By Greg Aragon
I’ve been to the German and French speaking regions of Switzerland, but I have yet to visit the southern part of the country, near the Alps and the border of Italy, where Italian is spoken and a Mediterranean climate yields lush gardens, fine wines and a delicious variety of cuisine.
Located on the southern side of the Alps, Ticino is where Switzerland and Italy meet and meld, and the landscape features pristine valleys, panoramic mountaintops, picturesque lakes, and colorful people.
As I plan my visit to the Ticino Canton this fall, I would like to look at some of the things to do and see during the season.
With nearly 2,500 miles of footpaths and a variety of excursions, Ticino is known as the greenest corner of Switzerland. With this in mind, I want to do some exploring on foot, and possibly stay in an Alpine hut, overlooking mountains and valleys.
A trek that caught my eye is Lukmanier Pass to Cadlimo Hut. The historic Lukmanier Pass is the perfect starting point for those wanting to explore the heart of the Swiss Alps. One of the most scenic walks makes its way up from the shores of Lake Santa Maria to the Cadlimo Hut, situated about 8,400-feet above sea level.
The walk begins across the Termine valley to the Ritom district, where it transitions rapidly up a mountainside. The route then winds its way by the River Rein da Medel, a headwater of the Rhine whose waters travel more than 750 miles until meeting the North Sea.
About halfway along the route the journey comes to Stabbio Nuovo, where walkers might encounter a herdsman with his dogs and herds of yaks. These large yet docile creatures, also known as Tibetan oxen, dot the landscape, giving it an exotic and unusual appearance. During the final stretch of the climb, at more than 7,800-feet above sea level, the landscape becomes rocky and full of sure-footed ibexes.
Another location in Ticino I want to visit is Ascona, Switzerland’s lowest lying town. Located about 640-feet above sea level on the northern shore of Lago Maggiore, Ascona is famous for its mild Mediterranean climate, its Old Town and a lake promenade which is dotted with street cafés and colorful fishing village scenes.
The ancient city of Ascona is replete with medieval and Renaissance history, highlighted by narrow alleys leading to piazzas. A landmark in town is the church of San Pietro e Paolo, located in Borgo, Ascona’s old town center. The church is a basilica dating back to the 16th century and features distinctive columns and a high bell tower that can be seen across Ascona. The main Lake Promenade in town is car-free and teaming with charming street cafés.
In fall, Ascona welcomes the annual Chestnut Festival where visitors can taste over 4,400-pounds of chestnuts roasted on the fire by locals. There will also be various chestnut-based delicacies such as jams, honeys and cakes, and a host of the region’s traditional food and wine products. The festival takes place this October.
And then there is Lugano, the largest town in the holiday region of Ticino. It is not only Switzerland’s third most important financial center; it is also a town of parks and flowers, villas and sacred buildings. With Mediterranean flair, Lugano offers all the advantages of a world-class city, yet still has lots of small town, old world charm.
Lugano lies in a bay on the northern side of Lake Lugano, surrounded by mountains. It boasts a car-free historic town center, stunning Italianate Lombardy-styled architecture, museums, and lake-front activities. By the lakeside promenade are the Belvedere Gardens, where the parkland boasts not only camellias and magnolias but also countless sub-tropical plants and modern works of art.
The two closest mountains to Lugano, Monte San Salvatore and Monte Brè, offer a memorable panorama of town, Lake Lugano and the alpine scenery. While in town, I want to take a boat trip to the fishing village of Gandria. Set at the foot of Monte Brè, on the shores of Lake Lugano, Gandria has remained unchanged for about 100 years and features the popular Swiss Customs and Smuggler Museum.