the Fairy Waters of the Verzasca Valley
We kicked off our first day in Ticino with a visit to the Verzasca Valley, easily one of the most beautiful valleys of the Southern Alps!
Here, we passed several lazy hours dipping into the crystal clear turquoise waters. We also had fun watching crazy show-offs jumping off from the iconic Ponte dei Salti bridge!
It was during the peak of summer…but the waters were FREEZING, I couldn’t stay in for longer than a minute! (The waters came down from the glaciers, that’s why!)
Did you know? The Verzasca Dam is also located in the Verzasca Valley. It is most famously known for its heart-stopping 220-meter high bungee jump, which appeared in the James Bond film GoldenEye!
On your way towards the valley, you will also pass by the beautiful stone church, which cis a great backdrop for fabulous pictures!
Directions to Verzasca Valley:
From Locarno, Take the regional train to Tenero (one stop), then transfer to bus 321, and alight at the bus stop “Lavertezzo, Paese”.
TIP: If time affords, consider extending your trip down to the last village of Sonogno and also for a visit to the Froda Waterfall. The bus 321 goes there on an hourly schedule .
2) Visit the Piazza Grande in Locarno
The largest piazza in all of Switzerland, the Piazza Grande is often considered to be one of the most beautiful town squares of the country.
Every year in the first weeks of August, this huge piazza becomes a bustling centre of activity as Locarno hosts the renowned Locarno Film Festival. In fact, back in pre-covid times, this square could easily fill up to a whooping EIGHT THOUSAND people, all busy scurrying from one screening to another, soaking in the magic of outdoor auteur cinema!
Our hotel was just a 5 minute walk away from the Piazza so we passed by it everyday. At the point of our stay in Locarno, they were busy setting up the stage for the event!
Other note-worthy buildings/historical sites in Locarno:
Casa Serodine: Situated in the centre of town, next to the town hall and adjacent to the church, this baroque building is decorated in typical Italian stucco work, with the house itself dating back to the 17th-century.
Castello Visconteo: This former seat of local power is now left with a-fifth of its original structure and is now an archaeological museum. It was named after the once-powerful Visconti family from Milan, who had controlled great parts of northern Italy and the southern Ticino in the 14th and 15th centuries. The significant Locarno Peace Treaty was signed inside its court-houses in 1925, where 7 European countries met to discussed the re-organization of Europe after WWI.
3) Scale up the Pilgrimage Sanctuary of the Madonna del Sasso
Legend has it that an apparition of the Virgin Mary once took place here at the Sacred Mount Madonna del Sasso, making it one of the most important religious and historical sites in the region.
To come up to the sanctuary, you can either take a hike up, or take the more comfortable ride with the furnicular from Locarno to Orselina.The funicular entrance is located right next to McDonalds. Return tickets are priced at 5.70CHF.
We went in to admire the beautiful, intrinsically painted frescos lining all over the church’s interiors.
Make sure not to miss the beautiful porch outside the church, it has one of the best views over Locarno, the lake and the surrounding mountains. Click here for the little clip I filmed outside!
4) Daytrip to Ascona
Just a stone’s throw away from Locarno, this village is fondly referred to as the “Pearl of Lake Maggiore”. A bit of geography fact: At just 196 metres above sea level, Ascona also happens to be the lowest lying town in Switzerland!
Coming to Ascona is synonymous with holidays. I don’t think there’s no particular activity to do here, because the thing here really is just to walk around the village itself! It’s a good daytrip option where you can just wander through the streets lined with traditional stores and indie boutiques, enjoy a coffee by the promenade or sip an aperitif on its sun-kissed terraces. These are the little things to enjoy while on vacation!
This huge swing by Ascona’s promenade is unmissable and catches the attention of many onlookers. It is actually one of the swings by the SwingtheWorld, a local project founded by two Ticinese guys, Fabio Balassi and Elitsa Cappelletti. They had the idea of installing swings in breath-taking places all around Ticino, to inspire the feelings of adventure and care-freeness and invoke the love for outdoors! All the swings are also made in an eco-sustainable manner, and are handcrafted using local chestnut and robina wood.
5) Go on a Cruise on Lake Maggiore
What better way to explore the waters of Lake Maggiore than by taking a cruise? There are ferries to numerous destinations and for cruises of different lengths, so depending on how much time you have and what you want to see, you will find the right combination for you. After our tour around Ascona, we hopped on the cruise back to Locarno which took us back in a breeze within 45 minutes.
