Lugano Travel Guide

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A quaint and charming town seeped in history, culture and nature, Lugano in Switzerland is as perfect as a holiday can get.

After a long flight to Zurich, I took a train to Lugano and bus to reach my hotel – however I was not tired even a little bit. Perhaps it was the enticing views enroute to Lugano that did the trick. Meadows filled with wild flowers, majestic snow clad mountains and beautiful old homes interspersed among the greenery. This was as picture perfect as things could get and was an excellent precursor to a trip that was as memorable as it was magnificent.

Nature Beckons

“Welcome to the sunny living room of Switzerland” said my guide Patricia Carminati at the start of my walking tour of Lugano. And perhaps this is where the charm of this town lies. Best explored by foot, at the heart of the town is the expansive Lake of Lugano. The promenade here is dotted with a burst of flowers that frame the lake beautifully for many Instagram worthy pictures. There is a park that runs alongside the lake which was created at the end of the 1970’s after the city of Lugano acquired several sculptures on display in an exhibition of outdoor works. This collection has grown both through acquisitions and donations and today you can admire many of the important work that was created in the second half of the 20th century here. The lake itself is clear with boats lined up and framed by the large mountain ranges of Monte Brè and Monte San Salvatore. There are several species of birds that you can spot here including swans, ducks and egrets. Walking along the lake will also give you insights into the measures that have been taken to protect it. When I was here, I found out that in October 2006, a project to restore the lake floor ecosystem that involved reshaping an area of the lake floor and diversifying its habitat was undertaken. The lake floor saw additions of aquatic plants, tree stumps and bundles of sticks that aim to increase cover and reproduction areas for fish. I also suggest that you visit the beautiful park Parco Ciani that has been named after the brothers Giacomo and Filippo Ciani who renovated the 17th century villa still present inside the park in the first half of the 19th century. The Ciani brothers are believed to have found Lugano to be a safe haven for their liberal ideas and the villa has had the honour of hosting some of the most important figures of the Italian Risorgimento. The park and villa were acquired by the municipality of Lugano in 1912 and eventually opened to the public. Since I was here in spring the park was bursting with flowers in all hues.

Buildings of Lugano
Buildings of Lugano

Getting Arty

At the heart of the city overlooking the lake is the stunning LAC or Lugano Arte e Cultura building a relatively new arts centre that plays hosts to visual arts, music and performing arts. I was told by my guide that free music concerts are also held here in the evening. The building itself is magnificently designed with varied kinds of seating options across its two levels. You can sit on the floor, on the stairs or inside the 1000 seat theatre to enjoy the shows. The open glass windows provide a dialogue between the interiors and exteriors and the exterior whitish hued façade reflects the colour of the lake water. The green stone work within the building comes from India and the wood paneling on the walls is an acoustic feature. This is a one stop shop as far as all kinds of art is concerned and the variety ranging from jazz, classical music, theatre and Opera is intended to attract all generations. Located almost adjacent here is the elegant Hotel International au Lac that opened in 1906 and has small museum displaying a lot of furniture and artefacts as well as typewriters from the days gone by. Also do stop at the 13th century Cathedral of San Lorenzo, the former Franciscan Church of Santa Maria degli Angioli that has one of the biggest frescos of Switzerland. Simply walking around the town will get you up close with the Nuances of the Ticino architecture.

A swan in Parco Ciani
A swan in Parco Ciani

Gastronomy Matters

In the Ticino region, the locals take a lot of pride dining in their grottos. A grotto was a natural cellar in the rocks that used to work as a store for cheese, salami and wine in the past. Today the concept of a grotto has changed to mean traditional restaurants set in quiet places amidst gardens and always have an al fresco seating space in the shade of huge trees. The main intent of the grotto is to protect local wine and food and hence this is what is served here. So you can sample delicacies like homemade sausages – salami and mortadella, vegetable minestrone soup, risotto, roast beef, polenta, hard and creamy cheese as well as sample the local Merlot wine. In fact if you are shopping for food souvenirs from here, you can find a blue and red branding on many products that indicates that it has been locally produced. Even heading to the town square for a meal is a good idea – this is where the locals gather for a meal and there are numerous small restaurants that dot the square that is surrounded by beautiful buildings and overlooks the lake. And for some more retail therapy walk into the narrow lanes past the square and you will see several stores. Do stop at Vanini, a store that retails Swiss chocolates since 1871. The store is lined with all kinds of chocolates and you can taste before you buy so you know what you are buying. Local souvenirs are best at the chain Coop Store as well as Manor departmental store. At the end of my stay, I was so glad that my first ever visit to Switzerland was to Lugano – it was everything and more of the perfect image I had of the country I always wanted to see and set the right tone for my explorations ahead.

Church of Santa Maria degli Angioli
Church of Santa Maria degli Angioli

Fact File

Reach: Lugano has its own airport that is serviced by Darwin Airline and Swiss International Airlines. However a popular choice is to fly to Zurich and take a train journey to Lugano that will take you through scenic views and takes under 3 hours. Bookings can be made on https://www.sbb.ch/en

Stay: Lugano has several hotels and resorts and a good choice is at The International au Lac Historic Lakeside Hotel a family owned property that dates back to 1906 and is opposite the lake and in the midst of the old shopping lanes. To commemorate its 100 years, the hotel has opened a centenary museum on the first floor with objects and family memorabilia.

Tips:

  • You can buy a local SIM card for 20 Swiss Francs for communication.
  • Lugano is relatively cool through the year so make sure you keep a jacket to keep yourself warm.
  • Lugano has a lineup of events through the year, check https://www.myswitzerland.com/en-in for more information.

This story first appeared in Smartlife July 2019 issue here: SL_0719_90-97_Travel-Lugano

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