Photo – from the peak of San Salvatore looking north to Lugano and Monte Bre.
After a few weeks of rain on the north side of the Alps I decided a week in sunny Ticino was called for.
I prefer the area in the spring when the hills are green rather than brown and dead, but sunshine is sunshine.
For the start of February it was freakishly warm, so I was hiking up grassy mountains. Where I should have been finding snow at above 1000m I was instead finding wildflowers.
- Lugano has one of best station views as you leave the station and see the lake below you and mountains around.
- The old town is very attractive and handsome, but not very big. An hour is more than enough to wander around and take it in. The city is however quite big (for a Swiss city) with lots of sprawl consisting of ugly modern blocks of flats.
- There are endless cafes. But finding a quick and cheap bit of food after 6pm can be hard (outside of a few kebab stands). The best easy food option during the day is Gabbani which has a takeaway, eat in, and cheese/bread counters.
- The lake is one of the most obvious attractions. Sadly like many Swiss cities the lakefront doubles as one of the main roads, however they make up for this somewhat with the Parco Civico.
- There are 2 mountains that are accessible right out of the city with funiculars. Monte Brè (933m) (pronounced like bray), and San Salvatore (912m). Both are quite similar in what they offer (restaurant and lake/mountain views). San Salvatore has maybe the better view itself being more prominent, but you can climb higher from Brè to get more expansive views.
- If you stay in Lugano (or anywhere in the canton) you get the Ticino Ticket which gives you free public transport anywhere in canton Ticino and discounts on various other things.
- There is almost no touristy feel to the place. You will hear a few other tourists, but nothing like the hordes in Lucerne (and I have never noticed a tourist shop there).
- This lack of tourism shows a bit with the language. Outside of the most touristy restaurants and attractions you might find that English won’t work (German tends to work better).
- Lugano is right up against the Italian border and you can easily cross back and forth (without even noticing it).
Day 1: Arrival
I arrived at 1730 which at the time of year is the perfect time for the sunset to light up the mountains.
I stayed at the Continental Park hotel right by the station. It is a bit fancy but being a weekend out of season was quite cheap at 190 CHF for 2 nights (it was actually much fancier than I expected for the price). Sitting above the train tracks it is perfect for train watching should that be your thing. Previously I have stayed at the YHA in Lugano which is a much cheaper and run by very nice family (but is a bit out of the center).
Walked down in the old town, grabbed a kebab, and walked long the lake. Nothing too exciting.
Day 2: Brè and Monte Boglia
Route: Brè – Monte Boglia – Brè – Cassarate – Lugano.
Length: 15km, +830m, -1310m.
My plan had been to take the funicular to Monte Brè and then carry on up to Monte Boglia for nice views and sunshine. Turns out the funicular is closed in January and February, and the day turned out to be rather cloudy down 2000m, but dry.
There were a few market stalls but otherwise it was rather quiet. I picked up some cheese and bread from Gabbani’s.
Whilst the funicular is closed over the winter there is a bus up to Brè village. This is hourly and has the advantage of being cheaper than the funicular (or free with a pass). It is however a very windy road, which might upset a few stomachs.
Brè itself is a very pretty village that is well worth taking 10 minutes to explore. This is the location of one of the most famous cat ladders in Swizerland.
The signs for Monte Boglia started right away and gave various options. I took the shortest route, which was steep and scenic.
Monte Boglia had attracted my interest on maps as being at 1500m it was the highest peak for a long way around and for added fun is sat right on the border with Italy. Reaching the top of Monte Boglia the view was still nice (despite the weather). I will go back in the spring sometime to see the full view, and better yet with green hillsides.
I went back down via a slightly longer route which was much smoother. Though looking at the map I realise I should have done some more preparation beforehand and gone via Alpa Bolle and made a bigger loop out of it, or dropped down to one of the villages like Cadro and take the bus back into Lugano.
Getting back to Bre it was still early so I decided to walk down to Cassarate and into town. This was a good walk, but the hillsides in Ticino are often a constant steepness that is too steep to be easy but not steep enough to stop the path being endless steps, a situation I think of as “screw your knees” steep.
Day 3: San Salvatore to Morcote
Route: Paradiso – San Salvatore – Carona – Morcote. This lines up with stage 18 of the ViaGottardo, so is sign posted as route 7.
Length: 12km, +840m, -860m.
I had thought to take the funicular up to San Salvatore and walk along the ridge. But winter opening times meant it didn’t start till 10am (though it did at least run in winter).
So I decided to just do the whole thing by foot rather than wait around (I am an early riser).
San Salvatore and Morcote were signed all the way from Paradiso station. The path up to San Salvatore was a climb but not too bad (not as tough as the ‘challenging’ climb that Switzerland Mobility describes. San Salvatore. I beat the start of the funicular so got the view point all to myself.
The walk along the ridge was pleasant enough, but nothing that I will bother returning to. The constant sound of traffic from the main road below took away from the scene a bit (that would presumably at least be a bit dampened by leaves in summer).
The route takes you through the outskirts of Carona so about all you see of it is a sports area and the glass recycling bins. However I saw afterwards that the village has a historic core which would have been well worth a small detour.
I took the left turn at the fork after Carona which led me up a bit higher with presumably nicer views but for more effort. Then followed the shorter route down from Alpe Vicania which turned out to be 400m of descent through never-ending steep steps.
Morcote was voted the prettiest village in Switzerland in 2016 so it seemed worth a visit (it was). I spent an hour having a look around the village and grabbing a coffee by the lake before heading for Lugano and the train home.