From short trips, such as from Locarno to Ascona, to longer ones that cross into Italy, here are some boat cruises options you can consider:
- Brissago Islands (there is a beautiful botanical garden thriving with exotic trees and flowers from various continents!)
- Borromean Islands (Italy)
6) Cross the Tibetan Bridge
On our third day, we visited Bellinzona and its surroundings. We started with an adventurous morning hike to the Tibetan Bridge.
It takes some SERIOUS guts to cross this bridge!
This 270m suspended bridge hangs 700m above sea level. From the height, there is a delightful bird’s eye view of the Alps and the limitless forest surroundings.
As you cross the bridge, try not to think about the fact that you are hanging 140 metered above the valley floor. And BE SANE, don’t jump up and down the bridge and make it swing!!!
Not far from the bridge is the church of St Bernard, with beautifu murals by local Italian artists Nicolo and Christopher Gere, who also painted many Ticino churches. In the church, pay attention to the interpretation of the Last Supper, where on the table of the Christ and the Apostles, you will see local delicacies of the time, like cherry and river crabs.
How to get there to the Tibetan Bridge:
By cablecar: From the cable car station at Monte Carasso, take one stop to Curzútt. Continue the road by foot and take a short hike through the stone village, passing the San Bernando church.
By foot: As it was raining in the morning that day, we skipped the cable car and switched to driving by car up to St Defendente, followed by a 45 minutes hike to the bridge. As the path for cars are very tight, you would need a driving permit to get up to the point.
7) Explore the mighty castles of Bellinzona
Our highlight of the third day was a visit to the magnificent castles/ fortresses of Bellinzona, where we were transported back to the Middle Ages of knights, horses and towering fortresses.
The three castles of Castelgrande, Montebello and Sasso Corbaro are some of the most impressive examples of defensive military architecture in the Alps. They were a series of fortifications were built through the 13th century by the Dukes of Milan, to counter and stop the Swiss confederation expanding further south. Eventually, the canton of Ticino decided to join the confederation in 1513 and the castles ceded it military functions.
Having underwent recent restorations and improvements, the Bellinzona castles now appear in all their splendour and are the main tourist attraction of Bellinzona. They were also declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000!
- Entrance to the Castles of Bellinzona
- Entrance to museums, permanent and temporary exhibitions of the Castles
- Entrance to Villa dei Cedri
Adults: CHF 28
Families: CHF 70
Reduced (AHV, students, groups): CHF 18.-
Children (until 6 years old): Free
8) Do a daytrip to Morcote
Revealing one of the most magical places in Switzerland: Morcote! A former fishing village, Morcote once served as the largest port for transportation of shipment of the Dukes of Milan from Northern Italy to Ticino during the Middle Ages.
Arriving in this picturesque town, I felt my mind relaxed and muscles softening up as if on cue, it’s just hard not to feel at ease here! We went for a quiet lakeside stroll, admiring the colours of the sunset sky and breathing in the smell of flowers and nature, all while licking a creamy pistachio gelato!
Here are some suggestions on what to do when in Morcote:
- Scale up to the Santa Maria del Sasso church. The most famous place of pilgrimage in the Italian part of Switzerland and also Ticino’s greatest photo-op. The walk is short but demanding (that’s why it’s called the Way of the Cross!), but we were completely mesmerized by the views of glittering blue lake and it’s well worth the climb.
- There’s also yet another Swingtheworld above the church, which in my opinion is one of the best Instagrammable spots in Ticino! This was also where I shot this VIRAL INSTA REEL!
- Wander inside the Scherrer Gardens. Built by a textile magnate in the 1930s, it houses several artistic works inspired by distant exotic countries. We didn’t have time for this, but I guess this is reason enough for us to return
- head to the La Casa Del Gelato just at the start of the village for your gelato-fix. Just don’t judge it’s corny storefront!
9) SwissMinatur: Discover Switzerland in under an hour!
For an experience of how Gulliver felt like in Lilliput, head to the Swssminatur. This place is exactly what its name is: A mini version of Switzerland! And good news for tourists with limited time in Switzerland: Here, its possible to see the whole of the country in just under an hour!
