What to see in Ticino, Switzerland
Ticino, the Italian part of Switzerland. You will be surprised how italian is the main spoken language and palm trees will sihouette against rocky mountain peaks, giving an esotical twist to the trip. To experience all that this area can offer, a week would be barely enough.
In this article we will get through everything that you can experience in this region, while in this other one I've focused more on the emotional impact that the whole Swiss journey had on me.
Over than informations and pictures of the places I've seen, you will find below also intel, references and an exhaustive amount of links to photos and official sources about all the other attractions and landmarks.
If you contact me through the form on the top right I can also provide you a MyMaps map with all the places discussed here pinned.
When to visit Ticino?
Unless you want to have an amazing skiing vacation or you want to fully experience winter in all its forms, I strongly suggest you to explore this region between late may and early october. In warm seasons you won't have to deal with closed bus/cable car connections or hiking trails unaccessible due to snow. Also, you will be able to dive into the countless turquoise lakes and rivers spread all over the routes, either admiring the wonderful autumnal foliage or the spring bloom. About trains, they work all year round with incredible precision.
How to arrive and move around?
The closest airport is Milan, in Italy. From there Ticino is incredibly close and the beautiful Lake Como, is right on the way for a stop. Lugano, from Milan, is only at 70km. If you are arriving by bus, Flixbus has stops both in Lugano and Bellinzona, the two main cities in Ticino. To move around, you can ask your hotel to provide you the free public transport card. In this way you can hop on most of the trains and busses for free in the whole region during your stay, plus having discounts for cablecars and funiculars. Otherwise, busses are very cheap but trains definitely aren't! To not deal with time schedules at all, renting a car directly at the Milan airport (arriving by plane), or in Lugano/Bellinzona (arriving by bus) is the best option.
Good-to-know: in winter only the main bus routes are ensured, while side valleys and towns have only one or two runs per day or are completely left out.
Useful Apps/Websites: for bus/train detailed timetables check the official PostAuto website or their "PostBus" App. The official train transport website of Switzerland is sbb.ch, while a useful app for hiking routes is "hikeTicino". The main Ticino tourism boards are www.ascona-locarno.com, for the area around Lake Maggiore, and www.ticino.ch for the whole Ticino. Contact them here (1) and here (2) for any issue or to know the accessibility of hikes in cold seasons.
Lake Maggiore and Locarno
There is no journey in Ticino that doesn't involve some time passed strolling by the shores of Lake Maggiore or exploring the countless valleys carved by the rivers diving in it.
The official tourism board of this area is www.ascona-locarno.com.
Is the main city standing in the Swiss side of the lake, and has a charme brewed by a mix of exotic and alpine scents. Palm trees, gardens teeming with flowers of all colors and the soft jingle of the sailboats ropes hitting their masts collides with the surrounding snowy mountain ridges, creating contrasting emotions. Piazza Grande is the heart of the city, where the cultural and architectural features get most alive. From here you can easily head to explore the town's old part, Città Vecchia, filled with churches, colorful alleys and squares, like Piazza S. Antonio, historical palaces such as the Visconti Castle and more: follow this link for detailed official informations.
Parco delle Camelie, straight south of the town center, is the nicest public garden of Locarno, offering beautiful windows over the lake.
Just beside the park the biggest thermal center of Ticino is placed, Termali Salini e SPA (adult day ticket 32 CHF / 28 Eur). The photos in the link will speak for themselves.
Another highlight is Santuario della Madonna del Sasso, leaning on a rock outcrop over the beautiful surrounding scenery. It's one of the most important religious sites of Ticino, but it offers grand sceneries from the top. It can be reached by funicular (Viale Francesco Balli, in front of the McDonald) or by feet with the Via Crucis.
If you choose the funicular here you have all the informations you need, while if you go for the last option walk all along Via al Sasso, that starts from Via Cappuccini and passes on the right of Hotel Belvedere Locarno.
