With its beautiful natural landscapes, Baroque architecture and relaxed atmosphere, Lugano and the surrounding areas have a lot to offer. While the well-known landmarks such as Piazza Riforma and Via Nassa are definitely worth seeing, there are other non-touristy spots that should be on your list of things to experience in this incredible area – the places locals know and love.
The lovely cathedral of San Lorenz0, dedicated to Saint Lawrence, was built in the Middle Ages and rebuilt in the 15th century. Its exterior reflects this 15th-century rebuilding instead of the original Middle Ages, with an imposing white Carrara marble front, a beautiful rose window, and busts of the kings David and Solomon. From the front of the cathedral, there’s an attractive view over the patchwork of the terracotta roofs of the old town centre and the lake.
Right by the lake, you will find the lovely park Civico Ciani, 63,000 square metres of greenery and parkland where locals like to stroll and hang out on sunny days. A perfect escape from Lugano’s cityscape, the park offers long, tree-lined pathways, colourful flower beds and fountains. The garden abounds with trees typical of the Ticino region: maple, lime, oak and plane trees are visible everywhere. There’s also a play area for children. The Natural History Museum is also located within the park, as is the Cantonal Library and the beautiful Villa Ciani, so make a day of it – there’s lots to see.
With a magnificent vista over Lugano, Monte Brè is Lugano’s iconic and much-loved mountain and it can be reached via funicular rail. The small, quaint village of Brè has a traditional character and also houses many paintings by the Swiss painter Wilhelm Schmidt – a real delight for art lovers. There are plenty of things to do in the area, including several hiking trails and mountain biking, but also eating and drinking at the panoramic restaurant. The observation point gives you a view not only of the entire Lake Lugano valley but often stretches as far as the views of Monte Rosa and the Bernese Alps.
Another of Lugano’s home mountains is Monte San Salvatore, which offers 360-degree views of the valley, lake and the Alps to the south and west. The route to San Salvatore is an old one, dating from 1200 when pilgrims took a trail to the peak of the mountain. Currently, there is a funicular rail that completes the steep 600-metre ascent to the summit, but if you like hiking, take the path that goes down through the woods through the villages of Ciona, Carona, Vico and all the way down to Morcote.
Love literature? The Hermann Hesse Museum is located in Montagnola, a neighbourhood overlooking Lake Lugano, and houses memorabilia from the author’s time here for the 43 years leading up to his death. Camuzzi House, where the museum is housed, is where Hesse wrote many of his most famous masterpieces, including Siddhartha and Steppenwolf. He also painted several watercolours, which can be viewed in one of the rooms. The park around it is also beautiful and well worth visiting, especially in the spring and summer.
A young, hip beachfront restaurant much loved by locals, Al Lido offers a typical Swiss-Italian style brunch. To complement the Italian side, there’s an emphasis on sweet dishes, pies, cakes, biscotti, and more. For fans of savoury snacks, there are around 10 cheeses to choose from, plus there is a decadent array of Swiss red wines, and the wonderful view from the beach-terrace of the lovely Lake Lugano.
A ferry trip away from Lugano, Morcote is one of the prettiest towns along Lake Lugano’s shoreline and was voted “Most beautiful village in Switzerland” in 2016. The tiny former fishing village is set into a hillside that offers charming alleys to explore as well as lovely vistas of the lake below, with the bell tower of its historic Santa Maria del Sasso Church towering over the town. Don’t miss Parco Scherrer with its exotic assortment of Mediterranean and Asian flora and architectural touches such as Greek sculptures, an Egyptian temple, and even a Siamese tea house: this botanical garden is the most charming place in town and one of the most beautiful in the whole area.
One of the quaintest villages on the shore of Lake Lugano, Bissone is a waterfront gem known for being the birthplace of famed Renaissance architect Francesco Borromini. The pastel-coloured houses and arcades are much loved by photography buffs and San Carpoforo church is a masterpiece of Baroque architecture that’s well worth a visit. During the summer, the Lido Comunale offers easy access to the lake, as well as a large swimming pool and a lakefront bar and restaurant – ideal for a bit of rest and relaxation.
Ticino's most unique church: the Santa Maria degli Angeli chapel
Designed by architectural genius Mario Botta, the Santa Maria degli Angeli chapel is unlike any religious building you’ll have seen before, especially in the Lugano area. The chapel is built at the foot of nearby Monte Tamaro and a long footbridge is a gateway leading you down open-stone staircases and corridors with carefully crafted portholes. Modern and beautiful, this church is impressive and an absolute must-see for those who enjoy architectural masterpieces.