Spanning 14,000m2 with over 120 replicas and models of famous Swiss landmarks, the Swiss Minatur is the lifelong project of Pierre Vuigner, who had a dream of creating a park filled with famous Swiss landmarks. He searched hard for a vast piece of land to fulfil this dream and found it in Melide, right by the shores of Lake Lugano.
We also visited the park’s in-house atelier, where all the models and replicas are painstakingly handcrafted and painted. The level of attention to detail is just incredible! We learnt that all the models are built on a scale of 1:25, and also repainted/updated regularly for maintenance
I wasn’t able to identify all the buildings and landmarks, but some of which that caught my eye were the Chateau Chillon in canton Vaud where we live, the classic Federal Parliament in Bern, the Heidi village and also the Piazza Grande in Locarno which we’d just visited a few days back!
NOTE: There are no audio guides, you would need to download the “Swissminiatur” app on your phone ahead of your trip for detailed information (and map location) of all the miniatures. I felt that it would have been more helpful if there were phones provided onsite with the app already installed, as not every visitor would take the time to download the app.
The attraction is small and can be completed in under an hour, so I would not recommend making a big journey just to visit this place. This would work best as a daytrip from Lugano, or combined with shopping spree at Fox Town (see below!)
I am currently hosting a GIVEAWAY for TWO lucky winners to win tickets to visit the SwissMinatur! Hop over to my instagram to join the contest! (Contest closes on 14 Aug 2021)
From Lugano, take to Melide train station, then a short 5 minute walk. You can also take the bus
Adults: 17.55 CHF
Kids: 11.25 CHF
Seniors/Students: 13.95 CHF
Families: 52.20 CHF
30% discount with Ticino ticket
Admission prices also includes a ride on the train around the park, which would be a delight for the little ones.
10) Indulge in a Shopping Spree at Fox Town!
I had been waiting with bated breath all summer to unleash the inner shoppaholic in me! Finally on our last day, we made our way down to FoxTown, the biggest factory-stores-centre in Southern Europe!
This mega shopping-mall in Mendrisio, just 15 km from Lugano is THE ultimate place for good bargains. It has 160 stores and 250 well-known brand, selling everything ranging from clothing, sporting goods, home appliances. Shopping fanatics will be thrilled too find heavily slashed discounts of up to 70%!
We spent about 4 hours on a shopping spree. Vince scored some really great deals, including a sports shoes for just 30CHF, and a premium Arc’teryx winter jacket for 99CHF (The usual price was almost 400CHF) while I got some sporting clothes from Mammut for an unbelievable 20 CHF. These sort of prices are pretty much unheard of in Switzerland so you could imagine how mightily pleased we were! You can see more of our shopping buys on the vlog!
Where to Stay in Ticino:
We decided to make Locarno as our basepoint in Ticino, and the hotel we resided at was the Caffè dell’Arte Boutique Rooms, located in the heart of Locarno, just 50 meters from the famous Piazza Grande.
This is a boutique hotel mixed with a retail shop and a café downstairs. There are 9 rooms in total, each individually designed. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to peak at the other rooms…so I can only speak of my own oriental-themed room, which was spaciously decorated with warm touches of gold and brown hues.
Now I really need to give a shoutout to the garden café downstairs, because our breakfast seriously made our mouths water EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
This café was only recently opened last month by a young lady called Suzanne, who wanted to inject a change in the atypical Swiss breakfast. So here, you won’t find your usual ham, cheese and baguette. Instead, expect delightful, refreshing options such as banana pancakes topped with nuts coconut flakes, wholesome muesli and open bagels deliciously stuffed with wild rockets, bacon and feta cheese. It was honestly the first thing we look forward to everyday when we wake up, and fuelled us with good carbs to start off our daily adventures!
About Ticinese Cuisine
You’d have to forgive me, but my understanding of traditional Swiss cuisine was painfully limited in the past to just chocolates, cheese fondue and raclette. This trip to Ticino was akin to a huge awakening for my palettes, as I discovered how Swiss cuisine can differ so extraordinarily from one canton to another, and tasted the wide variety of Ticino’s gastronomy!
