LUGANO, Switzerland -- I needed a cup of good strong coffee . . . something to get me going after the four-hour bus ride from St. Moritz.
So, with friends at the Golf, our favorite coffee bar (near Parco Ciani), we sipped cappuccino and planned an itinerary for the next few days.
Unlike the rest of Switzerland, the atmosphere here is mainly Mediterranean. Trust me when I say that the Ticino, Switzerland's only Italian-speaking canton, is where the country comes alive. It's Italian lifestyle with Swiss efficiency . . . the best of both worlds.
And as we sat with our second cups of coffee, the warm lake breezes -- sweetened by a blend of mimosa, oleander, magnolias, figs, lemons, persimmons, and even palms -- came wafting through the arcade. It was good to be back. I was alert to the conversation, taking notes, and sipping cappuccino, yet my mind kept wandering back to St. Moritz and to a discussion I had a few nights earlier with two US travel agents. Actually, it was a one-sided discussion: me trying to convince them that Lugano, Locarno, Ascona, et al. were not in Italy, but part of the only Swiss canton on the south side of the Alps.
For additional information, write to the Swiss National Tourist Office, 608 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10020; or telephone 212-757-5944.
I noticed when i was in Lugano that if your walking down the street, the second you step off the curb cars stop for you to cross the street. I think it might be a law that pedestrians have the right of way. I would stay on the sidewalk unless you plan on crossing because they will stop thinking you are going to cross.
Tenero . . . This, a village of about 2,000, is just a short hop from Locarno on Lake Maggiore. Reportedly, it has the mildest climate in Switzerland, what with the mountains of Val Verzasca protecting it from northerly winds. Its setting, surrounded by hills with flowering trees and vineyards, blue lake, and an abundance of Mediterranean vegetation, contributes to Tenero's ever-increasing popularity as a year-round vacation and camping destination.
Uomonatura . . . The environmental center in Acquacalda (at the foot of Lucomagno) has reopened with a series of events and trips helping to guide people toward a deeper knowledge of nature and the enivronment. For more information: Centro Uomonatura, CH-6718 Acqucalda, Switzerland. Telephone 41 91 872 26 10; fax: 872 26 20.
Villa Favorita . . . This museum in the Castagnola section of Lugano, houses the world famous art collection of Baron von Thyssen-Bornemisza. In 1992, the Old Masters of the collection were transferred to Spain, but what's left behind is well worth the 10-franc admission price. It's an easy walk from downtown Lugano, or you can take a boat or No. 1 bus.
Wine . . . The most popular varieties here are merlot, produced with grapes from vines imported from Bordeaux at the turn of the century, and nostrano, a red obtained from different types of grapes. The locals drink from small bowls called boccalinos. Grappa and Ratafia (a walnut liqueur) are usually sipped at the end of a meal. Lugano's annual ``Wine Harvest Festival'' is scheduled for Oct. 2-4.
X . . . Xtreme sports bring the Swiss to the edge, whether it be racing motorcycles, rock climbing, white-water kayaking, para-gliding, etc., but they all pale in comparison to bungee jumping from the Centovallina Bridge at Intragna or from the dam on the Verzasca River near Vogorno where it takes 7.5 seconds to plunge 220 meters for 255 francs (roughly $200). James Bond fans will remember the Verzasca jump in the opening scene of ``Goldeneye.'' Believe it or not, it is necessary to book in advance.
Origlio Paese . . . The Val Capriasca area and this village with its rustic homes, loggias, and inner courtyards are worth seeing. From there, it's only a five-minute walk to Lake Origlio surrounded by reeds and chestnut trees and a breeding place for rare birds. It can be reached from Lugano by post bus (Lines 633.28). Get off at the village stop.
Palm Express or Pendolino . . . There are two special ways to reach the Ticino. The former, a four-hour bus ride from the Engadine (St. Moritz) to Lugano takes you down the Maloja Pass through Italy to Lake Como and the lakeside resort of Mennagio. The border, Gandria, and Lugano are close by. The ``Pendolino,'' part of Italy's fast train system, runs twice a day between Zurich and Milan with brief stops in Bellinzona and Lugano. Zurich to Lugano takes about 3 hours 15 minutes.
Quinto . . . Just off N2 south of Airolo in the Leventina Valley, this village is home to the church of Sts. Peter and Paul. The six-story Romanesque campanile is from the 12th century.
Riva San Vitale . . . This lakeside village, a half-mile west of Capolago at the base of Monte Genroso, is home to Switzerland's oldest ecclesiastical building, an early Christian baptistery (circa AD 500) The parish church and Church of Santa Croce, a 16th-century building with an impressive dome, are also well worth visiting.
Swissminiatur . . . At Melide, ``Switzerland in Miniature'' consists of small-scale replicas of scenes from all parts of the country, including working models of trains and cable cars. It can be reached by bus, train, or lake steamer.
