"Let's go for a drive" or "let's go for a ride" is what one would say when the destination is not the end-all-be-all goal. It's the journey, the adventure of taking to the open road with hair blowing in the wind, music blaring in the air, and with one arm out the window, feeling the breeze.
Embarking on the Treno Gottardo is like going for a ride but on a train.
To begin with, Ticino is not a hard sell. Ascona. Locarno. Lugano. Bellinzona. All kissed by the sun. The question becomes more about how we get there. By car, by fast train, or with the Treno Gottardo?
So why take the Treno Gottardo to Ticino?
It becomes more of a question of why not? The Treno Gottardo departs hourly from Basel, Zürich, and Lucerne. The large panoramic windows offer views of the lakes and mountains. I am talking about sites that are unseen by the fast connection that zips through the tunnel.
The Treno Gottardo line runs along the 120-year-old Gotthard route. It makes a stop at the historically significant village of Göschenen. And it passes through the Leventina valley on its way to Locarno.
And those buying a ticket on the Treno Gottardo website are automatically considered club members. (This perk offers discounted prices from various partners.) Therefore, I ask again, why not ride the Treno Gottardo to Ticino?
I recently had the pleasure of riding the Treno Gottardo as part of a media trip. Read on to see how our three days unfolded. I hope this is an inspiration for you to relax and settle into that dolce vita lifestyle...
10:05 – 11:50 By Treno Gottardo from Zürich HB to Göschenen
The "ride" from Zürich to Göschenen is worth the trip alone. We're passing Lake Lucerne on this misty morning. I'm enjoying my fresh cup of coffee and snacks from one of the two bistros on the train. The convenience and comfort of riding the train allow more time to relax and view the lakes and mountains passing by those enormous windows.
11:50 – 12:45 Visiting the town of Göschenen
Something about old towns that gets me wide-eyed. The history that this town whispers through its homes and buildings. A place that I read was popular during the construction of the rail, now a cozy village, minding its own business from the outside world. I love towns like these because they remind me of a place where my Grandpa once lived back home in Hawai'i, Hanapepe. It's a town once filled with life and now replaced with passing tourists. I walk slowly through Göschenen, taking it all in.
12:51 – 13:20 By Treno Gottardo from Göschenen to Faido
13:45 – 15:00 Visiting the Faido waterfalls
Here's a waterfall for every romantic to get that perfect proposal photo - or kiss. The Faido waterfall is a place that could easily be your end destination. For us, it's a brief stop to have an apéro and capture a few photos. Faido is an ideal location for a picnic or a break, offering many tables, BBQ areas, and a large grass area to tan. And your kids will play their hearts out on the playground.
15:20 – 16:00 By Treno Gottardo from Faido to Bellinzona
16:00 – 16:30 Sweet treats at Chocolat Stella (10% off for Treno Gottardo Club Members)
I'm the .01% who don't crave or go crazy over chocolate, yet I find my favorite. "Brusures de Pain" is made with crispy breadcrumbs. Yes, I said "breadcrumbs." Delicious!
16:30 – 19:00 Hotel Internazionale Bellinzona (10% off for Treno Gottardo Club Members)
Hotel Internazionale is located just steps from the Bellinzona train station. This makes it perfect for accessing the old town and discovering the UNESCO World Heritage protected castles. The hotel offers a spa and a gym. After checking in, I go for a quick stroll around town.
19:00 – Closing Dinner at Hotel Internazionale
I can confirm the food is delicious. I can confirm the Ticino wine is refreshing, tasty, and a tad strong. But I neither confirm nor deny I may or may not have overindulged on the wine... We may have emptied three bottles of this Ticino wine accompanied with a limoncello shot.
How can one not feel like they are on vacation here in Bellinzona? Is it professional? No. Am I method-acting into genuinely being a visitor on vacation? Yes. #nicesave
08:00 – 09:30 Breakfast at Hotel Internazionale
Enjoy breakfast at the luxury of being right in the hotel.
10:00 – 12:00 e-bike Tour in Bellinzona (Discounted for Treno Gottardo Club Members)
Who needs coconut water and homemade hangover remedies when you have Bellinzona to see on an e-bike? I feel like a stumbling hungry zombie in The Walking Dead, chasing a poor human being. I feel like sleeping in, but I pull myself together, hop on the e-bike, and start peddling. I cruise through Bellinzona, embracing every second of the wind and air on my face like no care in the world.
12:00 – 13:00 Lunch on the mountain top
We enjoy a Heidi-like lunch of bread, cheese, sausage, fruits, and drinks. Then, we ride our e-bikes down the hill... We whizz past beautiful homes and pass through Bellinzona. What a wonderful way to see the city!
Lastly, I like to make a confession: I used to be a complete hater of e-bikes. After riding one for the first time, I am pushing all my chips in the middle, screaming, "All in!" Yes, I highly recommend seeing the windy city of Bellinzona from the saddle of an e-bike.
13:00 – 15:00 Bellinzona with Christa Rigozzi
Does a tour guide get any better than Ticino's very own Christa Rigozzi? She lives and breathes Ticino. Walking through the beautiful town and castles of Bellinzona, Christa briefs us on the history. Sure, you might not have the luxury of having Christa at your disposal. But you can still enjoy the Bellinzona castles with stunning panoramic views and large lawns for grand picnics.
15:04 – 15:24 By Treno Gottardo from Bellinzona to Locarno
15:30 – 16:20 By hotel shuttle or funicular to Hotel Belvedere
There are hotels, and then there is the four-star-superior Hotel Belvedere Locarno. "Location, location, location!" is what every real-estate person preaches. And Hotel Belvedere possesses one of the best locations in Ticino, overlooking the city of Locarno and Lake Maggiore.