At its end go all the way up over the stairs, as magnificent views will open in front of you, to reach the sanctuary. For an even better view that includes the Sancturary from above, head to Cappella della Resurrezione, not far from Madonna del Sasso. There you will find benches to relax and enjoy what you see.
For modern art lovers: don't miss the Ghisla Art Collection, right next to Giardini Rusca close to Piazza Grande and the harbor.
A hundred meters from the museum, you can also find the ferry terminal. The boats easily connect all the charming Swiss tows around Locarno and allow to explore the Brissago Islands, over which there is a famous Botanical Garden.
Subtropical and African plants grow enthusiastically here, a reason why this garden belongs to the exclusive circle of the most beautiful of Switzerland.
Here you can find all the timetables and prices of the ferries.
Last, but not least, thing you can do from Locarno town center is taking the Cable car and chair lift Orselina - Cardada - Cimetta. At the beginning, it's the same discussed about the Sanctuary earlier, starting from Via Francesco Belli, but it goes a lot more upwards.
First step is taking the funicular of before, getting down at the last stop at Orselina. Right beside the arrival there is the starting station of the Cardada cablecar, that will bring you at 1340m in Cardada and its famous viewpoint over the whole lake and mountain ranges around that you better not miss.
From Cardada the 2-seated chair lift will lead you to Cimetta, at 1670m, opening for other incredible landscapes and a second jaw-dropping viewpoint, next to the observatory and the paragliding starting point.
It's the west twin-town of Locarno, equipped with a beautiful lakefront with quaint pastel-colored houses. The medieval and Reinassance traces are all around, fused with the mediterranean and mountain vibes. The core of the town is Piazza Giuseppe Motta, right on the lake edge. From here you can get lost in the many alleys around and take a break in one of the several coffees and restaurants, or you can practice your swing at the famous golf club south-east of the town center.
- Other things to do and see around the lake
In the surroundings of Locarno and Ascona countless are the less known activities and villages that could fill another extra vacation day.
To taste the lakeside vibes at their best, an entirely flat 15km walking path that connects Tenero to Ascona awaits you. Here the trail's route and official photos.
On the opposite shore of Lake Maggiore respect to Locarno, the village of Vira Gambarogno has one of the most preserved cluster of colorful old houses and arcades, fragmented by a maze of intricate alleys. Scrambling for 17km on a winding road, you can reach the mountain village of Indemini, perfectly preserving evidences of the harsh life-conditions of the stubborn shepherds that lived here for centuries.
With a population of only 43 souls, you will walk in its narrow stone alleys, twisting between old houses leaning on each other and underpasses.
From Indemini a beautiful walking trail towards the peak of Monte Gambarogno will gift you with astonishing wide views over Lake Maggiore. The starting point is "Ristorante Indeminese", in the town center, and the ending is at restaurant "Ritrovo di Neggia" in Alpe di Neggia, after reaching the peak of Monte Gambarogno for a total of 12,6 km. From the end-point you can take the bus back to Indemini and drop off at the 5th stop. Here the Google Maps route and here the tourism board official video.
The town of Ronco Sopra Ancora deserves to be mentioned as well, where three main horizontal streets intersect with steep and winding vertical alleys. The eyesight over the Brissago islands and the lake is impressive.
For a drastic change in the scenery instead, you could visit the protected area of Bolle di Magadino, at the Verzasca and Ticino river mouths. Here the scene is dominated by stagnant waters, cane fields, sandy islets and willows, poplars and alders forests. It's the perfect spot for a tranquil family walk and to make use of elevated viewpoints to birdwatch. To visit it park your car in the village of Magadino, then the reserve is less than 1km north, reachable through well signaled trails. During summer private boat trips make for another way to explore it.
[Hike to "Al Legn" hut - Brissago]
- Height gain: 700 m
- Start: the parking at the end of the road in Mergugno (1050 m), fraction above Brissago
- Time: 2 hours
An easy trail that will lead you, passing from an enchanted and preserved forest (Bosco Sacro di Mergugno), to the marvellously placed mountain hut Rifugio Al Legn. The shelter is fully equipped to spend the night and to enjoy a panoramic lunch or breakfast. Here is the website for reservations.
