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A Weekend Guide to the Italian-Swiss Region of Ticino

Switzerland is known for its natural beauty and sweeping vistas, with picturesque small villages dotted throughout the country making it one big outdoor playground. Situated between the Swiss Alps and Lake Maggiore, Ticino is a breathtaking canton (or state) in the south, oozing with charm as it blends beautiful landscapes with an Italian flair. 

Ticino is Switzerland’s sunniest region, with over 2,170 hours of sunshine per year. That translates to a near-perfect Mediterranean climate, farm fresh food and locally-produced wine, and lush gardens. 

Known as Switzerland’s “Little Italy,” Ticino is an Italian-speaking area and has a decidedly Italian atmosphere—but without all the tourist crowds and over-the-top villas. The Swiss Riviera exudes la dolce vita, and it’s the kind of destination that makes you want to stay a while. Luckily, there’s plenty to see and do.

In Lugano, a city in Ticino often compared to Lake Como, you can stroll along the elegant promenades, visit world-class museums such as the Museo d’arte della Svizzera Italiana, and enjoy gourmet dining with lakeside views. In Bellinzona, the capital of the canton of Ticino, you’ll be transported to a historic town while exploring three UNESCO World Heritage-listed castles (Castelgrande, Montebello and Sasso Corbaro). Whether you are looking for outdoor adventure, arts and culture or epicurean delights, Ticino has something for every type of traveler. 

Here’s your ultimate travel guide to help you navigate this slice of Swiss paradise.

Getting to Ticino

The best way to get to Ticino is through the Swiss Federal Railways (or SBB). The national transportation operator runs several trains and buses around the clock within Switzerland and Italy to the Ticino region. 

For a more scenic but slightly longer route to Ticino, opt for one of the transportation options (a combination of trains, buses and boats) that not only connect from major Swiss cities, but also offer panoramic views: Bernina Express, Palm Express, Gotthard Panorama Express, or Lötschberg-Centovalli Express which includes Lago Maggiore Express. Panoramic train rides are a unique experience in Switzerland and should be on your itinerary. We recommend the Bernina Express, the highest railway line in the Alps, which means exceptional views and a short stop at Alp Grüm train station for photos. The train passes through 55 tunnels and over 196 bridges including the Rhaetian Railway, an UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Every Swiss canton is unique, and with a seamless and sophisticated public transportation network of trains, buses, funiculars and boats, it’s easy to get around and do day trips. If you’re traveling throughout Switzerland for more than a few days, the Swiss Travel Pass is a must (starting at 244 CHF for a 3-day pass). The all-in-one pass, available only to visitors, grants unlimited access to premium trains, buses and boats throughout the country. It also gives you complimentary admission to over 500 museums.

Where to Stay

Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola

  • Viale Castagnola 31, 6906 Lugano, Switzerland

The 19th-century villa turned family-owned boutique hotel is an enchanting escape, heavy on the charm and warm hospitality. The property boasts 72 sun-kissed rooms and suites, with select accommodations featuring balcony doors overlooking the hotel’s grounds, bronze art sculptures and San Salvatore mountain in the distance. You’ll be tempted to burn off your breakfast with a game of tennis on the clay courts or swim laps in the heated indoor swimming pool, but a dip in Lake Lugano is more likely. The Lido Club, a private sundeck terrace overlooking the Gulf of Lugano, is furnished with comfortable lounge chairs so you can work on your tan while ordering light bites and sandwiches from Le Relais, the hotel’s on-site restaurant. Cars are no longer allowed on property in order to offer a more exclusive and quaint guest experience.

Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola. Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola.

Hotel Eden Roc, Ascona

  • Via Albarelle 16, Ascona, Switzerland

This five-star palm tree-lined hotel is tucked away at the end of the cafe-lined  promenade in Ascona, a small town on the shores of Lake Maggiore. Home to La Brezza, a two Michelin-star restaurant, and four other dining outlets that all have vegetarian menus, Hotel Eden Roc is a serene lakefront property that offers multiple pools, a spa that uses only organic or certified natural products, and a private beach and marina with plenty of water activities including wakesurfing, water skiing, paddleboarding and banana boats to explore the lake. The accommodations at this property, a member of Leading Hotels of the World, are a quiet respite from the crowds that flock to the promenade, but if you crave more action you can visit the hotel’s bee hive and harvest liquid gold, go paragliding from Locarno’s mountains, or embark on a bicycle tour around Ticino with the help of the hotel’s concierge. 

