Lugano and Bellinzona, Switzerland; what to do in two days.
When Ticino Tourism asked Christina, from Christina’s Cucina, and me if we’d like to visit the Ticino region of Switzerland, we were so excited. While we’d both been to Switzerland before (separately), neither one of us had been to Lugano or Bellinzona. If you think of Italy as the “boot”, then the Ticino region of Switzerland, and Lake Lugano would be part of the sock tucked into the top.
Could we visit Lugano and Bellinzona in two days? Yes we could, and here’s how we did it. (I was hosted by Ticino Tourism, and in turn, am sharing my experiences with you. As always, my opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links)
Lugano; Switzerland with a dash of Italy.
Surrounded by Italy on three sides, well really two if you don’t count the lake, Lugano has a decidedly Italian flair with Swiss efficiency. Less well known than the northern cantons of Zurich, Bern and Basel, Ticino is the only canton where Swiss-Italian is the official language.
Having Christina there to speak Italian was a nice bonus, although not necessary, as nearly every Swiss citizen speaks English and at least 2-3 other languages!
The town of Lugano wraps around the lake, so matter where you walk, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views. Our first evening in Lugano, Christina and I walked from the Hotel de la Paix where we were staying, down to the center of town. Even though we had a Swiss Travel Pass, we wanted to enjoy the evening. It was mid-June and the weather was just perfect. You know that perfect kind of weather where you’re not to hot, not too cold?
Switzerland in June has longer daylight hours than LA, so the sun wasn’t even thinking about going down until well after 9! We walked the length of the lake which curves around and offers spectacular views in every direction.
Monte Bre’, Monte Generoso, and Monte San Salvatore surround the lake, and are what helps keep the climate of Lugano so temperate. Monte San Giorgio (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) sits to the south. Much milder in temperature than the rest of Switzerland, Ticino boasts over 2,000 hours of sunshine each year.
Because of its close proximity to Italy, (it’s only a 30 minute train ride from Como) you feel the Italian presence in the food and language. Even the landscape gives Lugano a Mediterranean feel one would not normally associate with Switzerland.
I was surprised at how mild Lugano was, and had to constantly remind myself I was in Switzerland, not Italy!
Small Town Resort Feel
Even though Lugano is the third largest banking center in Switzerland, it feels like a small town. Situated right on the lake; parks, palm trees, and a car-free town center, lend to Lugano’s laid-back feel. Easily walkable, with squares and cute streets fanning off of the lake, Lugano has the ambiance of a resort town.
Hotel de la Paix
The Hotel de la Paix, is just a short, 10 minute bus ride from the train station, and the Swiss Travel Pass makes traveling in Switzerland incredibly easy. (I’ll be going more in depth about the Swiss Travel Pass in a future post)
It has a bright and spacious lobby, cozy bar area, pool, and friendly staff that speaks at least 3 languages each, including one lovely young woman who was fluent in Mandarin. (Yeah, I did feel a little behind the curve with my basic high school French and Southern California Spanish).
The terrace of the Hotel de la Paix is a lovely place to have a cocktail and listen to music before dinner. (There was a charming gentleman playing the keyboard and singing some vintage pop tunes both nights we were there).
A more than ample full buffet breakfast was included with our room. I’m a breakfast girl, so I need my eggs. Every morning there were scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, PLUS cold ham and meats, fruit, waffles and bread. The servers will bring you a cappuccino, because why not? But you can have coffee, tea or espresso too.
Dining in Lugano
For dinner we met the lovely Laura at the Ristorante AnaCapri, near the train station with views overlooking Lake Lugano. It just so happened to able be the World Cup, and Switzerland was playing, so the town was buzzing.
We started with prosecco and a simple, but delicious caprese salad which we three shared, as it was quite a large portion. I had the tagliatelle ai funghi porcini (pasta with porcini mushrooms), which was fabulous.
While I’m not usually a dessert person, I did have more than my fair share of a chocolate lava cake! One really nice aspect of the AnaCapri, and it seems with most Swiss restaurants, is that they list allergies and dietary restrictions on their menu, so there’s no guessing if you have to avoid certain foods.
Dishes containing gluten, dairy, shellfish or nuts are clearly labeled, including those dishes that might even have traces of an allergen. Vegetarians and even vegans have plenty of options!
Towards the end of our meal, we began to hear cheers and honking which told us that Switzerland had just won their game against Serbia. It was really fun to feel the excitement as the whole town erupted in celebration.
Bellinzona, A Unesco World Heritage Site
The following morning we headed back to the train station for a quick, 30 minute trip to Bellinzona and the Saturday market. Bellinzona is a quaint town with less than 20,000 permanent residents, yet it has 3 castles which are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Switzerland boasts 12 UNESCO World Heritage Sites!)
The three Medieval castles, linked by a wall, at one time enclosed the Ticino valley. They and served as protection for the citizens from the Milanese to the south. The main castle, Castelegrande visible from the Piazza del Indipendenza, is just a few steps from the market. A short walk up the steps will give you lovely views of the region.
While Christina and I did not have time to visit all of the castelli, we took a brief hike up the fortress stairs as far as we could. The market is only open on Saturdays, which was lucky for us. Allow a minimum of 3 or 4 of hours to visit Bellinzona on market day. If you plan to visit any of the castles in great depth, allow more time. There are also 3 churches in Bellinzona…we popped into one to check in out. I was surprised at how large and impressive it was for such a small town.
We would have loved to visit the castles and spent more time in Bellinzona. We had a train to catch back to Lugano for a fabulous lunch. (Stay tuned for that, as it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had!)We enjoyed strolling through the Bellinzona market, sampling the local products, and looking at the beautiful handicrafts in the market.
The Swiss, not surprisingly, take great pride in the quality of their products, from the cheeses and sausages to the honey and fresh vegetables, everything we tasted or saw was lovely prepared or presented. Our only regret was that we couldn’t bring some of the wonderful food products back to the states with us!
In my next post, I’ll be sharing what Christina and I did on our second day in Lugano!
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