If you take the train from Zürich to Milan, about ten minutes from the Italian border between Melide and Chiasso, you will pass through Mendrisiotto.
In the area around Mendrisio, you will see part of Lake Lugano, some less than pretty houses and an industrial park along the tracks. And if you have a sharp eye, you will catch signs for Monte Generoso and Fox Town. However, you are more likely to think that despite the beautiful mountains, there is nothing worth getting off the train for.
And that is where you'd be wrong.
The annual Sagra del Borgo Grape Festival during autumn
Mendrisotto and its regional capital, Mendrisio, are well worth a stop. Especially so in autumn for the Sagra del Borgo, a traditional wine and harvest festival held within the old medieval town center.
During the festival, walk into town and be enchanted by the narrow streets and alleys as you meander your way past wine stands and local musicians.
Seeing the ancient houses with their decorated courtyards and terracotta roofs, you will understand why the city is called Magnifico Borgo (magnificent town).
During the day, Sagra del Borgo seems like a tame event culminating in the Piazza del Ponte.
But once the sun sets, there is an uproar of clamor and life as the courtyards turn into rustic restaurants serving local wines paired with polenta, cheese, salami, sausages and stews.
The meals are hearty but ideally suited to the bold and powerful Merlots. (And they will help you build that base layer for the upcoming winter...)
The music and the singing do not stop during the meals, either. We had the pleasure of dining alongside some "localized" Germans and their friends in Curt di Poo e di Matelò. This little temporary restaurant is run by local firefighters and seemed to be one of the most popular places.
Architecture and hiking on Monte Generoso
It is not just the splendid though well-hidden town center of Mendrisio that make Mendrisotto worth visiting. If you like architecture or trains, or both, take the cogwheel train to the top of Monte Generoso.
The fabulous mountain-top restaurant, Fiore di pietra, was designed by the local architect, Mario Botta. It really is a must-see attraction for any architecture lover! And Monte Generoso is also an excellent place for a hike with grand views over Lake Lugano.
Grander views and dinosaur encounters on Monte San Giorgio
Across the way from Monte Generoso is Monte San Giorgio, a UNESCO World Heritage site. From the trailhead, a hike to the top will take you about an hour and a half. And the views from up there are even more magnificent than those from Monte Generoso...
About an hour downhill, we visited the Hôtel Serpiano Wellness and Spa. We enjoyed another fantastic meal on their terrace overlooking the lakeside towns of Morcote and Vico Morcote.
Those interested in paleontology will not want to miss the Sentiero geo-paleontologico del Monte San Giorgio.
This circular path highlights the more than 200 million years of history which have officially been recognized by UNESCO World Heritage. The deposits on Monte San Giorgio date back to the Middle Triassic period, and the numerous animal and plant fossils from there are unprecedented.
(Photograph copyright Jacques Perler/Ticino Tourism)
The Fossil Museum Monte San Giorgio
After this thematic walk, check out the Museo dei fossili del Monte San Giorgio in Meride which features a 2.5-meter long Ticinosuchus. The building has been renovated and expanded by Mario Botta.
(Photograph copyright Enrico Cano/Ticino Tourism)
And in case geology and dinosaurs are not your cup of tea, there is an alternative: Swissminiatur.
Hop on the cable car for a ride down to the lake. From there, take a short boat ride to Melide and a stop by Swissminiature. This miniature version of Switzerland will surely make for a perfect end to your visit.
Our verdict about visiting Medrisotto
As children, we are always taught not to judge a book by its cover. The industrial park along the train line through Medrisotto is, unfortunately, its cover. However, the adage holds, as when we got off in Mendrisio and discovered the vibrant area with its wine festival, exceptional cuisine, charming town center and breathtaking hikes, we fell in love.