Get a dose of the Italian lifestyle in the Ticino region of Switzerland. While it may not be as famous as Zermatt-Matterhorn, as cosmopolitan as Zurich or as rugged as rolling hills and jagged peaks of Jungfrajoch in the Bernese Oberland region, Ticino is an enchanting lake district bordering the Italian border. It is a place to slow down, sip wine and watch the sunset.
With pastel buildings lining the likes of Lake Lugano and Lake Maggiore, its captivating beauty has lured visitors to southern Switzerland to enjoy its beaches and palm trees swaying in the breeze of the sunniest region in The country. If Ticino hasn’t been on your radar, read on to see all the things to do in Switzerland’s Mediterranean.
Where to Stay in Ticino – Resort Collina d’Oro
Located on a vineyard standing above Lake Lugano, Resort Collina D’Oro is a gorgeous wellness retreat. After spending time hiking through the mountains of the Swiss Helps, this little slice of heaven is a place to unwind and soothe your aching muscles in the spa and sauna.
Located on 25 hectares of vineyards and parkland with a scenic pool overlooking Lake Lugano you may never want to leave. The dining here was second to none and our dinners on the terrace of Resort Collina d’Oro Restaurant offered our favourite meals in Switzerland with Mediterranean cuisine. Visit their website for rates and availability.
Things to do in Ticino
Ticino is a huge region and you will definitely want a car to explore. There are several villages and towns lining the lakes with hiking trails, scenic lookouts and attractions scattered throughout its 2800 square km. The places we suggest visiting in this guide are all within an hour or two from each other and can be experienced in four days.
1. Stroll Along Lake Lugano
Nestled between Lake Como in Italy and Lake Maggiore in Switzerland, Lake Lugano has top billing as one of the best things to do in Ticino. Strolling along the Lugano waterfront lets you take in all its beauty. While walking along the lake, it will remind you of Rio de Janeiro as Monte San Salvatore and Mount Bre frame the city.
Lugano boasts a beautiful lakeside park where international university students swim on its shores and people hop on paddle boats to see the city from a different view. Make sure to walk the 2km Lugano walk from Paradiso to Parco Ciani.
Things to do in Lugano
- Explore Centro Storico – The Old City has beautiful Baroque and Reinaissance buildings
- Go window shopping on Via Nassa – Like most places in Switzerland, shopping was beyond our budget, but it was fun to window shop.
- Take a stroll through Caro Ciani to peruse art sculptures (my particular favourite is the huge whale showcasing the devestation marine noise traffic causes)
- Visit the Santa Maria degli Angeli
- the Lido di Lugano
2. Valle Verzasca
Whenever you look up things to do in Ticino or Lugano, Valle Verasca always shows up in the photographs. This is a very popular place in Ticino that is a 30-minute drive from Locarno. The beautiful turquoise waters are the top draw here as the water rushes through the rocky river tumbling through waterfalls, boulders, and under historic bridges.
Make sure to get out and go for a hike along the river and watch the death-defying locals leap into the water from the Ponte dei Salti stone-arched bridge.
3. Visit the Verzasca Dam
On your way to the valley, make sure to pull over to see the 220-meter high Verzasca dam. You may recognize it from James Bond’s GoldenEye starring Pierce Brosnan where he lept from its dizzying heights in only a manner that James Bond could. It is free to visit only costing the price of parking (2CHF) and you can book your own bungee jump in advance living your own 007 dreams.
4. See the Largest Piazza in Switzerland in the Lovely Locarno
Located on Lake Maggiore, Locarno is another lovely waterfront town with painted buildings lining the harbour. Get lost in its cobblestone streets or sip an espresso in Switzerland’s largest Piazza Piazza Grande. Locarno is famous for hosting festivals in its square and while we were visiting, they were setting up for the Locarno Film Festival, one of the most highly anticipated film events in Europe. While in Locarno, take the funicular up to the 14th century church, Santa Maria della Misericordia.
5. Explore the Shores of Lake Maggiore in Ascona
Ascona was our favorite town to visit in Ticino. It is truly a beautiful town with cafes lining the waterfront. The pedestrian village doesn’t allow cars and as you walk the streets perusing the galleries and boutiques you feel as if you’ve been transported in time. Make sure to still along the treelined waterfront at Piazza Giuseppe Mot-ta and pull up a seat at one of the many cafes. Make sure to take a boat ride on Lake Maggiore to cross into Italy.
6. Take the Ritom Funicular to Piora
If you haven’t taken a funicular in Switzerland, you haven’t truly experienced the country. Funiculars are a part of life here with the steep historic trains taking visitors high into the mountains for hiking and cycling. The Ritom Funicular is one of the steepest railways in the world. Built in 1921, the 15 minute journey takes you up 1787 meters where you can hike to the Ritom Dam and tlake Cadagno with beautiful views over the Piora Valley. Make sure to pack water and if you don’t have snacks, don’t worry, you can grab lunch at Capanna Cadagno.
7. Bellinzona and its three UNESCO Castles
The capital of the Ticino Region is not to be missed for its three castles that were designated to the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bellinzona has long been considered the entryway to the Alps and the gateway to Italy making it a strategic location throughout the Middle ages. These three castles represent the strength of the land. Castelgrande, Montebello and Sasso Corbaro and the castle walls of Bellinzona have all been restored and are open to tourists. You can hike to each of them with Castlegrande being located right downtown Bellinzona.
8. See the Terraced village of Gandria
Sadly, we didn’t make it to Gandria, but not for lack of trying. It was a rainy day and we were on route to St. Moritz when traffic seemed extremely heavy and blocked. LEaving from Lugano, we started to have second thoughts about parking our car to walk in the rain, so instead we drove on to St. Mortiz. However, this is supposed to be a beautiful village that must not be missed.
9. Swings to Ticino
A cool thing to keep an eye out when traveling in Ticino is the Swing the World Project. A young couple from Ticino came up with the idea during lock down to install swings are particularly scenic spots around Ticino. There are 14 swings around Ticino, you can find out where they all are at the Swing the World website.
10. Drive the Winding Nufenen Pass
The drive from Zermatt to Ticino was surprising. The winding roads took us throug the Alps with several incredible scenic stops. We didn’t even realize we were on an epic drive until we started taking steep switchbacks up a mountain pass. It was then that we found out we had arrived at Nufenen Pass, Switzerland’s second-highest paved alpine road pass (2478m, 8130ft). The views were gorgeous and drivers and cyclists can stop at the top to go for a hike or have a picnic while taking in the panoramic vista. But better yes, the drive is fun and exciting.
11. Stop for a photo at Church Sant’ Abbondio / Gentilino
This church wasn’t on our radar, but when driving back to our hotel at Resort Collina D’Oro from Lugano, we made an abrupt stop when we saw the Church Sant’ Abbondio / Gentilino. It is the classic view that explains why Ticino is often compared to the Tuscany of Italy. With cypress trees lining the avenue leading to the church, it is a beautiful photo opportunity.
To truly experience all the amazing things to do in Ticino, you would need weeks, but as a part of a grand Switzerland tour, three to four days is the perfect amount of time to catch the relaxing vibe of Lugano and Ascona before you head on to see more mountains in the Alps.
Our trip to Ticino is sponsored by Switzerland Tourism.
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