The project of a century has just been completed under our very eyes: the Ceneri Base Tunnel. For nearly 15 years, an army of engineers, geologists, and tunnel builders have been on a mission to save the rest of us considerable amounts of time.
As avid travelers, we feel stoked because this rail tunnel presents countless new possibilities. Not only do we arrive in Ticino much quicker, we now save lots of commuting time getting from one spot to another.
Read along as we share nine (creative) ways to “hack” Ticino thanks to the Ceneri Base Tunnel:
1. Zip past the traffic by train and arrive in Ticino in less than two hours.
The opening of the world’s longest railway tunnel was step 1 in connecting northern Switzerland with Italy. Now that the Ceneri Base Tunnel is in operation, the final piece of the NEAT railway network is in place. At under two hours from Zürich to Lugano, this rail tunnel allows for the fastest possible connection through the Swiss Alps.
You are probably aware that traffic on the A2 freeway can be unpredictable at best. While you are leaning back in your comfortable seat onboard an SBB train, visualize the following: from the time you enter the Gotthard Base Tunnel to when you approach Lugano, there is almost no difference in altitude. Now, riding to Ticino is a straight shot - no pun intended!
2. In Locarno, put on your flip-flops and embrace the dolce vita lifestyle.
Gelato on Piazza Grande? Paddle boats on Lago Maggiore? Instagramable spots atop Cardada? Arriving at Locarno’s terminal station is instant immersion. A world of choices awaits, but first things first: put on your flip-flops and head for the lake.
Down at the waterfront, you will get a feel for what they mean when they say “dolce vita”. It’s where dog-walking locals mingle with sun-seeking tourists. Getting to Locarno faster than ever means that you have more time to embrace the sweet life.
3. Next, hop on a direct train from Locarno to Lugano.
Thanks to the Ceneri Base Tunnel, the travel time between Locarno and Lugano has dropped from 50 minutes to just 29 minutes. Once you are ready to say ciao to Locarno, hop on the local train that departs twice hourly. Get ready because shortly, you are going to say salve to Lugano!
Adjacent to Parco Ciani, the mouth of the Cassarate River enters the lake. This is also where life happens during the warm summer months. From pop-up bars to impromptu concerts, go here to feel the pulse of Lugano (and to take a plunge in the lake). And while you dry in the sun, find even more inspiration in the new publication “Natural escapes - Ticino: Spectacular swimming spots on waterfalls, rivers, and lakes.” (Salamander Verlag)
4. Spend a memorable evening.
The Lugano bay is known for its stunning sunsets, so take the funicular or bus to Monte Brè. Our preferred sunset spot is located about halfway up at Parco San Michele. Many locals unfold their yoga mats there, but we usually do as lovers do and sit on a park bench. If time allows, you may even climb to the very top of Monte Bré for unrivaled panoramic views.
For an equally nice experience, take the train to Mendrisio. For its landscape and vineyards, this region in the very south of Switzerland is often compared with Napa Valley in California. Several wineries offer tastings of white Merlot - another legitimate “hack” to invest your free time wisely...
5. Travel lots with the free Ticino Ticket.
As you move around Ticino, you will get the hang of it: the new rail tunnel is shortening trip times tremendously. It has become a matter of less than half an hour to travel between major hubs. Regardless of whether you keep your toothbrush in Bellinzona, Lugano, or Locarno, you can see all three in a day and still make it back for the sunset.
When you check into your hotel, youth hostel or campground, you are handed the amazing Ticino Ticket. This complimentary travel pass is the ultimate “hack” for unlimited free travels. Never worry about buying a ticket when boarding a bus, boat, or train in Ticino!
6. Each day is a day for adventure.
The Lugano region is a fave among MTB enthusiasts. Beginners could team up with a local guide who will take them to some easier to reach yet scenic spots.
For intermediate and advanced riders, the Lugano region offers up a staggering 370 km of MTB trails. Why not start by taking the cable car to the top of Monte Tamaro? After a steep ascent to a lookout point, you will follow some challenging tracks before cleaning this mountain with ease.
On the train ride from Lugano to Bellinzona, stretch your legs for 30 minutes without having to switch a single time. You’ve traded that time savings for some nice flow on the trails - yew!
7. Swing your heart out.
The latest attraction in Ticino has FOMO written all over it. Two young Ticinese have come up with the simple yet effective idea to place oversized swings in beautiful places. From mountain tops to the lush Bavona Valley, a dozen swings remain at your disposal.
Some of the swings are only reachable by hiking or biking. So, if you manage to stage the perfect photograph in one of these locations, you are near guaranteed extra likes from your followers… This experience combines feelings of nostalgia and living in the moment. Is there a better way to forget about time than to #swingtheworld?
8. Seek out a grotto for authentic Ticino dining.
You have not been to Ticino unless you have dined in a grotto. These genuine taverns offer local fare like grandma used to cook it. Think polenta with salami and alpine cheese, porcini risotto, homemade gnocchi, or forest fruit tarte...
While some grotti are inside historic buildings, many more serve food on their vine-covered terraces. Both the city of Bellinzona as well as the upper valleys are ideal to seek out a rustic grotto experience.
9. Travel the new Treno Gottardo train line.
If you have time for one last “hack”, let us propose a most memorable way of traveling to and from Ticino. The new Treno Gottardo train line departs hourly in each direction - either from Basel or Zürich, or from Locarno and Bellinzona.
Since this railway skips the Gotthard Base Tunnel in lieu of the historic mountain route, it takes slightly longer. But given the scenic views, the bonus stops along the way, and the perks of its free membership, this detour is worth every minute.