Worth a last note, the Gambarogno Botanical Garden, springing on a hill and extending for more than 20000 square meters, could be an additional stop if you have plenty of time on the shores of Lake Maggiore.
Valleys and hikes: Verzasca, Maggia, Bavona and more
- Val Verzasca
Val Verzasca is a narrow valley carved by the Verzasca river and pinned by several tiny villages, enclosed among mountain peaks up to 3000m.
The river forms a spectacular gorge that winds peacefully in this serene landscape.
The core of the valley is certainly the town of Lavertezzo. The Verzasca river here gives its best, flowing with its turquoise waters under the stone roman bridges of the village, wrapped by marvellous rock formations.
In summer you can dive from the so called "Ponte dei Salti", from the same spot of the first picture below. There is a reason why this place is called the Swiss Maldives!
Another beautiful village is Corippo, a tight enseble of gray black-roof houses scenicly perched on the mountain side and all facing the same direction, but also the last town of the valley, Sonogno, is worth a stop and has an incredible waterfall (Cascata della Froda) that can be reached through an easy path.
Lake Vogorno, at the beginning of the valley, and the Verzasca Dam should also be included in your list.
[Hike to Laghetto d'Efra - Frasco, Val Verzasca]
- Height gain: 950 m
- Start: village of Frasco (885 m), near Sonogno
- Time: 5-6 hours
Right before Sonogno, in Frasco, you can park your car and head up to a small mountain lake called Laghetto d'Efra (1836 m). Very close to the lake and going slightly more uphill, there's the hut Capanna Efra (2039 m), to have a typical lunch or spend the night.
- Valle Maggia
Another beautiful valley, parallel to Verzasca, is Valle Maggia, although often skipped by the mass tourism. Still it holds some treasures ready to be discovered.
The towns of Avegno, Gordevio and Maggia at the beginning of the valley, and Bignasco at the end-tip are the most picturesque to explore, with the typical stone houses and cobbled alleys nestled at the bottom of the looming mountains.
In Bignasco there is another remarkable roman bridge you can walk on.
In the village of Maggia don't miss the waterfall "Cascata del Salto", under which you can bathe in a natural pool, and in Bignasco the "Cascata Grande", still having a natural pool beneath.
Spectacular rocky river gorges aren't a feature of Val Verzasca only, but can be admired also in Valle Maggia. In particular, head over an iron bridge at the very beginning of the valley to see the best portion, called Orrido di Ponte Brolla. The coordinates are: 46.189137, 8.756181, plug them into google maps to reach the spot.
South of this spot you can easily find many openings along the main road, to see other perspectives of the canyon.
If you are brave enough, get your swimsuit on and dive in the crystal clear waters of Pozzo di Tegna, very close to the canyon on the Maggia river. You'll have your own natural waterfall to keep you company.
Pro tip: you don't wanna miss a typical lunch at "Grotto America", right on the left of the canyon.
- Val Bavona
North-west of Valle Maggia, Val Bavona is one of the most remote valleys of the region, being also the steepest and the rockiest. Is extends from the last town of Valle Maggia, Bignasco, to the Robiei Alp.
There is still no connection to the electric grid, with all the energy being generated by solar panels, fueling even more the authentic charm of the scattered sleepy towns. The village houses are made of dark stone and are perfectly preserved.
By bus, it's accessible only in summer and with much less runs than other valleys, while in off-season the last bus stop is in Bignasco (Valle Maggia), at the beginning of Val Bavona.
My advice is either to explore the valley with your own car, or to park it in Cavergno, right next to Bignasco, and explore Val Bavona by feet. The walk is easy and signaled. From Cavergno you can walk up to Sonlerto for a total of 9,5 km one way, rewarding you some of the most out-of-time views of the whole Ticino. Only in summer, you can take a bus back to your car at any town in the valley, while in other seasons you will have to walk back the whole distance.