I could easily spend the entire day and night at the hotel, lounging around in their new garden or relaxing in their spa. And then my room... The sweeping views are where painters paint, writers write, musicians play, or simply where babies are made.
16:37 – 16:51 To Cardada, the "Pearl of Lake Maggiore"
We jump on the funicular tucked next to Hotel Belvedere up the slope to Orselina, then switch to the cable car headed for Cardada.
17:00 – 18:15 Cardada (10%-30% off for Treno Gottardo Club Members)
Numerous panoramic viewpoints of Locarno, Lake Maggiore, and the Maggia Valley await. Some people were basking in the sun, others sipping a refreshing Gazosa soda. I choose to visit the Cardada Observation Platform. The platform extends over the edge of the mountain, allowing no obstructions from your view. After taking lots of photos, I rejoin my new friends for an apéro at the Casa Colmanicchio.
18:15 – 18:45 Transfer back to the hotel
18:30 – 18:45 A sunset walk down the mountain
We get off the cable car in Orselina, and hike down the mountainside to get a better perspective of the Madonna del Sasso. It is straight out of a painting; you have to see it to believe it.
I respectfully walk through the church, enjoying its architecture and art. Before leaving, I light a candle for my ancestors. Paying respect for their hard work so that I can enjoy this very moment, standing in this golden sunset of Madonna del Sasso: joyful, healthy, and eternally grateful.
20:30 – Twilight… Dinner at Lafontana inside Hotel Belvedere
The chef greets us with a five-course menu. And the service is out of this world impeccable.
With expertise, the sommelier pairs vintages with the night's dishes. It is a beautiful experience after today's non-stop excursions. I start to slip into a slight comatose. (In Hawai'i, a food comma is the best compliment.) I call it a night in hopes of a rewarding sunrise.
05:30 – 07:30 A magnificent Locarno sunrise
This is where one feels grateful for everything bestowed. Listening to the birds sing their hearts out while watching the sky dance with colors of yellow, orange, and red.
Seeing the sunrise is an integral part of my travel plans. Sure, I love sunsets like everyone else. But you have to work for sunrises. It is the magical time when the morning dew lifts off the ground, when grandmas and grandpas get their morning paper and coffee, when early-risers walk their dogs, and when workers prep for their day.
Mornings give me energy like Superman and the yellow sun. For the non-superheroes, it is like giving Roger Federer a tennis racket and a ball. Seeing the sunrise is what I recommend to every curious traveler. I recommend it to every tourist in Hawai'i, and to you...
07:30 – 09:00 Breakfast on the balcony of Hotel Belvedere
Hotel Belvedere offers breakfast for queens and kings. But as much as I love being around people, why would one sit at a breakfast table when the view looks like this? I sip my coffee on the balcony in anticipation of today.
09:18 – 09:40 By Vigezzina Centovalli Railway to Intragna (30% for Treno Gottardo Club Members)
09:40 – 11:15 Visiting the village of Intragna
Intragna is famous for having the tallest church tower in all of Ticino. From the top, there is a 360-degree panoramic view of the town and the valleys. But this humble village offers much more: it is an ideal starting point for hikes into the Centovalli. In addition, there are gondolas that connect Intragna with Costa, Verdasio, and Monte Comino.
If you are interested in the history of this village, explore the museum of Centovalli. As a group, we visit Ponte Romano, a historic stone bridge that crosses the River Melezza. It's a work of art and a picturesque spot.
11:30 – 12:30 Transfer by bus from Locarno to Ascona
12:30 – 14:00 Enjoying the dolce vita (sweet life) in Ascona
Ascona in all its beauty. The historic town that fits snuggly against Lake Maggiore is filled with life. People are walking, eating, laughing, or catching up on gossip. Tourist stopping mid-step to take selfies. Even with the disruption of COVID-19, it offers something that I hope stays for good: lunch on the walkways near Lake Maggiore.
Located just a few meters from the restaurant are stages that allow patrons to sit right next to the water. Like the novelist, Erich Maria Remarque once said, "Ascona does not encourage most people to create, but to do nothing." As I enjoy my lunch, I look around and notice everyone in our group has put down their phones and cameras to do exactly that, nothing.
14:00 – 16:00 Exploring Ascona with Christa Rigozzi and the artist Carlo Rampazzi
We walk around enjoying the sites, eating ice cream, and listening to Christa's love for Ascona. She shows us her favorite spots and locations to relax and enjoy the town. Christa exudes Ticino and the way of life.
To our delightful surprise, mid-tour, Christa calls an old friend, Carlo Rampazzi. Carlo is a luxury interior designer, artist, and everything in between. This type of spontaneous, relaxed, unscheduled timetable is the essence of Ticino.
Carlo floats in. He did not walk; he floats. Carlo opens his office for us to roam freely, observing his art, paintings, and designs. He insists we stay longer, but we have a schedule to stick to. Carlo being genuinely polite and pleasant leaves us with a teddy bear to remember him and the trip. What a way to conclude our Treno Gottardo tour!
16:30 – ... Transfer back to Locarno - and all the way home to Lucerne
I drift to sleep, wondering: "Was it all a dream?"
Check out my video clip of the Treno Gottardo trip!
(Disclaimer: For the purpose of this article, Südostbahn/Treno Gottardo has invited Rex to Ticino. Transportation, overnight accommodation, activities and food were provided.)