Lugano is the biggest city in the “Italian” part of Switzerland, canton of Ticino. Located on the eponymous lake and surrounded by picturesque forested mountains, it offers the most typical impressions of nature and culture of this region of the country.
I have to say, travelling across Italian Switzerland is quite a strange experience. It is almost impossible to tell Lugano from cities of Northern Italy. Everything is the same: food, vegetation, building styles… Pretty much everything, except for prices. Looking at them, you are reminded that it is still Switzerland… So why pay more if Milan is only one and a half hours away by train? Let’s try to find out.
The main attraction of Lugano and the main reason to come here in the first place is the lake – surprise – also Lugano. The lake is surrounded by short, but very steep mountain slopes covered with forest, so a promenade along its shore will be accompanied by stunning views.
A great place to go for a stroll is the Ciani Park. Don’t forget to drop by an ice cream stand for some gelato!
The park also has a decent sports area with many gym machines so one can exercise on the lake shore among lush trees and flower bushes.
At some point the park turns into a pebble beach. It seems to be not allowed to bath here because there is a guarded official beach right next to this place. But here it is much nicer to just sit next to the water as the official city beach is both very-very expensive and very-very crowded.
If you are into lake cruises, Lugano can offer you a choice of a boat cruise or rental motor and pedal boats.
I can already see how you are rolling your eyes up to the ceiling: “Another church? They are all the same!”
I am normally also not very excited about visiting every church and can hardly tell one from another. But the Cathedral in Lugano I will remember, I think =)
On the outside it’s a typical church of Italian Renaissance.
But inside, instead of standard Catholic sculptures and frescos, the cathedral is decorated with bright and colorful patterns which look Oriental rather than Christian! However, some typical Catholic elements are also present on the lower columns and in the apse. Really interesting combination of styles!
In front of the church there is a small platform with an overview of Lugano roofs, hills and some lake.
Are you interested in Swiss architecture but do not have enough time or budget to peek into every corner of the country? A great lazy way to get some impression is to visit the Swissminiatur park in Lugano!
It has over a hundred models which include not only famous places, but also anonymous farms and city buildings typical for different regions of Switzerland. Plan a couple of hours to see the exhibition without rush.
Fortunately, Lugano is not included into the Standard Tour of Switzerland so the noisy tourist groups do not crowd its streets, and you can expect to admire the architecture in peace.
The main city square: every building here is a bank or an insurance company.
In the center walk these cute and cozy little streets.
There is a bunch of luxury villas all around Lugano. Some people here just know how to live =)
This city is absolutely in love with funiculars. There is even one in its very center: unmanned cars transfer passengers between the main train station and the cathedral.
Although you will not find snowy peaks, sharp cliffs, or glaciers around Lugano, its small mountains are nevertheless wonderfully beautiful and charming.
San Salvatore is Lugano’s “house mountain”. Its steep slope rises directly from the lake, and the unique outline stands out from the background of mountains further away.
The best way to visit is to use a funicular. First take a train to Lugano Paradiso (people here are not shy about their quality of life :D).
The funicular is located a few minites from the trains. It is easy to recognize by the typical Swiss style of its station.
As a Swiss mountain, San Salvatore, of course, has a restaurant. Of course, with panorama windows.
But it is possible to get even higher – there is a little chapel on the summit whose roof is free to visit and offers an unbelievable 360 overview!
From here, not only the lake, but also the city is visible.
And even a bit of Italy: this town is Italian even though the lake and the mountains around it belong to Switzerland.
Mount Bre faces San Salvatore from the opposite side of the city and is competing with it for the title of the main mountain of Lugano. To get to the top you can use – you guessed it – a funicular. And surely there is a restaurant waiting for you at the top…
Walk past the summit, and on the other side of the mountain you will get to an old village of Bre with its medieval buildings made of stone. Here it is hard to believe that we are still in Switzerland and not in Italy!
Mount Boglia is taller and harder to reach than either Bre or San Salvatore. There is no transportation to here so one would have to hike.
Travel guides recommend using a funicular to Bre and starting the hike from there. That would be an option to make the hike a bit shorter (it is actually very long), but this way you will likely encounter many people both on the funicular and on the top.
There is a trick to avoid this experience. The funicular to Bre consists of two stretches, and the lower part opens a couple of hours earlier than the upper one. Since most of the people start the ascent from Bre, you will not see them before the second funicular’s first run. It is possible to get ahead of them by taking a very early first funicular and walking the rest of the way to Bre. It takes about an hour, and the forest trail is really nice, flat, and easy.
In Bre we can already see Boglia and estimate the challenge. Our destination is that bald summit. Hiking there will take 2.5-3 hours one way.
This hike is generally difficult but it is possible to make it a bit easier by choosing a longer route – they are a bit flatter. We took a fast trail (very steep!) and were rewarded with lake views along the way!
Sometimes you can also get distracted by some weird objects like this stone throne.
The last sprint:
Aaaaand… mission accomplished! This ridge, by the way, is the border between Switzerland (on the right) and Italy (on the left).
Needless to say that the view is 360, and you can see everything: the lake and the city of Lugano, Monte Rosa massif – the tallest mountain in Switzerland (this big white spot on the left), and even Mont Blanc – the tallest peak of all Alps (in the background, to the left from Monte Rosa).
The Italian side is no less stunning:
After a picnic break on the summit it is possible to continue the way along the ridge for more hiking or to descent back to Bre via the other slope of Mount Boglia.
Even though there is not a lot of sights in Lugano, the city is very calm and not super touristic which is quite pleasant. Besides, the Italian parts of Switzerland are often neglected by visitors, but they still have their own character. If you would like to diversify your impressions in Switzerland, take a look at what Lugano has to offer. The city is not very big so one day should be enough to visit (including a funicular up Mount San Salvatore or Bre). And an additional day would give an opportunity to hike around and enjoy the nature.