Ticinese traditional cuisine draws great inspiration from the neighbouring regions of Piedmont and Lombardy. Dishes like risottos, polenta, minestrone and chestnuts are genuine foods that have nourished the region for generations. Among the many offerings, there are four note-worthy “Slow Foods” of Ticino:
- The Farina Bona: Gluten-free corn flour obtained by very finely grinding toasted cornmeal, originating from the Onsernone Valley
- The Pastefrolle: A shortbread biscuit with its unmistakable “S” shape from the Bedretto Valley:
- Zincarlin Cheese: Made from unheated curd with shape resemblingan upturned cup, this is produced only in the Muggio Valley
- Cicitt: Traditional long and thin goat sausages made for roasting, from the Valleys of Locarno
Where to Eat in Ticino
Scattered all over the region, the grotto (which means cave in Italian) is the locals’ favourite gathering spot during the summer evenings. They can be found often down in the valleys or under the shades of cool trees. Grotti were formerly used as pantries for preserving cheese, cold meats and wines back in the days where there were no refrigerators. Today, they are get-together corners where people gather around stone tables and enjoy a hearty meals.
We ate so amazingly well during our week in Ticino and tried many different local restaurants and grotti. Here are 3 Grotti that we’ve tried and tasted and highly recommend with four thumbs up!!
Grottino Ticinese: Located in Losone in between Locarno and Ascona, It is also not too far from the Locarno train station, connected via 1 bus ride and a 6min walk. This grotto is worth going to if you are looking to experience something typical/classical ticino. This was also where we had our first taste of polenta, a very local porridge/mush dish, made from ground cornmeal!
Grotto Broggini: This is actually just 5 minutes away from Grottini Ticinese. It has a large outdoor terrace where you can dine under the cool shades of trees. it also has a grand, rustic interior, complete with a fireplace for winter season and a large underground wine cellar for hosting private functions. Their chicken skewer grilled over a wood fireand the porcini mushroom risotto are crowd favourites!
Grotto San Michele: Located inside the Castelgrande of the Bellinzona castles, this restaurant has excellent views of the old town of Bellinzona and the “La Collegiata”. very fresh summer atmosphere. We tried many local food, and even the merlot produced directly in the castles’ vineyards, but our experience was overshadowed by a 25 minute wait for the food. I’d recommending this place solely for the excellent location and fresh summer atmosphere!
Other restaurants worth mentioning:
Osteria del Centenario: From the interior design, material of our wine-glasses and napkins, down to the paper quality of the receipt, we could tell that this restaurant is managed by a chef (Egon Baiardi) who is obsessed with details! This lakefront restaurant in Locarno is also mentioned in the Michelin guide. The menu are kept regional and seasonal, adding a dash of creativity in dishes such as salmon with roasted garlic sprouts and saffron sauce, potato gnocchi with whitefish sauce, pea puree and activated charcoal, and elderflower mousse with rhubarb, thyme crumble and rosehip meringue. Prices are steeper here but the service was attentive and every morsel were a delight for the senses, one of our best meals in Ticino.
Ristorante Centovalli: We had lunch on Saturday at this restaurant, it has a lovely outdoor seating area with stone tables under a leafy canopy. Our local friends had raved to us about the gorgonzola risotto and lamb here,and we could see why! I love the personal touch this restaurant had, they even prepared an assortment of postcards for guests to take home as a souvenir keepsake.
La Fermata: Lots of fun vibes in this hipster restaurant in Lugano, and they also serve a great variety of potent cocktails.The burgers here aren’t the best I’ve tried, BUT THE TACOS and the truffle fries…they’re to die for!
Travel with the Ticino Ticket
Lakes, rivers and mountains, everything is within reach with the Ticino ticket!
Visitors to Ticino who stays overnight in hotels, youth hostels and on camping sites, receives the Ticino Ticket. With this offer, you get to enjoy free public transport around Ticino as well as being granted special rates for various leisure activities during your stay in the region. You are given the “Ticino Ticket” upon arrival and it is valid until the end of your day of departure. For further information please visit the website: ticino.ch/ticket.
For Private/ Group Tours
I was hosted by two wonderful local guides, Anna and Carolina during my time in Bellinzona, Locarno and Ascona.I am so grateful for their accompaniment: They were fun outdoor adventurers, extremely knowledgeable about the region, and without them I really wouldn’t have been able to explore that much of Ticino’s local sights, tastes and culture! You can reach out to them directly if you are interested in organising an individual/group tour or a customised itinerary in Ticino.
Anna Bezzola: Alps and Beyond
Carolina Peter: Sunny Lake
How was your time in Ticino? Would you add a place to this list? Do leave a comment below!
Follow my other trips on my Grand Tour of Switzerland!