Ticino Is a Slice of the Mediterranean in Switzerland

View from San Michele
View from San Michele | Courtesy of Switzerland Tourism
Chiara Assi

Home to beautiful lakes and surrounded by stunning mountains, Ticino is a region that embodies both Alpine and Mediterranean influences, combining the two to create a distinct character. But it’s the Mediterranean aspects of this waterfront area that make it stand out. Here, you will find lakeside dining, picturesque olive groves and a sophisticated cultural scene. Within the same day, indulge in a rustic meal in the region’s famous mountain huts, climb a rocky peak and swim in the warm waters of Lake Lugano or Lake Maggiore.

Al fresco Swiss dining with a view

If you think that Swiss cuisine is all about cheese fondue, think again: the south of Switzerland features an entirely different cuisine, with Mediterranean and Italian influences lending a unique flair. The best way to enjoy locally caught fish and flavoursome risottos in Ticino is to sit at one of the many grottos. These family-run restaurants are typical of the area and serve a handful of local specialities on their sun-drenched terraces, in the shadow of old trees. Some are accessible by car, while others can only be reached by boat or on foot. Locate a typical grotto and you will be rewarded with genuine and earthy cuisine, a relaxed and informal atmosphere, and unforgettable views.

Between April and June each year, the Ticino region also celebrates the best of both local and international cuisine at the Sapori Ticino Gourmet Festival. The festival takes place in locations across the region, including Lugano. Sapori Ticino’s founder, Danny Stauffacher, says: ‘The tastiest food comes from small-scale local producers’ – of which there are many in Lugano.

Narrow street with cafés and restaurants in the old town of Lugano, Switzerland

Wine taste your way around the Ticino region

The hills around Mendrisio, Lake Lugano and Lake Maggiore are home to vineyard after vineyard. Here, local Merlot grapes are grown, ready to be turned into some of the best wines that Switzerland has to offer. Many winemakers, especially in the Mendrisiotto area, offer guided tours and tastings for those who want to savour their products, and you can also buy bottles to take home. Should you prefer a more relaxed approach, restaurants and cafés in the area also serve these delectable red and white wines. Why not sample a local tipple while taking in the views and enjoying local cheeses and bread?

Porza near Lugano, Switzerland

Explore culture in Lugano

Lugano may be small and compact, but it features a lively and varied cultural scene, with a good number of art and history museums as well as a range of music, theatre and dance performances scheduled throughout the year. The newly built Lugano Arte e Cultura (LAC) is the town’s cultural hub and the place to experience both visual and performing arts, while the streets in front and nearby the lake become the stage for open-air festivals and concerts all summer long. The small but fascinating museums in the city, such as the one dedicated to Hermann Hesse – the majority of whose artworks are Mediterranean-inspired watercolours – are ideal for those who want to learn more about Lugano’s famous past residents. Perfectly manicured Parco Ciani, with its colourful, blooming flowers and century-old trees, is a pretty spot for a stroll while enjoying a gelato and great views of Lake Lugano.

Less than an hour’s drive from Lugano, Bellinzona, the capital of the Ticion region, is also a great place for a day trip. The city boasts not one but three medieval UNESCO World Heritage-listed castles: Castelgrande, Castello di Montebello and Castello Sasso Corbaro. There’s also a traditional street market to explore every Saturday morning, with fresh produce as well as local cheeses and meats on sale.

Parco Ciani, Lugano, Switzerland

Get lost among olive trees at Gandria

The Sentiero dell’Olivo (‘Olive Trail’) is a pretty path that links Lugano with the fishing village of Gandria via an easy walk, with the lake on one side and a beautiful olive grove on the other. Flat and approachable, even if you are with kids, this route offers lovely views over the water and the surrounding landscape. Thanks to information panels scattered along the way, there’s also the chance to learn more about olive trees while walking the route. The path, located on the sunny side of the lake, is beautiful year round, but especially so in the spring, when the flowers and trees dotted along it are in bloom. During the warm months, you can also stop at the Lido San Domenico and enjoy a drink in the sunshine.

Gandria, Switzerland

Enjoy a day on Lake Lugano

Lake Lugano has a unique shape, with its extremities stretching out in all directions like fingers. While most of the lake’s shore is in Switzerland, there are three sections that are in Italy, all of which can be reached by ferry. However, stay in Switzerland and you’ll find all manner of activities to enjoy. Those who like gambling might choose to get off the boat in Lugano and try their luck at the lakefront Casino Lugano. Alternatively, step off the ferry in Paradiso and take the funicular up to stunning Monte San Salvatore for incredible views and a beautiful hike. Morcote, which was voted the most beautiful village in Switzerland in 2016, is a real gem and located right on the lake. In Morcote, there are two fantastic parks to explore: at the Swissminiatur park, experience the whole of Switzerland in one place, while Parco Scherrer is resplendent in plants from around the world, and has pretty Mediterranean and Asian gardens.

Morcote village on Lake Lugano, Switzerland

Watch movies under the stars at the Locarno Festival

For 11 days every August, Locarno becomes the place to be for those who love cinema. The Locarno Festival has been showcasing the best films for more than 70 years, attracting movie enthusiasts from all over the world. The beautiful main square, Piazza Grande, turns into a wonderful open-air theatre and the red carpet welcomes the biggest names in international cinema. The atmosphere is sophisticated yet relaxed, perfect to enjoy great movies under the summer sky. The Ascona-Locarno region, on the shores of Lake Maggiore, is a lively lakeside town with great dining and shopping options.

Locarno Festival

Looking for somewhere to stay on your visit?

1. International au Lac Historic Lakeside Hotel

Boutique Hotel

Hotel International au Lac, Lugano
Courtesy of Hotel International au Lac

Ideally located in the centre of Lugano, the International au Lac Historic Lakeside Hotel has been family-owned since 1906. It’s the only lakeshore hotel in the historic centre of Lugano to have its own parking garage, garden and swimming pool. Stay in a ‘panorama’ room for lake views, or choose a junior room with its own kitchenette. The grand structure itself is now a listed building, and the hotel was honoured as a ‘Historic Hotel’ by the ICOMOS jury of UNESCO in 2007. Steeped in tradition, while the hotel has modernised in recent years, it has lost none of its charm.

Planning a trip to Ticino? Make sure you check out Ticino Tourism Agency for helpful hints and tips.

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