Every Saturday across Switzerland, farmers, artisans and culinary specialists head to their nearest town market. This is a time-honored tradition that goes back hundreds of years.
Odds are that no matter where you are staying in Switzerland, there will be some sort of Saturday market within a short train ride. But while these weekend markets may be common, not all are created equal; Bellinzona's is something special.
What sets the Bellinzona market apart from the rest
Ticino is one of Switzerland’s largest cantons and its only Italian speaking one. Its capital, Bellinzona, is best known for the trio of spectacular castles that dominate the “skyline” of the town, snaking their way up the steep surrounding hillsides. This would be enough for a stunning setting, but Bellinzona is about more than just amazing views.
At the weekly farmer's market in Bellinzona, culinary artisans from all over Ticino sell seasonal treats and fresh pantry staples, from colorful wooden booths and trucks, making it one of the best places to experience Ticino's unique flavors and traditions.
Every season brings new flavors. Fall is arguably the region’s forte, when vintage polenta machines mix massive vats of the savory cornmeal, coils of spiced luganighetta sausage sizzle on grills, and sweet hand pressed chestnut vermicelli squiggle their way into little paper cups.
You will also find seasonal flowers and produce from the green grocers, as well as sweets from the bakers. In the fall, grab a bag full of sweet chestnuts. And near Christmas, look out for long lines near the panettone stand.
From beer to wine and from cheese to meats...
The PerBacco Wine Festival every September takes over the market in evenings, and you can taste the best offerings from local wine producers.
Ticino is famous for its merlot, in particular the rather unique white merlot, so be sure to grab a bottle when you are in town. If beer is more your thing, you are also in luck. Ticino has been enjoying a growing craft brewing scene, and there is usually at least one stall selling some great beers at every Saturday market.
No matter which season you go, Ticino's Italianate cuisine is readily visible in the home-made salami, copa, and bresaola that hang from the wooden beams of the charcuterie stalls, every seller’s recipe being a little different.
The cheese stands sell all sorts of incredible cow's milk formaggi that come down from the mountain pastures, and soft sheep’s milk cheeses from the lowlands. The alpine cheeses are particularly special for foodies, with their unending variety and unique flavors and textures that truly cannot be found anywhere else.
How to best enjoy the Bellinzona Saturday market
Walking into town from Bellinzona’s recently refurbished train station, you will find the Sat-urday market snaking its way through the central piazza and into the winding alleys of the old town.
Towards the station, there are clothes, trinkets, and other hard wares. The further you get into town, the stalls transition to food, wine, and other artisanal products like jewelry.
The atmosphere is lively, with locals, visitors from around Switzerland and tourists all enjoying the fresh air and the beautiful scenery. Musicians will often set up to entertain market-goers in the squares in front of the old Palazzo Civico or the Baroque Chiesa Santi Pietro e Stefano.
Bellinzona’s Saturday market is a must visit for foodies, especially those who are interested in experiencing Ticinese specialties. The food is delicious, the people are lovely, and the setting is simply stunning. It is also family friendly and easily accessible for those with baby carriages; even the castle has an elevator to the top!
Pro tip: fill up your backpack with delicacies from the market, then head up into the Castelgrande castle grounds for one of the most memorable picnic you will ever have!
(Photograph courtesy Kristine Strazdina)