Loyal readers know about our love affair with Switzerland's Ticino region. Located on the border with Italy, we find Ticino to be one of the most unique places in Switzerland.
It is where Italian and Swiss lifestyles converge, where gelati ice-cream tastes the best, where hiking is the most exciting and where even a brief visit feels like a vacation.
From Ascona to Bellinzona and from Locarno to Lugano, here are the top seven things to do in Ticino. Whether you are into arts or adrenaline, add these activities to your bucket list and check them off, one by one...
Unwind at the Ascona lakefront promenade
When we hear "Ascona", we think sunshine, narrow winding streets, gelato and colorful houses. Switzerland’s lowest lying town has a way of instilling a vacation feeling on its visitors. On the northern shores of Lake Maggiore, the climate is usually mild and most always inviting.
We love strolling along the lake with no particular place to go, then pick a café for a spontaneous affogato.
Insider tips: the views from Chiesa San Michele are especially beautiful, showcasing the old town of Ascona and the lake promenade. And for a hearty dinner, try Grotto Baldoria (open daily through mid-October). They have a surprise menu spanning several courses, from local cheese to polenta. And in the end, you will walk away with a tab that will not strain the budget.
Go eye to eye with Mother Nature at the Brissago Islands
No visit to Ticino is complete without a stop at the Brissago Islands. Take a boat from Locarno or Ascona and jump off at San Pancrazio, the larger of the two islands. Thanks to the subtropical climate, the Brissago Islands are home to Ticino’s official botanical garden.
Plants and flowers from all over the globe are neatly arranged by continent: bamboo, cacti, orchids, palm trees, yuccas and more. On a weekday when there are less tourists, enjoy the views from the café at the historic hotel.
Insider tip: get up early and hire a boat. This will allow you to reach the Brissago Islands before the first scheduled boat arrives...
Climb the castles of Bellinzona
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, the three castles of Bellinzona cannot be missed. Whenever we approach Bellinzona, we look out for the imposing fortresses build onto the natural rock.
Each of the castles houses a museum, with the main attraction being at Castelgrande. Open all year round, it is impressive to walk on the castle grounds dating back to the 13th century. Scenic views can almost be taken for granted as spotting approaching enemies was the point of building the castle. But would you have expected modern architecture, too?
Cross the Tibetan hanging bridge at Curzútt
This Bellinzona recommendation could be a four-hour circular hike or a smooth return ride on a cable car. Either way, you will get to see the charming hamlet of Curzútt along the way. This traditional village of stone houses gives an insight into how life used to be back when people predominantly lived on the hillsides.
A brief distance from Curzútt is the Tibetan bridge which hangs some 130 meters above a creek. It sure takes some guts to make that first step, but rest assured: the 270-meter bridge features mesh wires and a hand railing for your safety.
Insider tip: The cable car station to go to Curzútt is a 40 minute walk or a nine minute ride on bus 311 from the Bellinzona station. If the Tibetan bridge is what you are after, buy a return ticket for the cable car to Curzútt. This will save you time, but you might also miss out on beautiful sceneries that only hikers are rewarded with.
Visit the LAC Lugano Arts Center
Lugano is a city of culture as evidenced by the many art pieces displayed in museums and outdoors. We enjoy strolling along the lake on a quest to discovering new works of art.
The LAC Lugano Arts Center is our favorite address for art exhibits and concerts. Home to an extensive permanent collection, the LAC regularly hosts special exhibits, too. And those into live music should keep an eye on the event calendar. We particularly love the classical concerts by the Orchestra della Svizzera italiana.
Discover a miniature version of Switzerland at Swissminiatur
Now in its 60th year, Swissminiatur is still a popular destination for visitors of all ages. Where else can you feel like a giant if not at this miniature version of Switzerland? The Federal Parliament in Bern, the Zürich airport and even the Matterhorn are all present among the 128 famous Swiss sights.
One of our favorite part of this open-air museum is the miniature railroad which criss-crosses the entire park. There are even miniature boats moving across lakes and small cable cars climbing mountains. At a scale of 1:25, every detail has meticulously been recreated, making the Swissminiatur a pretty good spot for fun selfies.
Try yourself at adventure sports in Ticino
Ticino is not all gelato and sunshine. For those seeking a challenge, it offers a hefty potion of adrenaline, too! Vertical cliffs, narrow gorges, high-altitude hiking trails and open skies make up this gigantic playground in Switzerland’s south.
Think paragliding, downhill biking, canyoning or: bungee jumping! In fact, the opening scene of James Bond’s Goldeneye was filmed at the dam in Valle Verzasca. Here's some more inspiration for those who are up for the challenge...