The sun-splashed Italian-speaking region of Switzerland is known as Ticino. This is where the Alps meet the Mediterranean. Ticino doesn’t have the huge mountains that you’ll find in other parts of Switzerland, but offers up beautiful lakes, forested hills, and a perfect, sunny reason to slow down and relax for a day or two, much like the lake Como region of Italy. My favorite town in Ticino is Lugano. Lugano is actually a small city of about 50,000 – similar in size to Lucerne – and counts as one of Switzerland’s prettiest cities. Lugano boasts a pedestrian-only downtown core, filled with piazzas and cafes, and a beautiful palm-tree lined lakefront. It’s great for shopping, people-watching, swimming in the lake and short excursions to nearby sights.
Ascona and Locarno are two other villages that have earned a name, but in my opinion, Lugano has an authenticity that the others lack. It’s a real city, and a classy one at that, with a very walkable downtown that is both easy and a joy to navigate, and a low altitude and sunny climate that invites you to lounge outside. Stop in at the shops, sit down to a cafe, walk to a park along the lake, or even take a boat ride into Italy. Lugano is a great place to slow down and and soak in the atmosphere.
Visit the Lugano tourist office site for more ideas on hotels and activities in Lugano.
Lugano is quick and easy to get to from Zurich or Lucerne, but is a little out of the way for other destinations in Switzerland. I like it a lot, but if you’re rushed for time, I would definitely go to the mountains of Zermatt and Murren and the city of Lucerne first. It’s definitely worth a day or two on a longer trip, and adds some spice to your trip, being very different from the German-speaking areas that will dominate your travels in Switzerland. Of course, if you’d like to stay longer, you could easily fill 4 or 5 days in the region.
For a 1 or 2 day trip to Lugano, I’d stick to town, checking out the cafes and shops, walking along the lake, and perhaps either a trip to Gandria by boat or to Bre by funicular train. If you have a car and a bit more time, Varenna on Lake Como is very nice, as is the Val Verzasca trip.
If you’re traveling to both Lugano and Pontresina the Bernina Express is a scenic way to travel between the two and takes a little over 6 hours to get between Lugano and Pontresina. It starts with a bus ride from Lugano to Tirano, Italy, followed by a panoramic train ride back into Switzerland to Pontresina, St. Moritz or Chur. You’ll need reservations, which you can make through Raileurope either when you get your railpass or separately.