Switzerland’s Italian Side

This summer, Joe Diaz and I traveled to Switzerland on a ten-day trip prompted by the launch of one of AFAR’s newest ventures, AFAR Journeys, where we asked the members of AFAR’s Travel Advisory Council to create custom itineraries that allow AFAR readers to travel deeper in Switzerland. One of the most surprising areas of the country for both Joe and I was the Italian speaking southeast. Here are a few favorite highlights from that part of the trip.

Ascona, Switzerland
Ascona, on the shores of Lake Maggiore, has swaying palm trees and a mild climate, and is Switzerland‘s lowest-lying town (643 feet above sea level). The lakeside promenade (Lungolago) offers a Mediterranean feel with streetside cafés, warm breezes, and diners clinking wineglasses—all with a backdrop of historic 19th-century merchants’ houses. The town, a former fishing village, has become an upscale resort town—known for its water sports as well as some of the best hotels in the country. Ascona’s old town center, the Borgo, is a warren of charming alleyways and chic boutiques.
When work is complete on the Gotthard Base Tunnel (GBT), travelers will be able to travel through burrowed sheer mountain rock for 35 miles in a 50-minute trip from Zurich to Milan. Until then (scheduled completion is June 2016), sections of the world’s longest and deepest traffic tunnel is open for group tours organized by local visitor centers. You can see the digging machine that did the literally groundbreaking work, a 300-ton, 450-meter-long wonder. While the digging is done, the 57-kilometer tunnel won’t open till workers lay down all the train tracks and support structures. We took a short train ride to Bellinzona, where we boarded the train to Lucerne where we were joined by Tabea Mandour, who is a project manager with the Swiss Travel System. Tabea told us that this amazing project has been over 20 years in process, and will cut the time between Zurich and Ticino by 50 minutes (with another 10 minutes in savings once the Cenari Base Tunnel in Ticino is complete). This will bring the travel time for a train journey from Locarno to Zurich down to an hour and 40 minutes! Ready to embark on your own Swiss adventure? Check out the itineraries that have been created by the members of AFAR’s Travel Advisory Council and other specialists at AFAR Journeys.
Carved by glaciers thousands of years ago, the steep and rocky Bavona Valley in the canton of Ticino is famous for its dramatic alpine scenery as well as for the fact that there is no electricity grid there. The power in the valley is from solar sources as well as from small water turbines and generators. The landscape is also known for the awesome Foroglio Waterfall that rushes down an 80-meter high rock into the Val Calnegia. Along with hiking and biking, travelers can also walk the “Taking the Cows Up the Mountain” trail that recreates a local tradition through the villages of Cavergno and Bignasco, then along the valley floor to the Terra di Foroglio, and then up through the Calneggia Valley to cow pastures at heights of over two thousand meters. We had the good fortune of exploring Val Bavona with Veronica Lafranchi of Ticino Tourism. Veronica showed us her family’s home, built in 1579 and still in the family. Talking with Veronica we learned of the valley locals’ close knit ties: Veronica and her family personally knew the fellow who delivered the bread to the village daily. Walking through the Valley’s villages with her was a walk back in time—but actually not backwards since the valley (whose inhabitants still sometimes rely on candles for light) seems frozen in a time before the clutter and noise of modern life drowned out the sound of cowbells and the soft golden light of tallow. Ready to embark on your own Swiss adventure? Check out the itineraries that have been created by the members of AFAR’s Travel Advisory Council and other specialists at AFAR Journeys.
Via Albarelle 16, 6612 Ascona, Switzerland
The peaceful, elegant Hotel Eden Roc enjoys an enviable location right between the mountains and the scenic Lake Maggiore in the charming Swiss village of Ascona. Interior designer Carlo Rampazzi is responsible for the retreat’s sumptuous visual appeal, which begins in the striking lobby, with its marble floors and palazzo ceiling, and runs through to the high-end fabrics, white granite, and mosaics featured in the colorful rooms and suites. All rooms have a balcony or terrace, free Wi-FI, and a refined but open feel that perfectly suits the lakeside location—especially the newly renovated rooms in buildings I and II. Rooms in the adjacent Eden Roc Marina have a maritime theme, and are connected to the main hotel by a walkway. The private beach is a boon for sunbathers, and there’s a spacious panoramic pier with private yachting marina, a quartet of very good restaurants, and a huge spa area.
Maloja Pass, 7516 Bregaglia, Switzerland
The Swiss Post Bus Company, with its distinctive cheery yellow public buses, is the largest and best known in the country. “Post Bus” means buses stop in local towns with post offices—so you get to see a lot of the country with locals, who use the bus line even more than travelers do. Greg and I took the Post Bus company’s “Palm Express” on a four-hour trip from St. Moritz and over the Maloja Pass to Ticono in the Italian-speaking region in southeastern Switzerland. (Its name comes from the palm trees you’ll pass in Lugano.) The bus traveled from the Upper Engadin Valley through beautiful lake country and the Maloja Pass before entering Italy. Our trip passed by Lake Como (we waved to George Clooney on the way) before it wound its way back to Switzerland and dropped us in Lugano. Because the trip enters Lombardy in northern Italy, you need to take your passport for border crossings. The company’s website even offers an audio guide app through its website that can be downloaded to your smartphone before you get on. But if you’re like Greg and myself, you might find that conversation with other passengers and all that stunning scenery make those four hours fly by. The company also offers bike rentals across the country and these will be available to Swiss Pass public transportation members starting in August 2015. Ready to embark on your own Swiss adventure? Check out the itineraries that have been created by the members of AFAR’s Travel Advisory Council and other specialists at AFAR Journeys.
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