Lugano and the lakes . . . Lugano is for anyone who wants to be spoiled: fine food, shopping (especially on Via Nassa), hotels, and camaraderie. It's a marvelous walking city dotted with palm trees, flowers, parks, and museums. You can stream across its sun-streaked lake or stroll for hours through gardens that border it, sit high above the lake on the terrace of a restaurant, sip an espresso or cappuccino at an outdoor cafe, or take a funicular to the tops of Monte Bre or Monte San Salvatore. As part of the Italian lake region (Lakes Maggiore and Como are close by), Lugano offers a multitude of excursions.
Morcote . . . Seven miles south of Lugano, this pictureque lakeside village is easy to reach by boat or bus. At the end of the peninsula stretching south from Monte San Salvatore, arcaded restaurants, boutiques, and the landmark medieval belltower of the Madonna del Sasso church make for magnificent wide-angle photo.
Nature . . . Well-marked trails provide enchanting local and Alpine flora and fauna. Take an excursion in the regions of Monte San Giorgio, Piora, Lucomagno, and Malcantone.
Hiking and biking . . . Summer and autumn are ideal for a biking along the cantonal road from Airolo down to Biasca (at the junction of the Leventina and Blenio valleys). As for hiking the famous ``Strada Alta,'' check with the Upper Ticino tourist office at Biasca.
International Film Festival . . . Locarno's celebrated annual movie festival -- nearing its fourth decade -- attracts thousands of filmgoers every August (5th to the 15th) in the Piazza Grande. The piazza, surrounded by mansions and arcades, is also the site of concerts.
Jazz festival . . . Lugano's ``biggest little jazz festival in Europe'' is usually held in July at Piazza Reforma.
Kino . . . This may be a German word but throughout Switzerland and most of Europe it means cinema or movie house. Opposite the Hotel Admiral in the Paradiso section of Lugano, there actually is a Cinema Paradiso!
Excursions . . . Day trips; overnight stays; short and long hikes; cable cars; chair lifts; cog railways; boat, bus, train and bike trips . . . there are many options. Your best bet: Write to Ticino Turismo, Via Lugano, Casella postale 1441, CH-6501 Bellinzona, Switzerland. Or e-mail ett(AT SIGN SYMBOL)www.tourism-ticino.ch.
Festivals and Fishing . . . The Ticino is a yearlong festival and like excursions, it's best to check with the tourist offices for a list of celebrations in the region you plan to visit. Fishing is possible year round in lakes Lugano and Maggiore. In the mountain lakes, rivers, and streams, the fishing season is June to September. For a moderate charge, you can pick up a 10-day fishing permit at either a municipal or local tourist office.
Grotti . . . Anyone wishing to find authentic local cooking will do well to seek out a little trattoria or grotto, typical popular meeting places usually set in the cool shade of leafy chestnut trees. Sometimes they consist of little more than a few stone tables, a bocce court, a kitchen, and a garden.
. . . and Gandria . . . Gandria is a former fishing village clinging to cliffs alongside Lake Lugano. Dotted with quaint restaurants and pensions, it can be reached either by boat or footpath from downtown Lugano. Elda Pacchin's Locanda Gandriese is our favorite. It has ambience, a view to remember, and the best of food.
``Ticino: from A to Z''
Airolo . . . Traveling south from Zurich, via train or car, Airolo is the first Ticino town to greet you when you emerge from the 10-mile long Gotthard Tunnel or come off the spectacular Gotthard Pass. Ringed by mountain scenery, it is an important winter and summer resort, and a starting point for excursions, particularly high-pass walks and ski tours.
Bellinzona . . . History lovers will find it difficult to leave this canton capital, a fortress city set in a valley of lush mountains. Three picturesque castles confirm its medieval importance as the key to the St. Gotthard, Lukmanier, and San Bernardino Passes, but all too often travelers hurrying to Lakes Lugano, Como, or Maggiore -- or to nearby Italy -- bypass this ancient city. Saturday morning's open-air market is one of the country's best.
Cuisine . . . Ticino gastronomy is greatly influenced by the cuisine of Lombardy, Piemonte, Tuscany, and the Alps. But, quite simply, it is pasta, polenta, risotto con funghi, sausages, osso bucco, crusty bread, and formaggini (the local goat cheese topped with coarse black pepper and olive oil). They taste best when washed down with a boccalino of merlot or a bit of grappa.
Cento Valley and Domodossola . . . Centovalli (literally ``one hundred valleys'') heading west is the hour-and-45-minute train route to Domodossola in Italy. A spectacular narrow-gauge railway runs from downtown Locarno into a landscape of gorges and waterfalls. At Re, on the Italian side, a procession of pilgrims takes to the streets April 30 each year, a tradition that originated after a painting of the Madonna was reported to start bleeding after being struck by a ball.
In many ways Ticino is my favorite part of Switzerland, it has a lovely mix of the best bits of Swiss and Italian culture. It is more laid back and relaxed than the rest of Switzerland, but it retains the cleanliness, punctuality and respect. We thought that there were far more good looking guys here too, italian looks, romantisism etc, but Swiss manners!
Open air chess is not only popular in Lugano but also in other Swiss towns. Here you can find one by Piazza Manzoni just round the corner from the tourist office.