Switzerland: a land of mountains, lakes, and… Mediterranean-style fishing villages! (?)
Yes, it’s true! Such is the diversity of this wonderful country! The mountainous scenery we see in Instagram posts is mostly from German-speaking parts of Switzerland, yet the predominantly Italian-speaking canton of Ticino is just a short journey from there. The Ticino canton shares much of its borders with Italy so you can still enjoy the Swiss hospitality and orderliness whilst listening to the Italian language, viewing Italian architecture and eating Italian food!
There are many beautiful lakeside villages from which to choose, such as Locarno, Lugano and Brissago, but we chose to stay in Ascona. This charming municipality had its origins as a simple fishing village. Bronze-Age artifacts have been found in the area, so its history goes back thousands of years. Explore all the narrow alleyways and look at the buildings around you. It may be worthwhile reading up on Ascona’s history so you can truly appreciate what you’re seeing.
We stayed at the Castello Seeschloss Hotel (not sponsored!) which has been built around the remains of historic castle buildings and walls, so we were really steeped in history! I was pleasantly surprised when the owner and manager, Daniel and Filippo, met us at Locarno train station, as I had previously emailed the hotel to ask for assistance. We were a party of seven including my elderly parents-in-law, and we had all travelled from Manchester on an early flight. I was hoping for a car to take my in-laws but the transport catered for all of us!! . . .
We booked a ‘Tower Room’ for my in-laws, which had views across to Lake Maggiore, and the 3 kids were in a room with a very impressive ceiling! (See pic below). We had a room with a balcony overlooking the back lawn but the lake could also be seen to our right. . . .
The first thing to do was explore. The weather was superb: being south of the alps means the Ascona has a temperate climate. I recommend a few walks around the village, checking out historical buildings such as the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul (Pietro et Paolo), dating from the 14th century, the Church of Sta. Maria della Misericordia, the museums and castle ruins.!
Another must-see is Brissago, or rather, the 2 Brissago islands. Take a boat from Ascona to the larger of the islands, San Pancrazio, and check out the beautiful Botanical Gardens. There are Mediterranean, Asian, African, American and Oceanic sections and you will find some tropical plants like bamboo and palm trees. It’s hard to believe you’re still in Switzerland!
Ascona Marina at dusk
A day trip to one (or more!) of the valleys is an absolute must. Buses regularly leave from Locarno and Ascona and wind their way up into the Val Maggia, Val Bavona and Val Verzasca. The Val Verzasca is by far the most popular (and therefore the most touristed), and it is easy to see why places like Lavertezzo have become so popular. Most of the streams in this area have the same rust, cream and grey-coloured rocks and the startlingly clear, turquoise-coloured water, but no other place has the Ponte del Salti: a double-arched 17th century bridge built of stone.
We took a bus from Ascona to Locarno (the two towns are virtually linked) and changed to the Val Verzasca bus bound for Sonogno. There were 2 buses leaving together (due to tourist numbers!) and we were lucky to get a seat. This was mid-week, and early morning. Weekends are crazy, and I do not recommend visiting over a weekend if you can help it.
We made our way up into the mountains, passing the huge Contra Dam/Verzasca Dam/ Lago di Vogorno (it goes by many names!). This is where the famous bungee jump occurred in the James Bond movie, “Goldeneye”, and it is the highest jump in the world from solid ground. Yes, bungee jumping operators do work here, so you can take a detour and dive off the dam wall head first if you so desire! We, however, disembarked at the Lavertezzo Ponte del Salti stop and we were one of the first groups of tourists to make our way across the bridge and down onto the rocks (take care, they are quite slippery!). I went into the water up to my knees and it was so cold! Be prepared if you intend to have a swim! . . .
Lavertezzo and the Ponte del Salti. This was taken later in the morning, when the car park was full and another 2 bus-loads of tourists had arrived.
Crossing the Pondi del Salti
The colour of the water has to be seen to be believed!
We decided against taking a later bus further up into the valley to Sonogno, as we had visited this tiny village some years before, but it is worth seeing if you have the time. There is a walking track out of the village leading deeper into the mountains, or you can walk around the village and admire the stone houses and marvel at the difference between these dwellings and the wooden chalets in other mountainous parts of Switzerland. The village of Corippo, near Lavertezzo Typical architecture of the region
**Before you leave Ascona you should walk through all the alleyways and at least go window shopping! There are beautiful boutiques where, of course, everything comes at a price, plus art galleries, cafés and water-front restaurants. **
Church of Sts. Peter & Paul
More Ascona scenes
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Staying at the Castello Seeschloss on half-board meant that dinner every evening was outdoors, overlooking Lake Maggiore. Afterwards we always took a stroll along the lakeside promenade as the sun set on another perfect day in Switzerland!