If you've done the Swiss Alps, you can add a bit of Italian splendour to your Swiss experience by including the Ticino region. Super smooth, the train from Zurich to Lugano encounters plenty of tunnels and stunning views of serene lakes and valleys as it nears the Ticino region. Lugano is the biggest city in Ticino, just eight kilometres from Italy.
Plenty of action surrounds Lake Lugano. It is a large blue water body, surrounded by mountains including Monte BrÃ¨, Monte San Salvatore and the Sighignola. A cogwheel tram on the platform itself literally nosedives, taking you into the heart of Lugano's shopping district within seconds. Fancy departmental stores jostle with grocery stores that specialise in all things Italian. Walk around and if you are lucky, you can chance upon local artists who sell tiny oil paintings reflecting the beautiful mountains for as less as 10 euros. Great mementos!
History on sidewalks
Bang in the middle of the market is the not-to-be-missed Ristorante Grande CafÃ© Al Porto, which was built in 1803. This cafÃ© was the meeting place for politicians, writers, and artists. With the passage of time, it became the living room of the city. Now, it serves some exotic pastries, desserts and coffee.
Another huge attraction at Lugano is the Swiss Miniatur with its amazing miniatures of most tourist attractions -- the Lucerne bridge, Jungfrau and Mount Pilatus. The only structure from outside Switzerland is a model of the Milan Cathedral. The Miniatur is a great testimony to Swiss precision and employs more than 50 artists to work on these models. Bollywood has also frequented the museum in various songs bringing it closer home. The restaurant here serves international cuisine and also offers masala chai, thanks to the Indian chef.
Besides the popular Italian cuisine, one of the most popular Swiss dishes is Polenta. Each region in Lugano had their own winery in cellars carved into the mountain rock, and each region had their own ceramic cups from which they would drink the wine.
Mountains and lakes
It's best to visit the mountain of San Salvatore on a clear day so that you can admire the view and look into Italy!
The landscape resembles Rio de Janeiro with its lakes and mountain peaks all around. A day trip to Gandria, the fishing village at the foot of Monte Bre, is a good idea too. The boat ride takes about a couple of hours and the village is beautiful.
Narrow streets, pedestrian areas and the 16th century church of San Vigilio make this a charming visit.