Food is a very important part of life in Ticino, a region that is at the crossroads between the Mediterranean and Central Europe, so it goes without saying that throughout the year, there are a large number of festivals dedicated to the joy of eating, as well as events that celebrate music, public holidays and even the camellia flower. Whether you are staying in Mendrisio, Lugano or Locarno, the festivals and events on this list are easy to reach via train. Here is a guide to the best festivals in Ticino.
While most towns celebrate the new year at midnight, Ascona likes to do things a little differently. For the past few decades, the beautiful village on the shores of Lake Maggiore fires off an incredible pyrotechnic show at 6:30pm on January 1. People flock to the lakefront to watch the fireworks surrounded by the breathtaking panorama of the lake and mountains around it. Afterwards, a hot drink at one of the local cafés is a must to warm up before going home.
The Locarno Camellia exhibition is the most important event of its kind in Europe and is second only to the camellia festivals in Japan, home country to this beautiful flower. This incredible exhibit, with over 200 types of camellias, features splendidly arranged blooms set up by experienced gardeners in the private and public gardens of the Locarno region. The programme also includes numerous side-events, including workshops as well as a flower and botanical literature market.
While autumn and winter are all about food, summers in Ticino are all about music. The Moon and Stars festival, which takes place in Locarno every July, is famous all over Europe for bringing the best names in pop and rock onto its stage. Each night, for a week, festival-goers dance under the stars to the notes of artists like Jack Johnson, Sting and Lana Del Rey. The line-up changes every year, so those who attend yearly like to go back for more great tunes under the summer sky.
Every year, at the end of September, Mendrisio turns into a veritable playground for those who love good wine and great food, as the Sagra del Borgo offers the best of both for a whole weekend of fun. The old town’s courtyards are filled with pop-up restaurants, serving classics such as polenta, risotto and roasted meats, while the streets are packed with stalls selling homemade goods, handicrafts and, of course, bottles of wine. The party lasts three days, from Friday to Sunday, and after dark, the town’s main square is the place to be for live music and dancing.
Once the most important cattle fair in the area, this four-day event is held every year around Saint Martin’s day, on November 11. Today, rather than buying and selling cows, Saint Martin’s Fair has become a great excuse for locals to eat their fair share of hearty and filling dishes like slow-cooked suckling pig and cassoeula, a local favourite prepared with pork and cabbage. The fair, which takes place in the field around Saint Martin’s Church outside Mendrisio, is very popular among families, as it features a petting zoo and activities for kids. There are also food stalls offering the chance to shop for local products, such as honey, cured meats and Alpine cheeses.
Come December, beautiful Piazza Grande in Locarno becomes a winter wonderland with a large ice-skating rink, a stunning Christmas tree and a very popular igloo-shaped bar, perfect for warming up and meeting friends. All around the rink, small wooden huts sell typical Swiss fare like raclette, pretzels and chocolates, and, of course, hot mulled wine. Throughout the month, many different events, such as concerts and children’s shows, animate the square attracting locals and tourists alike and offering the opportunity to celebrate the holidays with family and friends.