What comes to mind when you think of Switzerland? Yodelling? Fondue? Banks? Watches? Whatever you’re thinking about, Ticino probably didn’t cross your mind. Ticino is the southernmost canton of Switzerland and is the only one in which Italian is the sole official language. Nicknamed “die Sonnentuche” (the sun pocket) by German-speaking Swiss people, it has the most hours of sunshine in all of Switzerland and is where Italian luxury meets Swiss efficiency. Over the summer, I visited the largest city in the canton, Lugano.
While the city is served by an airport, Milan’s airports offer greater access to international destinations and are located 60 to 90 minutes away. By bus, you can get to Lugano by Flixbus if you’re coming from Milan, Turin or Munich or Postbus if you’re coming from somewhere else in Switzerland. Lugano rail station is served by Swiss Federal Railways that go to several northern Italian cities and elsewhere in Switzerland.
There is a bus service that goes all around the city and to several nearby towns but if you’re only planning to stay in the city, it is small enough to navigate on foot. Switzerland is an expensive place, so take any opportunity you can to save money!
Top Places to See
Lake Lugano (Lago di Lugano)
If you go to Lugano, this is pretty hard to miss. Lake Lugano is situated between two other well-known lakes (Lago Maggiore and Lago di Como) and straddles the Swiss-Italian border. The Società Navigazione del Lago di Lugano (SNL) are one of a few companies that provide tourist boat services on the lake. You can visit other lakeside communities including the picturesque Gandria, home of the Swiss Customs Museum (Museo doganale svizzero) and the Italian excalve of Campione d’Italia, where you can find Europe’s largest casino. Many of these lakeside communes are only accessible by boat. The water temperatures in the lake can reach 24 degrees in the summer, which makes it perfect for a quick dip.
Old Town (Centro Storico)
Lugano’s Old Town is either a 10-minute walk downhill from the train station. You can walk down or take the funicular (CHF 10). The walk down is quite steep, so if you have trouble keeping control of your legs or if you’re carrying heavy luggage, I would suggest taking the funicular. Besides the numerous bars and cafés dotted around the place, the place (especially around the Piazza della Riforma) wandering around the maze of cobblestone streets is an adventure in itself. When you’re finished there, head down to the promenade along the lake, sit down and discover il dolce di far niente (the joy of doing nothing), something which the residents of Ticino are famous for.
Cattedrale di San Lorenzo
The cathedral dates back to the 16th century and contains ornate frescoes and Baroque statues behind its Renaissance façade. Just outside it, you find some wonderful views of the Old Town and the lake.
Located to the east of the city centre, Monte Brè is a small mountain that boasts a spectacular view of the bay of Lugano and the surrounding mountains. It is also one of the sunniest places in all of Switzerland. A funicular can get you up and down the mountain (CHF 16 one way, CHF 20 return). On the other side of mountain, you can find the village of Brè. The village is a fine example of traditional Ticinese architecture, even the traditional washing fountain, or “Lavatoio” is preserved to this day. From the top of the mountain, you can see some the most breathtaking views of Lake Lugano and the surrounding mountains.
Lugano hosted the very first Eurovision Song Contest in 1956. The venue in which it was held, Casino Lugano (formerly Teatro Kursaal), still stands today. The building today contains a casino and a restaurant.
Lugano also plays host to a number of festivals throughout the summer, including the LongLake Festival, one of the biggest open-air festivals in Switzerland. The festival runs from July to August and offers music, theatre, street art and street performance. More information can be found here: https://longlake.ch/en/
Lugano and Ticino are often overlooked by tourists but it’s worth going. Even sitting down, taking it all in and enjoying il dolce di far niente is what it’s all about!