A May 2003 trip
to Lugano by Invicta73
Quote: Having spent a lot of time in the German speaking part of Switzerland, I felt that visiting Ticino would be a good way of experiencing a different side of the country. My destination was the city of Lugano, which proved to a charming place.
The city has a picturesque backdrop featuring a lake and some mountains, which is obviously quite characteristic of Switzerland. In addition, the high level of efficiency and orderliness found throughout the country exists, but in combination with a less typical Mediterranean atmosphere. For example, sitting at outside café terraces is a popular activity with the stylish locals, as is dining in cosy restaurants such as La Tinèra that serve the fine Italian style regional cuisine.
In addition, if travel between the city and another Swiss destination is on the itinerary, then it is worth investigating the feasibility of using one of the transport options specifically designed to take tourists through some of the most picturesque parts of Switzerland. The William Tell Express is a one-way route that involves a lake cruise in a paddle steamer from Lucerne, followed by a scenic train journey into Ticino. Meanwhile, the Bernina Express travels in both directions on a railway line that crosses beautiful Alpine terrain, linking Chur with the south of the country and also Italy.
Meanwhile, the easiest way to reach some of the settlements around the lake is by boat. Therefore, public ferries are a necessity for many residents of such places, and are also very useful for the numerous tourists that want to visit popular spots like Gandria and Morcote.
The establishment has been in business for more than 100 years, and occupies a grand nineteenth century purpose built edifice. It has a prime location on the waterfront, within easy walking distance of most of the main points of interest. Many of the rival accommodation options in the city also have a good location and are admittedly more luxurious, but the Walter Au Lac is quite a bit cheaper.
There are about 40 recently refurbished bedrooms that are pleasant but a little unspectacular in terms of décor. All are clean and comfortable, and although not particularly large, have the usual facilities, such as television and en-suite bathroom. Without any doubt, the single most appealing thing about the rooms, and quite possibly the entire place, is that every single one overlooks the lovely lake. Even though a fairly busy road separates the building from the waters, the views are generally attractive and engaging, both during the day and at night.
Meanwhile, similar scenes are available from the large first floor dining area. Although operating as a restaurant at times, it is perhaps most notable for being where the good quality breakfasts are served each morning. Given that the latter is included in the rate, the overall price becomes even better value than might initially be thought.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on November 6, 2003
Hôtel Walter au Lac
Restaurant | "La Tinèra"
The restaurant is located in a basement on a narrow side street within the city's old town. Despite being quite small inside, it nevertheless attracts a large number of both residents and tourists. The combination of size and popularity not only means that making a reservation is highly advisable, but also that sharing a table with another party is a possibility. Whether or not the method of making the most of the limited space available enhances the generally very intimate atmosphere probably depends on the people thrown together. However, that the friendly service and the appealing rustic décor add to the pleasant ambience is beyond any doubt whatsoever. In fact, the overall effect is extremely reminiscent of the most cosy of Italian trattorie.
Therefore, it really is quite fitting that the items on offer would also not seem too out of place in a traditional eatery on the other side of the border in Lombardy, although it is Ticinese specialities that predominate. The hearty food tends to make ample use of ingredients such as homemade pasta and goes very well with the rather decent and robust locally produced merlot. One unusual and practical idea that more places really should imitate is that the wine is not available by the bottle or glass, but instead arrives at the table in a ceramic carafe, and the cost is then determined according to what is actually drunk. Finally, an additional bonus is the overall price, which is very reasonable by Swiss standards, especially considering the generous nature of the portions.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 6, 2003
Via Dei Gorini 2
Lugano, Switzerland 6900
091 923 52 19
Attraction | "Lugano Sights"
The lovely tree lined lakeside promenade and the historic centre that spreads back uphill from it are both excellent territory for pleasant walks. The latter is a maze of cobbled lanes that are home to an intriguing mix of boutiques, cafés, delicatessens, and suchlike. There are also several airy squares that are great locations for people watching, most notably the spacious Piazza della Riforma, which is home to the grand neo-classical Municipal Hall.
A couple of particularly interesting old edifices in the area are places of worship. The most important is the Cathedral of St Lawrence, which has a fine Renaissance façade with a trio of notable doorways, as well as an elaborate baroque interior. In addition, the panoramic view of the city from the hillside position is second only to that from the top of the two local peaks, Monte Bré and Monte San Salvatore. By contrast, the Church of St Mary of the Angels is externally small and simple, but no less charming. Inside, there are two frescoes by Lombard painter Bernardino Luini that depict the crucifixion and the Last Supper, which make visiting worthwhile.
There are also several cultural attractions in which to pass some time, for example, the Museum of Extra-European Cultures and the former house of the Nobel Prize winning author Hermann Hesse. Meanwhile, the displays and factory tour at the Alpenrose Chocolate Museum should appeal to anyone that appreciates one of Switzerland's best-loved products. In addition, there are two galleries, which are dedicated to showcasing works produced during recent times and in Ticino respectively.
