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Tag Archives: lugano

Before I forgot about this place we visited in Easter, I’d better post it.

Campione d’Italia is a small village that is a part of Italy but is surrounded on all sides by Switzerland except the lake front.  Someone told us that it is a duty free zone and it might explain the massive casino built in the middle of town.  It is designed by Mario Botta who did many other big projects in the Ticino area.  It is so much bigger and modern than the other village buildings.  He did the same with an office building in Paradiso.  There was not much happening in this town except gambling.  While we were waiting for our boat, we wandered into a bar.  Practically the entire village was there to watch one of the quarter-final European champion football match.  Inter Milano beat Bologna, and everybody was happy since Milano is less than 100 km away.  We were cold and ordered hot chocolate instead of beer.

On our last day in Lugano, the sun came back out but it was still cold.  We took another funicular railway up to Monte Bre located on the other side of Lugano, across from Monte San Savatore.  There are many hiking trails around this mountain and the view of the Alps are perhaps a bit better than Monte San Salvatore.  The funicolare terminus is located in Castagnola, next to a great-looking hotel with a vintage sport car parked in front.  There are further proof of the Mediterranean climate which comes in the form of palm trees.

These were taken near a stretch of the lake front near our hotel.  It shows Lugano center (above), Castagnola (below), Paradiso (with its brightly lit funicular railway going up to Monte San Salvatore), and Campione d’Italia (with a casino).



Campione d’Italia

The Church of St Mary of the Angels (Chiesa di Santa Maria degli Angeli, no English version) was next to our hotel and in front of our room window.  It was built in 1500, partially demolished, and rebuilt in the 1800’s.  It is famous not for its architecture but for its frescoes painted during the Renaissance period. Covering almost an entire wall that divides the church in two is a depiction of the Crucifixion. The square in front of the church is Piazza Luini, named after the painter, Bernardino Luini, reputedly a buddy of Leonardo da Vinci.

Other than easter eggs, it is also asperagus season at this time of the year.  Every restaurant, in Neuchatel and also here in Lugano, has a special asperagus menu (Asperges, Asperagi).  In the US, it is available all year-round.  I guess they have an abundance of it here only in Spring.  The Asparagus milanese with two eggs was delicious for brunch.  The other dishes were fish pasta with asperagus tips, octopus salad, pizza with proscuito, artichoke hearts and olives. Buona Pasqua !

On our second day in Lugano, we each bought a pass that allowed us unlimited travel on many of the local buses, boats, and funicular railways.  First, we hopped on one of the tour boats (Societa Navigazione del Lago di Lugano) and cruised to the villages dotted around Lago di Lugano.  The boats makes many stops, some of which are just hotels built on the hillside (“Grotto”).  One of the more picturesque town is Gandria, which has a church, several restaurants, and a few art shops.  We got off the boat and explored it on foot.  It was tiny (population about 200), steep, and tranquil.  When the next boat came, we continued onto Campione and then to Paradiso.

I found out catcus grows in Switzerland, below the Alps, the hard way.  I got a bunch of needles stuck onto my fleece jacket and did not realize until they worked their way through the layers of clothes.  It took me several days to find them all, mostly by feeling the prick as they are too small to see.

Paradiso is next to Lugano but because of urban sprawl, you will not notice that you have entered “paradise”.  What a name for a town !  We arrived by boat to take a funicolare (funicular railway) that goes up to Monte San Salvatore.  This is one of the four or five of funicular railways that take you all the way up to the top of mountains surrounding Lago di Lugano.  Despite the overcast weather, the almost-36o degree view is stunning.  Most eye-catching is the viaduct at Melide that traverses the lake to Bissone on the other side (below, from right to left), unofficially dividing the lake into a Northern and Southern side.  Also visible are Campione d’Italia, and the inland Swiss and Italian towns behind Lugano and Paradiso all the way up to the Alps.

On our third day, we took a boat tour to the Southern side of Lago di Lugano towards Morcote and other lake side villages (Capolago, Porto Ceresio, Figino) and ending in Ponte Tresa at the border with Italy.  For much of the cruise, the left bank is Italy and the right bank is Switzerland.  It was a misty, rainy day which was not fun because it was cold and damp.  But it created a dreamy setting for these small lakeside villages.  We did not get off at Morcote to explore the Church of Santa Maria del Sasso located above the town.  It looked great from a distance and we would love to go back again to see it, and try out the lakefront restaurants.

