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by Caroline M. Jackson
For Travel Writers' Tales

Like a double-flavored gelato, the Swiss town of Lugano offers a taste of both Switzerland and Italy. Snuggled between curvaceous wooded mountains on the northern shores of Lake Lugano, it boasts a Mediterranean climate. Palm trees line the lakefront while lemon mimosas and purple bougainvillea spill from hillside loggias. The undulating border with Italy is just a hairsbreadth away by boat or road. The train south to Milan takes just over an hour.

Lugano's lakefront

My husband and I began our day over a bowl of muesli on the balcony of Hotel Walter au Lac. Swifts skimmed over the turquoise lake while in-line skaters whisked along the sidewalk trying to keep pace with the proliferation of Alfa Romeos and Lamborghinis along the promenade. Life had a pace in this city. It was time to join the throng.

We began our walk in Lugano's bustling Piazza Riforma where over cappuccinos, Buongiorno and Ciao are everyday greetings. We were after all in the Italian-speaking Swiss canton of Ticino. From the neoclassical city hall, we sauntered along the Via Nassa where fishermen once hung out their nets to dry. Our destination was St. Mary of the Angels Church. Discreetly slipping in behind a tour group, we learned that the church is renowned for its well-preserved 16th century frescoes of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion.

Lugano is a key financial centre with over seventy seven banks and its prices are correspondingly high. However, it was fun to window shop and admire the chic fashions from Milan and poke our heads into the confisseries with their exquisitely crafted pastries and chocolate confections.

At lunch time, we took a ferry to the tiny village of Gandria. Nestling at the foot of Monte Bre, the houses are so tightly stacked together many residents rely solely on boat access. As we climbed up the shady stepped streets, we passed terracotta pots spilling over with flowering cacti and bougainvillea.

Near the small Baroque church we found the Locando Gandriese restaurant. Our table was perched on a wrought iron balcony overlooking the lake laced with boats zigzagging between villages. Our meal of pumpkin soup, fresh trout and mouthwatering apple strudel was all homemade. On our return journey to Lugano, we followed the Olive Tree Path which meanders by the lakeshore to Castagnola. The path was well marked with several plaques explaining the history of the olives in the region. En route we were pleasantly greeted by local families out for a Sunday afternoon stroll.

Swissminiatur Park, Morcote
Swissminiatur Park

Family outings seem popular here and a favorite destination from Lugano is a half hour boat ride to Swissminiatur park at Melide. The village boasts more than 120 1:25 scale models representing Switzerland's most fascinating buildings and natural features. Our favorites included Chateau Chillon, Bern's Parliament buildings and the medieval town of Murten each linked by perfectly synchronized trains, boats and cable cars. After a ride on the little tourist train, we took a short boat ride over to the idyllic village of Morcote which clings to the lakeside.

Swissminiatur Park, Morcote
Church of Maria del Sasso, Morcote

We wandered through the arcades of old Patrician homes and along its small alleys, considered 'the Pearl of Lugano'. Following our map we puffed our way up to the famous church of Santa Maria del Sasso. Sitting on a toasty-hot stone wall, we absorbed the view and ate our melting Toblerone bars. The village's other claim to fame is the nearby Scherrer garden famous for its subtropical flora and oriental sculptures. Just as we reached the hillside entrance, however, we were deluged with rain. Visitors were making their exit down the stepped path which was rapidly turning into a waterfall while we, like the proverbial salmon, continued our way upstream.

Swissminiatur Park, Morcote
Climbing Monte Generoso

The following day dawned bright and clear, so we decided to visit the summit of Monte Generoso (1704m). From the fascinating medieval town of Mendrisio, we headed to Capolago where we began our climb aboard a little cogwheel railway. The 40-minute ascent offered breathtaking views of northern Italy and the Lakes Region. Looking down on to the stone farm houses perched at a precipitous angle was somewhat unnerving. It was in one of these farms that we met the hospitable family Clericetti who sold fresh milk from their small herd of cows. Before returning to the train station I took a stroll along the steep misty ridge of Monte Generoso. The wind keened eerily as I looked over two countries and pondered upon the centuries that had separated them in history but bound them together geographically.

Monte Generoso, Cogwheel railway
Farmhouse lunch with Clericetti family

Switzerland Tourism:
Ticino Tourism:
Swiss Rail:
Ferrovia Monte Generoso

Photos by Hamish M. Jackson

1) Lugano's scenic lakefront
2) Swissminiatur Park at Melide
3) The Church of Maria del Sasso in Morcote
4) Climbing Monte Generoso
5) Lunch with the Clericetti family, Monte Generoso

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