However, a better choice for art lovers is taking the short bus ride out to the renowned Thyssen-Bornemisza Foundation, which takes its name from the wealthy aristocratic family that accumulated the items on display. The collection was once much bigger, but hundreds of valuable old masters were sold to the Prado in Madrid for a fortune during the 1990s. Nevertheless, the more contemporary range of pieces that remains is impressive, and includes paintings by the likes of Hooper, Munch, and Pollock, as well as a whole room full of Toulouse-Lautrec's creations. In addition, the Villa Favorita, which is home to the gallery, is beautiful in its own right, as are the expansive gardens outside.
There is more greenery just to the east of the old town in the Civic Park, the manicured lawns and colourful flowerbeds of which are complemented by the wonderful waterside setting. It is lovely place to make the most of the warm weather associated with the region, as are the sandy beach and swimming pool at the adjoining Lido.
Lugano / Morcote Sights
Throughout Lugano / Morcote
Attraction | "Around Lugano - Morcote"
Both enjoyable journeys finish at the beautiful village centre, which occupies the lower portion of a small mountain at the end of a peninsular to the south of the city. Fishing was once the mainstay of the local economy, but nowadays tourism is the primary source of income, which in my opinion is somewhat detrimental to the potentially idyllic atmosphere. A prime example of the effects that the change has had is the otherwise fine row of arcaded buildings on the waterfront, which is now mostly home to a series of not very fetching souvenir shops. Fortunately, the distinctive terraced houses, which are usually terracotta coloured and generally reminiscent of rural Lombardy, abound elsewhere in more original and fitting condition. In fact, simply wandering around the narrow alleyways and appreciating the domestic architecture is one of true pleasures of spending time in the place.
The single most notable attraction is definitely the Church of St Mary, which can be reached by ascending a series of narrow stepped lanes. Built in the 15th century and later modified in the baroque style, it is a lovely sight both from down below and up close. The interior also merits investigation, featuring an unusual organ and well-preserved frescoes dating from several hundred years ago. In addition, there is a peaceful and appealing cemetery in the immediate vicinity, and the available views over the settlement and lake make the climb even more worthwhile.
Elsewhere, there is the intriguing Scherrer Park, which is a good place to unwind on a nice day. In addition to an abundance of typically Ticinese flora, scattered throughout the grounds is an unusual mix of sculpture and various other structures from the around the world.
In terms of practicalities, it is possible to travel to Morcote by ferry all year round, but the service is less frequent during low season. The journey takes between one and two hours each way. Walking obviously takes a bit longer, but is quite possibly the more rewarding option. Meanwhile, an excellent place to eat is the Ristorante della Posta. It has been operating for around 150 years, and has some eccentric touches, such as a kitchen that is across a road from the main dining areas, which can make life interesting for the waiting staff!
The first leg involved leaving Ticino and traverses the pleasant rolling hills of Lombardy towards Tirano, spending a lot of time on the shores of Lake Como in the process. Under normal circumstances, the countryside outside would definitely be worthy of a few superlatives, but on this particular occasion, it simply could not compete with what was to come later. Therefore, I was extremely pleased to have started in the south rather than finishing there, as that would have probably proved to an anticlimax.
Unfortunately, the connection left no time to explore after arriving in the town, which is supposedly a fairly picturesque little place, as the main part of the journey was due to start almost immediately. The first noticeable thing after boarding was the carriage itself, the design of which enabled the maximum possible appreciation of the outside world. The unbelievably large windows extended almost to the very top of the train, and ran its entire length with the minimum possible interruption.
It did not take too long after getting underway and crossing back over the border before encountering the first real point of interest. The bridge at Bivio is an eye-catching and highly unusual structure that loops 360 degrees whilst gaining height. It is a fine example of the sort of ingenious devices used to handle steep gradients as an alternative to the more usual cogwheels. Due to such innovative feats of engineering, the act of constructing the line is quite possibly almost as impressive as the terrain that it passes through. In fact, the builders did not seem daunted when faced with the immense obstacle that is the Alps, but rather, they rose to the challenge with considerable aplomb.
The climb into the mountains then continues through a series of tight bends up towards the icy heights of Alp Grüm, and it was then that the spectacular vistas associated with the region came into view for the very first time. In addition, the true uniqueness of the experience became fully apparent. After all, how many other railways transport people from lakeside palm trees to snow covered peaks in the space of just a few hours?
Having eventually reached the highest point, over 7,000 feet, the train travels through the rugged landscape that has enabled the ancient Romansh language to survive to the present day, and which is home to illustrious ski resorts such as St Moritz, Davos and Klosters. It then follows the time-honoured path through the Bernina and Albula Passes that has facilitated a link between northern Italy and the heart of Switzerland for hundreds of years. Although the former is undoubtedly lovely and obviously inspired the evocative name of the express, the latter is more interesting, mainly because of the viaduct over a deep gorge that curves majestically whilst linking the mouth of a tunnel and a section of track along a narrow ridge.
The final stretch, the descent towards Chur, was literally, and also somewhat metaphorically, downhill all of the way. But whilst admittedly not quite as aesthetically spectacular as what had gone before, the views were still very nice, and it proved to be a fine epilogue to a wonderful few hours.
The only real drawback of the trip is the price of the tickets, which was not far short of 100 francs one-way when the compulsory reservation fee is included. However, I would still wholeheartedly recommend doing it to anyone who does not find the cost to be too off putting, as it is definitely an unforgettable way to experience truly wonderful panoramas.
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