Because of its warm climate, the southernmost canton of Switzerland is also called “sunroom”. Closed off to the north by the Gotthard massif, wine, figs, lemons and olives find perfect conditions over here. When after several waves of emigration Ticino was heavily depopulated in the early 20th century, painters, poets and anarchists tired of civilization discovered the paradisiac region around Lake Maggiore, among them Hermann Hesse. They were followed by tourists, attracted by the idyllic scenery and the 2,300 hours of sunshine a year. Around the Great Lakes lie the tourist centers of Ascona, Lugano and Locarno, which host several international music and film festivals. In a striking contrast to this rich and sophisticated holiday region are remote valleys such as Verzasca, Maggia- or Onsernone, whose wild chestnut forests, untamed rivers and magnificent rock formations are only accessible to hikers. Everywhere one comes across abandoned Rustici, stone houses built without mortar, which testify to narrow, squalid living conditions of previous generations in Ticino.
Chestnut forests, mule tracks and deserted villages
The Ticino valley stretches from Intragna on Lake Maggiore to Camedo in the west at the Swiss-Italian border. It owes its name to the numerous side valleys. There are not 100 but more than 150! Hiking trails along former mule tracks lead through the chestnut forests and on to ancient old villages, which are mostly deserted or inhabited by artists. The romantic valley is made accessible by the Centovalli Railway, which travels over 83 bridges and through 34 tunnels.
Mountain with a view and a cablecar
North of Lake Maggiore rises the Cimetta. Via the Cardada, the local mountain of Locarno, the 1,671 meter high peak is easily accessible by cablecar and hiking trails. From the top you have a sensational view over the lake and the Maggia Delta. On a good day you can see Ascona, the lowest point in Switzerland, and the Monte Rosa, the highest point of Switzerland. Those who still have energy, can continue to Cima della Torosa and descend over the lake of Verzasca.
Ancient villages and a scarcely populated southern shore
The lake, named after the largest town in Ticino, is situated between Lago di Como and Lago Maggiore. Although smaller (only 50 square kilometers) than the neighboring lakes, what it lacks in size it makes up for in beauty. Lago di Lugano is surrounded by steep mountainsides covered with chestnut trees. The southern shore is sparsely populated and many areas can only be reached on foot. Ancient towns on the north shore include Carona, Morcote and Montagnola, home to the German author Hermann Hesse for many years until his death in 1962. A wonderful excursion to be enjoyed is a ride on the cog railway from Capolago to the peak of Monte Generoso (1704 m), which affords magnificent views of the lake and the surrounding countryside all the way to Milan on clear days.
Fashionable resort town on Lake Maggiore
The Swiss resort on Lake Maggiore has received its town charter from Frederick Barbarossa. The medieval center of the posh town is the Piazza Grande where every Thursday a market takes place. Originally the Piazza was right on the lake. Today the water's edge is far away with debris being washed up by the mountain river Maggia year after year. Also worth seeing is the Romanesque church of San Vittore, with its ornate crypt.
East of Lugano, close to the Italian border, the road passes above the village Gandria. From the car park a path leads down to the village where the Sentiero di Olivo begins. A paved path stretches a few kilometers along the lake to Lugano. The serenity is idyllic. The path winds past wild olive trees and through old villages with narrow streets and staircases. And if you are tempted by the water, you can just jump into the lake for a swim.
Scenic road at the St. Gotthard Pass
This mountain road winds its way elegantly up the Gotthard pass. It has been a protected landmark since 1832 and is considered one of the “great drives of the Alps.” From the Middle Ages up until the 20th century, the pass was one of the most important routes over the mountains. Coaches would use the road in the summer, and sleighs in the winter. Today, it is preferred by nostalgic visitors; those in a hurry can simply drive straight through the mountain via the Gotthard tunnel.