Hotel Eden Roc. Urs Homberger Arosa Switzerland

The View

  • Via Guidino 29, 6900, Lugano, Switzerland

Soak in the views from this aptly-named modern boutique hotel on the shores of Lake Lugano. Surrounded by mountains, this five-star retreat is designed to resemble a giant yacht, and epitomizes sophistication with its sleek interiors and attention to detail. Various types of wood materials, including teak finishes, and earth-toned colors are used in the 18 guestrooms to bring elements of the outdoors inside. Elevate your sleep with a customized selection from the pillow menu, which includes feather-free, memory or thermoregulatory options. And when you are ready for a daytime adventure, take advantage of the hotel’s complimentary electric Smart car or bike and explore nearby towns such as Gandria or Bellinzona.

The View, Lugano. The View, Lugano.

Hotel Splendide Royal

  • Riva Antonio Caccia, 7 – 6900 Lugano, Switzerland

Located in the heart of Lugano, this 19th-century historic gem exudes timeless elegance with classic guest rooms that offer excellent views of the lake and nearby mountains. I Due Sud, the hotel’s one Michelin-star fine dining restaurant, captures the essence of Italian-Swiss gastronomy using ingredients such as lemon from Sorrento and alpine butter and chestnuts from Lugano to create a menu that celebrates the Amalfi Coast and Swiss Riviera. The prime location in the city center means high-end designer stores, boutique shops, and vibrant cafes are all within walking distance of the hotel. The nearby Funicolare Monte San Salvatore takes you to the top of the mountain for stunning 360-degree views of the town and lake.

Hotel Splendide Royal. Vincenzo Tambasco.

Where to Eat

Ristorante della Torre

  • Riva da la Tor 1, 6922 Morcote, Switzerland

Nestled in the quaint village of Morcote, Ristorante della Torre offers picturesque vistas overlooking Lake Lugano. You can take a bus or taxi from Lugano to this charming lakeside restaurant, but we prefer the ferry, for a more scenic route. Enjoy a cozy meal indoors or reserve a seat on the covered terrace for prime views. The seasonal menu is a celebration of fresh, local ingredients, with a selection of pasta, seafood and meat options. Save room for the decadent warm chocolate cake.

Ristorante della Torre. Ristorante della Torre

Ristorante Arté al Lago

  • Rivetta Alfonsina Storni 1, 6900 Lugano, Switzerland

This award-winning, adults-only restaurant is a unique gastronomic experience for both art and food enthusiasts, with works by internationally renowned artists adorning the walls. Helmed by chef Frank Oerthle, the menu primarily centers around local fish, paired with an extensive wine list featuring regional and international selections. Dishes are beautifully presented with an artistic quality and impeccable service to match, with staff who are highly attentive to patrons’ needs and the possibility of a tableside greeting from the chef. The direct view of the lake sets the stage for a romantic evening.

Ristorante Arté al Lago. Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola

Ristorante le Bucce di Gandria

  • Via Cantonale, 6978 Gandria, Switzerland

This restaurant is known for its rustic Mediterranean and Ticinese cuisine, highlighting what’s fresh and in season. The rotating five-course tasting menu (CHF 70) showcases the chef’s recommendations, or you can savor a variety of à la carte dishes, from pasta to freshly caught lake fish, all complemented by a curated selection of regional, small production wines meant to be enjoyed on the terrace. The owners take pride in making everything in-house, from the bread to the dessert.

What to Do

Brissago Islands

  • Casella postale 714, 6612 Ascona, Switzerland

Spend a day in Ascona, just 30 minutes from Lugano by ferry. After a spritz-filled lunch at one of the bustling cafes, take a 20-minute boat ride to the nondescript Brissago Islands, comprised of two islands: Isola Piccola and Isola Grande (only the latter is open to the public). The Botanical Garden of the Canton Ticino, located on Isola Grande, is an exquisite six-acre garden that dates back to the 19th century with over 2,000 exotic flora from around the world. Take a stroll around the garden—it’s easy to linger here for hours—listening to the soundtrack of nature: birds chirping and water flowing, all while soaking in the scent of lemon trees that perfumes the air. Every corner leads you to another surprise, including Roman baths, a bamboo garden, a lily pond filled with croaking frogs and a mini-greenhouse overflowing with lush tropical plants. 

