One of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had was a Cruise and Cook Luncheon in Lugano, Switzerland.
Cruise and Cook, Lugano, Switzerland
Seriously. If you want a culinary “bucket list” experience that is a combination of intimate, educational, relaxing and quietly luxurious, the Cruise and Cook in Lugano,Switerzland Tour is for you. Ok, “tour” isn’t quite the right word.
I was hosted in Lugano by Ticino Tourism, but when I asked Patricia for a brochure, so I could tell the world about this fabulous experience, she told me they didn’t really have one. (Click the link for more information)
“How do people find out about this?” I asked. “How do people find you?” Patricia knows that she is not easy to find. “Well, there’s a link on the Lugano Region Tourism website” She wants to keep it a bit exclusive. To be perfectly frank, that’s smart. This is NOT your typical “tourist” experience. It’s all the better for that!
Let me backtrack. In my last post, Lugano and Bellinzona, What To Do In Two Days, Christina and I had to leave Bellinzona by 11 am to meet Patricia at the railway station by 11:30 (yep, Bellinzona is less than 1/2 hour from Lugano), so we could be at the dock by 12:15.
We took a leisurely walk from the train station down some stairs through the center of Lugano to the lakefront where Nicola was waiting for us with his boat. That was it, just the four of us. Nicola is the owner of Grotto Descanso, just a 20 minute ferry or water taxi ride across Lake Lugano to Gandria. (Nicola made a special trip for Christina and me. Water taxis are available in Lugano and frequently depart for locations around the lake).
We climbed aboard Nicola’s boat, feeling very much like European jet setters. Patricia is charming and gave us tidbits of Lugano history, while allowing us to just enjoy the experience.
Half way across the lake, Nicola stopped the boat and pulled out Prosecco (what else?) and glasses and we toasted, chatted and laughed for a while. Then we continued to sip our prosecco, enjoying the breathtaking views surrounding Lake Lugano, while Nicola drove us to our destination.
Grotto Descanso is right on Lake Lugano. Nicola pulled his boat into a slip and we walked up a few stairs to his restaurant.
Luncheon at Grotto Descanso
We popped into the kitchen which was humming, and then followed him to some tree shaded tables on the terrace, overlooking the lake.
There was wine, and antipasto, as well as a little 2 burner camp stove and all the ingredients for our risotto making demonstration. Nicola poured us some white wine while we nibbled on locally cured meats and cheese, and chatted about the fabulous location right on Lake Lugano.
Even though Grotto Descanso is a 20 minute boat ride across the lake in Gandria, the restaurant was dotted with businessmen and locals, who take water taxis to lunch in the cooler grotto, and of course dine on Nicola’s delicious food.
One thing about Europeans in general, is the respect they give to food and dining. meals are not hurried, but rather savored. Nicola had everything set up and ready to go for our luncheon. A server brought out all of the ingredients on a small tray in bowls just before it was time to begin.
Risotto at the Grotto
Both Christina and I were very impressed by the cleanliness of the prep area, as well as the attention to detail. Risotto is something that Christina makes all the time, but I’ve only made it a half dozen times. (Here’s her recipe for Risotto alla Milanese) So I was really excited to watch Nicola’s process. While Nicola cooked, Patricia translated or just described the cooking method.
While risotto is definitely NOT a start it and leave it kind of meal, if you enjoy cooking and you’ve got friends over nibbling prosciutto and sipping prosecco, the 20-25 minutes goes by quickly. To see Nicola’s step-by-step Risotto making process, hop on over to my private What A Girl Eats Cooking Group for the videos!
While the risotto was cooking, Nicola cooked up some fresh local sausage in a separate pan, then chopped a handful of rosemary. When he served it, he sprinkled one side with rosemary and topped one side with sausage.
Although neither Christina nor I are vegetarians, I later thought how clever he was to present the dish this way, in case someone doesn’t eat pork or meat. The afternoon was just so relaxing.
One of those day I’m sure I will remember forever. I wanted to capture everything about it, the company, the risotto and the location and sear it in my memory!
Another surprising thing about European dining, is that the portions are so much smaller than in the States.
But once you’ve had antipasto, wine and bruschetta, the risotto was just perfect! We thought we were done with that, but then Nicola brought out a lovely stew on top of polenta, followed by more wine and then a selection of Swiss-Italian desserts.
We hated to leave, but alas, we had more to see!
Visiting Monte Brè
Instead of taking us back to central Lugano, Nicola and Patricia ferried us to the far end of Lugano, closest to the funicular that would take us to the top of Monte Brè.
Monte Brè is situated over 3,000 feet above Lake Lugano and offers breathtaking views of the region.
The funicular, which has been restored to the original 1912 design takes just a few minutes to reach the top. Once there, you’ll find the little town of Monte Brè, restaurants and terraces.
Everything in Lugano is a pretty easy walk, and Monte Brè is no exception. We spent an hour walking around the shaded hillside, had a drink at one of the restaurants perched on the edge of the mountain, and just enjoyed the marvelous views.
Dinner in Lugano
When we finally returned to Lugano, we walked back to the Hotel de la Paix. After freshening up, we walked through Lugano, which was buzzing with World Cup fever. Switzerland had just won a game the previous evening. We found a cute restaurant right on the piazza, Ristorante Cantinone , that had outdoor seating, a reasonably priced menu, and delicious food!
Naturally we started with an antipasto platter of locally cured meats, Christina had a delicious thin-crust pizza topped with fresh arugula and I had the Penne alla Vodka. Both got our stamp of approval!
If you want to try your hand at Penne al Vodka at home, here’s a link to Christina’s recipe.
But the highlight of our stay was definitely the Cruise and Cook in Lugano! It’s a bucket list item for any traveling foodie!