Here the map of the valley.
Two of the most remarkable and quaint hamlets are certainly Sabbione, picture-perfect cluster of houses surrounding gigantic boulders, and Roseto.
Foroglio instead, became the symbol of Val Bavona due to the unbeatable match of a postcard village and a 110m drop waterfall that can be seen (and heard) from its alleys.
Also Sonlerto has to definitely be in your bucket list, defined by some as one of the most beautiful Swiss villages.
Every little settlement along the road has its own beauty, not only the ones mentioned, so take your time if possible.
Val Bavona is characterized by the so-called Splüi, structures carved into the many boulders scattered all around, in ancient times used as shelters for the livestock or the villagers themselves, canteens or deposits. There are roughly 170 of them in the valley and towns still at work.
[Val Calnègia hike - Val Bavona]
- Height gain: 430m; Start: Foroglio
- One way length: 7,9 km
I warmly recommend an easy hike called "Sentiero della Transumanza" (path of transhumance), one of the Ticino's famous Stone Footpaths, that starts from Foroglio and heads up along a side valley of Val Bavona, called Val Calnègia.
The first stop is the fraction of Puntid and its stunning stone bridge, then the walk deviates to Splüia Bela and finally to the fractions of Gerra and Calneggia (end stop), zig-zagging across the colorful Calnègia river before getting back down to Foroglio.
Here official informations, the route and an inspiring video.
Note: from the route in the link Splüia Bela is left out, It's a deviation of 20 minutes from the main path that can be traced from Puntid following the signs.
[Robiei Alp hikes - upper Val Bavona]
Another highlight, although reachable only from half june to early october, is the Robiei Alp, which counts almost 30 glacial lakes grafted in a perfect mountain playground and beside a pristine glacier.
A cablecar (timetables) connects the last town of Val Bavona, San Carlo, to Robiei Alp, after a 15 minutes - 900m ascent. From Robiei countless are the hiking possibilites (in summer), but one of the best is the 6 hours Glaciological Trail that allows to dive into amazing views of the mountains, the alpine lakes of Zött and Robiei and the Basodino Glacier.
Here you can find a detailed map of all the routes and highlights. Mind that almost every hike covers a full day, so if you plan to do more than one ccontact firstname.lastname@example.org to ask about bringing your tent or about the open shelters and huts in the area.
Other lakes that deserve a mention are Lago Cavagnöö, Lago Sfundau and Lago Bianco, explorable with another longer trekking starting from the upper cablecar station.
- Less known valleys: Val Lavizzara, Val di Campo, Val di Bosco and Val Onsernone
Val Lavizzara is another valley that branches out from Valle Maggia, like Val Bavona, but this time goes north-east from Bisgnasco rather than north-west.
Brontallo and Fusio, both with less than a 100 souls, are the highlight towns of this area, respectively placed near the beginning and end of the valle, while other quaint ones are Menzonio and Lavizzara, situated in between.
Looming on the road just 200m north of Broglio, a curious towering boulder known as Sasc du Diaol in Ticinese dialect (Devil's Rock), rises for more than 20 meters in the air. Coordinates: 46.38942, 8.66125
For modern architecture lovers a futuristic twist can be found in Mogno in the San Giovanni Battista church, whose geometric minimal design has been crafted by the architect Mario Botta, after the old one has been destroyed by an avalance in april 1986.
Driving in any of these valleys is an unforgettable experience by itself, but a particularly charming car drive starts from Sambuco lake, then runs on its right and winds upwards towards Lago del Narèt, right after Lago Superiore and Lago Sassolo for a total of 12 km. Here the car route and here two previews of the drive from google Maps: (1), (2).
The framework in which this road is built is spectacular.
Also, just before Lake Sassolo you will find a local cheese factory, "Caseificio Alpe Campo la Torba", active since more than a century.
Starting from the area around Lago del Narèt, many hikes surely start towards the surrounding lakes and peaks, but I've found no useful information.