The neoclassical Villa Emden, the crown jewel of Isola Grande, is a historic villa that was converted into a hotel and restaurant filled with pure-white Carrara marble and Florentine flooring. Visitors can book one of the 10 rooms or have a leisurely meal at the restaurant surrounded by the garden—a must for lunch or dinner.

Brissago Islands. Ticino Turismo, Foto Enrico Pescantini

Parco Ciani

  • Riva Albertolli, Lungolago, 6900 Lugano, Switzerland

This beautiful park is an urban oasis in the heart of the city, with over 15 acres of lush greenery, sculptures and fountains scattered throughout. Take a stroll or go for a jog on the scenic pathway adorned with colorful flower beds, and look out for the mysterious but idyllic iron gate. Afterward, reward yourself with a scoop (or two) of gelato at the stand stationed at the park entrance and enjoy it on a park bench overlooking the lake.

Parco Ciani. Lugano Region

Corte del vino Ticino

  • 6834 Morbio Inferiore, Via Ghitello 3, Mendrisio, Switzerland

Mendrisio, the southernmost tip of Ticino, is a winemaking region perfect for hiking and vino tasting. This area is known as the Tuscany of Switzerland due to its high concentration of wineries and rolling green hills. Merlot is the predominant grape grown here, but look out for white merlot, a common pale wine found on aperitif menus across the region. The best way to experience the area is a guided bike tour, where you’ll cycle through the vineyards, small villages and colorful homes. If you prefer to go at your own pace, stop by Corte del vino Ticino, inside an old mill, for a guided tasting that will take you through four unique wines accompanied by small bites, and then enjoy a farm fresh lunch paired with wine from the region at the winery’s restaurant. If you’ve had one too many glasses, check into Conca Bella Boutique Hotel, the region’s first wine hotel.

Parco Scherrer

  • Riva di Pilastri 20, 6922 Morcote, Switzerland

This mystical and under-the-radar garden in Morcote, known as the Garden of Wanders, transports visitors around the world through horticultural artistry. Founded by world traveler and gardener Arturo Scherrer in the early 20th century, Parco Scherrer overlooks Lake Ceresio and is filled with miniature sculptures and gardens modeled after famous landmarks around the world. As you stroll through the garden on a moderately steep path, you’ll be rewarded with small scale figures such as the second temple of the Acropolis of Athens, the Alhambra gardens in Granada, the Arab house modeled after Palazzo Salò di Brugine near Padua, and a Lombard-Ticino house from the 1300s, an ode to the surrounding region. The hypnotizing scent and colors of exotic plants and flora including eucalyptus, lemon trees, bamboo and camellias will keep your senses awake as you catch your breath to the top.

Morcote Parco Scherrer Luftaufnahme. Switzerland Tourism

Swissminiatur

  • 6815 Melide, Switzerland

This three-acre open-air museum in Melide, a village in Lugano, replicates over 120 prominent buildings and landmarks in Switzerland, but in a miniature 1:25 scale version. Spot the grand castles of Rapperswil, the Piazza Grande in Locarno and the Federal Parliament in Bern. The family-friendly theme park is a meticulously designed replica that also showcases Switzerland’s renowned transportation system with 18 railways, cable cars and boats that run through the park. The theme park also includes a picnic area so you can bring your own food or purchase sandwiches and snacks from the purveyor.

Swissminiatur. Milo Zanecchia

Museo d’arte della Svizzera Italiana

  • Via Canova 10, 6900 Lugano, Switzerland

Founded in 2015, Museo d’arte della Svizzera Italiana (MASI) is one the most visited museums in Switzerland, and for good reason. It is made up of two venues, the LAC Cultural Center and the historic Palazzo Reali. Both spots showcase a collection of 14,000 pieces of art that span from Renaissance to contemporary. Exhibits are constantly rotating, but the focus is always on local artists from Ticino and greater Switzerland, to emphasize the museum’s commitment to preserve the artistic heritage of the region.

LAC Lugano Arte e Cultura MASI, Lugano. Oliver Baer
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