Switzerland Culture Trip: Part II
Lake Living in Lugano
We head south for the next stop on our Swiss culture trip to the Italian inspired city of Lugano. Lugano is a stunningly gorgeous city and you get a view of two cultures meshed together--Italian and Swiss. The main language here is Italian, (duh) and the city brings in fashion flair in from Milan as well as culinary flair from Napoli.
Some fun facts:
This city is also one of Switzerland’s international business hubs as well due to it’s central location to southern bordering countries.
Lugano is on the border of Italy and close proximity to Como. It is 46 minutes by car or 28 minutes by train.
Lugano is in a microclimate meaning that even if there is rain in the forecast, your day is not ruined! It rains for an hour, maybe less and you are then graced with glorious sunlight!
Not a proven fact, but my honest opinion--Lugano is an underrated vaca spot that has A LOT to offer. Plan a trip now before it becomes a "hotspot"
3 days if you are doing a tour de Switzerland; at least a week if you are looking to chillax
How To Get there
If you are doing my Switzerland International Tour, the best way to get here is via train. Take the train from Zurich to Lugano. Approximate cost is 65CHF and the trip is roughly 2 hours. Bonus is you get stunning views of the Swiss countryside so make sure to get a window seat.
Pro-Tip: If you want to choose your seat, book a first class ticket. You are fine not doing so, but when looking for your seat, look for the seats labeled “libre” or “free”. Each seat has a digital indicator above their respective row. Also, when you are choosing a train, choose a non-crowded one if you go with the second class ticket so you have more options for seats.
Where to Stay
Wherever you stay, I would recommend choosing a place in the main Lugano area. There are also hotels in Paradiso, where I almost considered staying because that’s where the “nicer” places seemed to be. IMHO, I found Paradiso too removed. My hotel of choice in Lugano is Villa Sassa. It is not in the “center center” aka tourist trap, but a nice 10 minute walk from the crowds and noise. For me, it was the perfect sanctuary to start my day and also the perfect way to unwind after whatever my daily activities were. And what it made it more perfect? IT HAD A SPA!!! Not only does Villa Sassa have a full service spa, but they also offered health and wellness classes, which was a huge bonus for me. It was like a health and wellness retreat I wasn’t expecting. There is alos a medi-spa there if you are looking for ultimate beautification. The resort has an indoor pool (plus Jacuzzi, steam and sauna) and an outdoor infinity pool with panoramic views of the city. For dining options, they have a formal restaurant and a bar restaurant if you are in the mood for something a little more casual. Breakfast is included with your stay and definitely one not to miss!
What To Do
TAKE A DAY TRIP
There are so many options in Lugano of places to go such as Como and Locarno. Much choice is Morcote because it is a mix of lots of nature and lots of culture, plus it was voted the most beautiful village in Switzerland in 2016. You can take a bus, car or ferry, but highly recommend the ferry so you get to take in all the breathtaking views of the lake and the Alps.
You can spend a whole day in Morcote or even a few hours. I would start your trip off by wandering, as Morcote has original buildings dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries constructed on the lakeside giving it magnificent views. You will see some stone staircases as you wander the narrow streets—make sure to climb them and follow the signs to visit the Santa Maria del Sasso Church. The church is stunning and beautifully restored. Adjacent to the church is their famous cemetery that was erected using stones from old castle walls. After the visit to the church, keep on climbing if you have the stamina! Seriously, though, It is a very strenuous climb and it can get pretty hot if you are there in the summer so make sure you are hydrated and of good physical strength. The views are A-MAZ-ING. You will be hungry after this hike, so when you make it all the way back down, grab a bite to eat at one of the many lakeside restaurants. My choice: Ristorante della Posta. They have a great selection of Italian fare, but my vote hands down would be for the pizza—1-because you will need the carbs after the hike. 2-Because it is the best pizza I have had in like, ever. Pair with a nice pichet of their rosé. The lovely thing about this restaurant it is lakefront and all their wines are dry. After lunch, take a walk to Parc Scherer. If you did the ferry, you should receive a complimentary admission ticket to the park. This park really is a feast for the sights and the senses--there is architecture and works of art inspired by distant cultures: a Siamese tea house, an Egyptian temple and Greek sculptures, plus you can admire a wide variety of flowering and fragrant species among palm, bamboo, eucalyptus, lemon, cedar and laurel trees.
