With its sunny, almost-Mediterranean climate and relaxed, laid-back vibe, the Italian-speaking Canton of Ticino in the south of Switzerland is a hidden jewel waiting to be discovered. By Raul Dias
Ascona on Lake Maggiore
Lying at the delta of the River Maggia in a unique, sun-drenched bay, the pretty town of Ascona is often described as ‘The Pearl of Lake Maggiore’. Although popular with local Swiss travellers as a top-notch holiday resort, not much is known about Ascona on the global travel scene. Not anymore, we say! With the motto here being “l’arte di vivere” or “the art of living,” Ascona puts on a mighty show with its irresistible waterfront on the Piazza Giuseppe Motta that is home to numerous restaurants, cafés, and bars that stay open until the wee hours. Yet Ascona is more than just a chic party place: this picturesque resort town has a rich cultural and historical heritage. Especially impressive are the Baroque façades of the Casa Serodine and the neighbouring parish church of Santi Pietro e Paolo, a pillared basilica dating from the 16th century, of which the high bell-tower or campanile is the symbol of Ascona.
This lake is another one of its calling cards. As the largest lake in Southern Switzerland, with its shoreline divided between the Italian regions of Piedmont and Lombardy and the Italian-speaking Swiss canton of Ticino, the lake is perfect for a leisurely afternoon sail down its placid waters.
Monte Verità: Europe’s Only Tea Plantation
Monte Verità, also known as ‘The Mountain of Truth’—that sits mighty above Ascona—is the spot where revolutionists, artists, and philosophers once used to experiment new ways of life, but it is also the place that has mainland Europe’s only tea plantation. This botanic miracle has become a reality because of the unique microclimate and also thanks to Peter Oppliger an expert in medicinal plants who calls himself a ‘tea philosopher’. After years of experimentation, it was only in the autumn of 2005 that the first harvest could successfully be made into a small amount of green tea. Oppliger’s aim, it is said, is not commercial cultivation, but to show those who are interested the working of tea cultivation and production. “Il sentiero del tè” (The Tea Way) is a course which has been built according to Japanese philosophy. Along this free-to-all path built into the slopes of Monte Verità, visitors can experience every aspect of the culture of tea from its production to its appreciation.
The Quaint Little Village of Gandria
Few places in Ticino are photographed as much as the beautiful little village of Gandria on Lake Lugano. As the last village of Switzerland before the border with neighbouring Italy, Gandria has a distinct Italian look and feel to it. And the best way to get a pulse of the magic of this former fishing village is to roam its narrow streets on foot. However, it is said that the lake is the best vantage point to see the terraced houses on the hillside below the Baroque San Vigilio Church. You can also reach the town of Lugano by boat in a matter of minutes. The alternative is to walk along the olive path, which meanders through woods and olive groves on the lake shore.
5. Fall for Lugano’s Charms
As the largest town in Ticino, Lugano is not only Switzerland’s third most important financial centre, but also a town of parks and flowers, villas and sacred buildings. With an unmissable Mediterranean flair, Lugano offers all the advantages of an excellent city, combined with the cachet of a small town. Located in a bay on the northern side of Lake Lugano, surrounded by the mounts San Salvatore and Brè, any side you look will reward you with splendid views. The traffic-free historic town center, the famous exclusive-shopping street of Via Nassa or the gourmet-street Via Pessina, the numerous buildings in Lombardy style, the exclusive museums, the mountains, lake and a packed calendar of events all suggest the decidedly Italian-inspired good life or ‘dolce vita’. By the lakeside promenade, don’t miss the Belvedere Garden, where the parkland boasts camellias and magnolias, sub-tropical plants, and modern works of art and sculptures.