The center of Lugano is Piazza Riforma (above and immediately below), the other end of Via Nassa. Because it was Easter (Pasqua as they call it), each of the many small piazzas have a market and they stayed open the entire weekend.  Via Nassa is very narrow but lined by nice shops in arcades.  The facades of the buildings on either side are very ornately decorated.  The whole town was very lively and packed with visitors.  Live music performance throughout the day.

There was a McDonald and a Burger King in the center of town.  McDonald was located inside a classy old-fashioned arcade with decor that looks more like a hotel then a fast food joint.  We did not eat there.  We had a coffee and a black forest gateau in Vanini (Piazza Riforma).

Hope this is not too boring but I just found some more pictures of our old-fashioned European-style hotel.  There is an old disused funicular railway next to the hotel, quite a few people walk up and down those steps.  Next to the funicular railway is Piazza Luini and the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, which is located at the end of Via Nassa, the town’s main shopping street.  Piazza Luini is the last of a string of small piazzas that join Via Nassa with the lakefront.  Looking out from the first floor balcony at the bar (at the corner of the hotel, see above, and below), the top half of the building across from our hotel was amazingly decorated. A bus that was painted to look pixelated parked outside the hotel all day, it was some kind of cultural affairs/tourism office.  Cherry trees were blossoming all over town – spring is in the air.

At our hotel, we were provided with colorful easter eggs for breakfast.  We also received a gift from the hotel – La Colomba (“the dove”, a traditional Italian easter cake). The cake with an outline of a bunny formed by sugar powder is quite effective.  Easter gives the Swiss another chance to indulge on all things sweet or chococlate-related.  There is really no need for Lindt to advertise with their golden bunny-mobile.

The main train station in Lugano is on a hill, and is connected by a short funicular railway to the city center.  Our hotel is located at the end of Via Nessa, the main pedestrian-only shopping street of Lugano which is parallel to and one block from the lake front.We stayed in this hotel during our 3 nights in Lugano.  It is a family-owned hotel, now run by the fourth generation.  The corridors were decorated by paintings done by friends of the hotel.  It even has a room exhibiting some of the equipment used at the hotel in the past.  The restaurants were staffed by men who was attentive in an old-fashioned way and seemed to have worked there for their entire life.  The food was not great but the ambience was rather retrochic-unique. Recommendable.

After the St Gotthard’s pass, the first town was Airolo which was still covered in snow.  We saw long lines of vehicular traffic near the entrance of the tunnel on both sides – Easter traffic.  A couple of tiny churches perched on the edge of the mountain.  Can you see one in this picture below ?  It was all downhill from Airolo to Bellinzona (Ticino canton’s captial), and then Lugano.  The whole trip took about less than 5 hours and we arrived at around 3pm.  Lugano is a beautiful town on Lac Lugano surrounded by lush green hills.  More on Lugano in tomorrow’s post.

Easter was my first 4-day long weekend and Lugano was our first trip out of this area.  It was a four and half hour train ride with a change at Olten.  We each bought a half-fare pass (demi-tarif) which made the first class train fare do-able.  Wide leather seats that recline a little, they were more comfortable than my furniture at the company apartment.

These pictures were taken on a moving train through its window.  In many pictures, you might see a haze which is the reflection of my camera or at least the metallic rim of the Lumix’s lens.  A matt black camera body would have alleviated this problem – one advantage of my Canon S90.

It was mesmerizing to watch the scenery whiz-by.  The vegetation changed dramatically as we passed by farmland, alpine meadows, and snowy valleys.  After Lucern, the train began its ascent from around 200 m above sea level to reach the north entrance of the tunnel at Goschenen.  Along the way, the track double-backed on itself at least twice to gain altitude.  The highlight of the train ride is the passage across the Alps through the St. Gotthard’s Pass tunnel.  The tunnel is 15 km long (about 8 minutes train ride) and rises to about 1145 m before descending toward the south end at Airolo.  There was plenty of snow on the ground at both ends.  My watch has an altimeter which provided live altitude readings.