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.
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