There are few lakeside towns as pretty and charming as Locarno, with its beautiful palazzos and incredible views over Lago Maggiore. Small and compact, its historical centre is much loved by tourists and locals alike and is perfect to explore on foot, as most of it is pedestrianised. Take your time to enjoy the narrow cobblestone alleys, the pretty pastel-coloured houses, the interesting museums, and the chic and unique boutiques and restaurants that surround the area.
Locarno is famous for hosting some world-famous open-air festivals: from the Festival di Locarno, in August, which has brought the most important names in movie-making to the region for over 70 years, to the Moon & Stars festival, which sees Swiss and international musicians and bands on stage for several nights of live pop and rock music under the stars. The flower exhibition, Camelie Locarno, is a must for nature lovers, as it showcases some of the most beautiful and colourful camellias you will ever see.
What better way to explore the waters of Lake Maggiore than by taking a cruise? Ferries travel to numerous destinations and for cruises of different lengths, so depending on how much time you have and what you want to see, you will find the right combination for you. From short trips, such as to neighbouring Ascona and Gambarogno, to longer ones that cross into Italy, to Luino and Stresa, there is a cruise for everyone, including those who want the chance to dine on board.
There is a place from where you can simultaneously see the lowest (Lake Maggiore) and highest (Monte Rosa) points in Switzerland: it’s called Cardada, and it’s Locarno’s local mountain. Easily reachable by gondola, this area is a nature wonderland, ideal if you want to get away from the heat and spend a day hiking, biking and relaxing surrounded by forests, peaks, and mountain flowers. There are several paths to take, some easy, others more demanding, and there is a restaurant with several panoramic terraces for enjoying lunch with a view.
A day trip to Val Verzasca is a must when staying in Locarno: under half an hour from the town centre, the road starts to climb up the valley, and there is so much to see and do around it that you will want to get an early start. The valley starts with views of an impressive dam, where the Bond movie Goldeneye was filmed, and immediately charms visitors with its lush woods, emerald waters and quaint villages.
Stop in Lavertezzo to see young locals jumping from the ancient Roman bridge into the river, then continue all the way up to Sonogno, where you can hike, admire waterfalls and have a tasty polenta-based dish with a glass of local red wine. On the way down, stop at one of the numerous river accesses and see if you are brave enough to swim in the river… the water is very cold even on the hottest day.
The wildest, most rugged valley in the area, Val Bavona is a nature-lover’s paradise, and it offers the chance to enjoy fresh air and stunning views. The drive to the traditional settlement of Foroglio is spectacular in itself, as the road climbs between steep cliffs, rivers and a lush forest. The village, with its stone houses and eye-catching geraniums, is impossibly quaint and the nearby waterfall, dropping 108 metres, is a must-see before visiting the local restaurant, where visitors can dine on local favourites such as veal stew, polenta and drilled sausages.