Thanks to the influence from Milan, Lugano is an amazing place to do some shopping and not just resort town shopping, but great designer shopping. As an American it is great because CHF and USD are pretty much equal so it is better for me to buy here than in Paris where I need to convert everything to Euro. So if you are looking for a new Hermes Scarf, LV bag or Gucci shoes, you have found your safe haven, my friend! My favorite street to shop with small shops is Via Bertaccio. Auros is great if you are into crystals, as they have a massive selection, as well as some jewelry options if you are not looking for just raw crystals. My favorite clothing store is Il Gatto on Via Cattedrale. They have a lot of silk dresses and coordinates that work well in resort towns as well as the big city. I’m wearing on of their ensembles now back in Paris as I type this!
I love walking and people watching, especially in a different town because you get a flavor of the locals and the lifestyle of the city you are in. Lugano is particularly interesting because it is a vacation spot, as well as a business hub and the juxtaposition is just amazing. You will see business suits and resortwear in all of one long street. During the day, take a walk to Parco Ciani. It is beautiful, serene and relaxing. Find a quiet spot under a tree to read, eat lunch and just take it all in. The best part is that many areas of the park also have a view of the lake and the Alps. If you are into visiting churches Cathedral di San Lorenzo is definitely worth a visit. You will have to go up a hill or steps depending on the route you take so it is a great workout too!
After dinner and prior to sunset, definitely walk along the lake towards Paradiso. The views you get are sensational and it is amazing to see how the sky changes colors based on viewpoint and time of night.
There are many beaches, but if you are at a hotel with a pool, suggest you stay there to avoid the crowds and the people. If you stay at Villa Sassa, definitely go for a massage, steam and end it with a lovely dip in the Jacuzzi. Stay in for the night and order room service and eat it on your balcony or head down to the bar to enjoy nighttime views of the city.
WHERE TO EAT
The lovely think about Lugano is that you are in Italian country, so if you love Italian food and Italian wine, you will feel like you have been transported to heaven.
Honestly, there are many places to go and you really can’t go wrong.
If you are just craving no frills pasta with a casual vibe, go to Spaghetti Store. They have every pasta dish you can imagine and unlike France, they will substitute whatever you want, which was music to my ears. Definitely recommend getting the Pescatore pasta dish, as duh, seafood here is always a good option. I hate making a mess so subbed the spaghetti for my favorite pasta, orchiette. Yum.
For more of a culinary delight that involves a little fusion and a little creativity, definitely check out La Cucina di Alice. As much as you will want to sit outside, opt for an indoor table as it will be much cooler, especially in the summer months. And for me lakefront really requires being on the lake. Again, if you love seafood, Lugano is the place to go crazy in Switzerland, so do yourself a favor and get the Alici cantabrico appetizer, or in English words, Cantabria anchovies. Yes, they do come from Spain, but there are only a few places where you can get these rare and tasteful gems and you are lucky to be in one of them! For a more contemporary and quirky choice, have the matcha green tea tagliatelle for your main. It is simply wonderful and light…plus it will give you all that carb energy you will need for either a night out or an afternoon filled with shopping!
Being the distant cousin of Milan, of course there will be Michelin star wonderfulness. Make a trip to Arté al Lago, a lovely gastronomic gem right on the lake. You will enjoy amazing views of Lugano plus the restaurant is connected to an art gallery so the food is not the only masterpiece you will be experiencing. The restaurant specializes in lake fish and seafood so it really is a no brainer of what you should order here. Since you will probably be eating your way through Switzerland, I suggest you order a la carte vs. the tasting menu, especially since they do have amazing options. My picks—for the starter do Champagne rosé risotto with rosemary, peach and langoustines and for your main the John Dory fillets with Okinawa potatoes, Matcha tea sponge, summer delicacies and Thai basil sauce ARE A MUST. Oh, and their wine list is TDF, and IMHO there is no better place to order great wine than at a Michelin star restaurant!