[Hike to Lago di Mognola - Val Lavizzara]
- 10 km included return; Start: Fusio
- 828 m of ascent
A relatively short ring route starting and ending at Fusio.
It goes up to Lago di Mognola, perfectly framed between mountain peaks and pine trees. Many will be the open views from the woods over the valley beneath and many the encountered creeks, waterfalls and old stone-wood huts.
Here the official link to the hike with a map and further informations.
[Hike to Trosa and Casgioleir waterfalls - Val di Peccia]
- Total distance: N.D.; Start: Ghieiba, Val di Peccia
- Total ascent: 610 m
Another beautiful ramble through woods and waterfalls starts from Ghieiba, at the end of a small valley called Val di Peccia that goes west from Lavizzara. This valley is famous for soapstone and white marble outcrops placed everywhere in it and visible around the road, mined and worked in the town of Peccia, where a sculpture school attracts many passionate students from all Switzerland every year.
With the car coming from south, turn left after Lavizzara at the first and only crossroad. Then proceed along the main road for roughly 5 km.The road at some point will become a dirt road, you can park the car anywhere safe after this point, or you can arrive up until you find a red and white barrier over a bridge.
The start of the hike is few dozen meters after this bridge, where you will find a sign with written "Corte della Froda 1h40m". At a fork you will have to choose if going directly on the left to the Trosa waterfall, or if arriving there later by going on the right towards Corte della Froda.
If you choose to go right you will pass from the Casgioleir waterfall, then Corte della Froda and finally down to the Trosa waterfall from where you can get back. Here the italian link where I've found these informations.
- Val di Campo and Val di Bosco
These other two valleys detach from Valle Maggia at the height of Cevio, south of Bignasco
[Soapstone Route hike - Val di Campo]
- Heigth gain: 550 m
- Ring length: 12 km
Val di Campo is the Ticino's region that collects the greatest number of accessible, well preserved and varied traces of the exploitation of soapstone in ancient times.
The greatest attraction is, of course, the Soapstone Route - Sentiero della Pietra Ollare - probably the most famous of the many stone routes of Ticino. The excursion starts from the town of "Campo (Vallemaggia)" and drifts through countless rock outcrops, quarries and manufactured objects, allowing the visitor to follow the steps of the artisans of the past in the beautiful scenario of the Swiss mountains and forests. The hike goes up until the Magnello Alp is reached, counting roughly 30 wood and stone farmsteads laying on a plateau, surrounded by pine trees and peaks.
The most famous hamlet of Val di Bosco is Bosco Gurin. First of all because it has a beautiful and incredibly preserved town center that will bring you out of this time, but it's also known as the best skiing base in Ticino (here the map of the tracks).
[Hike of the Three Lakes - Val di Bosco]
- Total ring length: 14.6 km; Start from: Bosco Gurin
- Total ascent: N/D
It's a famous trail that starts from Bosco Gurin, it traces another stone route up to the lakes Üssera See, Schwarzsee and Endersee, allowing you to watch snowy mountain peaks reflect in their still waters and looping back down to Bosco Gurin. If you click on the names you can see the Google Maps street view of the lakes to sneak-peek the amazing scenery.
On google maps the walk is perfectly tracked: here
[Hike to Lago di Sfii - Val di Campo]
- Total length: 10.6 km; Start from: Cimalmotto
- Total ascent: 1016 m
From Cimalmotto, a small village right after the town Campo (Vallemaggia), Val di Campo. From there a well signaled route towards Alpe di Sfii (1666 m) starts, heading upwards through another valley, called Val Rovana. Once you'll reach Alpe di Sfii you can continue the hike to get to Lago di Sfii, which gives its best in autumn with the larches becoming an explosion of colors. Late september / early october is the window to enjoy this show. Already in late october you might find the path closed due to snow, but this applies to every other hike mentioned in this page. Ask the official tourism boards given at the beginning.
- Val Onsernone
Do you really crave to get even more off the beaten path? Then Val Onsernone deserves your attention. It branches from Intragna together with Valle Maggia, but makes its way towards west.
The water mill of Vergelletto, in Val Vergelleto, side valley of Onsernone, is worth alone a visit in this corner of Ticino, while Loco is a nicely perched stone village encountered at the beginning of the valley, secretly holding another water mill.
The highlight is certainly Saléi Alp although, reachable with a scenic cable car by driving for 3 more km after Vergelletto.
Once at the top, you can enjoy the wide views down the valley or reach the tranquil shores of the small Laghetto di Saléi with a short 1 km walk through thick larch woods.
Capanna Salei is the terraced wooden hut and dairy in which you can get cozy or purchase some of the freshest cheese of Ticino. Several hikes start from the hut, including the one that can bring you back to the cable-car starting point to avoid purchasing the return ticket, 12km long. Here the Maps trail.
[Hike to Lago d'Alzasca and Capanna Alzasca - Val Vergelletto]
- One way length to the lake: 6 km, to the hut: +1 km
- Parking: coordinates 46.237194, 8.584079, Camana hamlet, west of Vergelletto
- Height gain: 1373 m
Another alpine jewel is Lago d'Alzasca (1855 m), near which you'll find a fully equipped mountain hut to rest and have a tasty dinner or breakfast. The hut is open also in winter and the price per night starts from 16€. The path is well marked and from the start point you just have to follow the signs to the lake and then to the hut.
Lake Lugano and Lugano
Lake Lugano may be smaller than Lake Maggiore and may not be surrounded by all those idyllic valleys, but the quirky blend of exotic and mountain vibes here is most alive than ever. On top of that, a myriad of outdoor activities, viewpoints, hikes, art expositions and picturesque towns await you.
The official tourism board of this area is www.luganoregion.com
Lugano is one of the most appreciated weekend getaway destinations, both in Switzerland and northern Italy.
Piazza della Riforma, the city lounge, is outlined by many bistrots and restaurants and hosts most of the yearly events. Also the uphill streets Via Cattedrale and the nearby Salita M. e A. Chiattone should not be missed. Here you can take a tranquil stroll through a variety of boutiques, small art galleries and antique or craftsmen shops.
The city's official shopping alley is although Via Nassa, elegant and sophisticated, skirted in most of its length by an ancient arcade, while Via Pessina is the pulsating heart of Lugano.
In Via Pessina traditional seasonal markets, international brand stores and luxury shops coexist harmoniously, alternating with some of the most renowned aperitif bars of the city. Classic example is Grand Café Al Porto, which can be found at the number 3 of the street since 1803.
Lugano it's not all about picturesque streets though, but boasts several beautiful green areas and a stunning full-of-life lake front. The best way to enjoy it is to start the walk from the tree-lined terrace Rivetta Tell. From there you can either head towards east to Parco Ciani, Lugano's green lung to which we'll get back soon, or west to the lake front and Giardino Belvedere.
The walk is almost 2 km long (maps) and for the first half will passes beside some of the best historical palaces of the city, then the lake front tinges of green becomig Giardino Belvedere, right in front of the most important Lugano's cultural center (LAC - Lugano Arte e Cultura, link), hosting art exhibitions and events, musical seasons and theater/dance reviews, and Chiesa di Santa Maria degli Angioli (1499), in which Reinassance treasures are perfectly preserved.
Next to the cultural center, Children will love Museo in Erba, an interactive museum to seed their creativity.
The stroll concludes half a km further at a small square with a round fountain.
As hinted, Parco Ciani is the green lung of Lugano, covering 63000 square meters.
Many are the paths that wind through flower beds, secular trees and open windows to the lake. Also, some palaces rise inside the park, such as the Cantonal Library, the natural history museum, the Congress Palace, the Darsena and Villa Ciani (1843).
In front of Villa Ciani the most popular photo spot of the park can be found: an adorned gate facing the waters of the lake.