Lounging in Lugano
Lugano, Ticino, Switzerland
Lugano, the pride of southern Switzerland, conjures up images of beautiful scenery and delightful Mediterranean weather. I was holidaying in Switzerland last May with my family (husband and two kids) and had decided to spend a few days at this distinctly Italian flavored resort in the Ticino region. I had heard that Lugano enjoyed the best of Italian and Swiss culture – the vibrant charm of the Italians and the order and punctuality of the Swiss. I was soon to discover more than just that.
As the quaint villages, rolling green valleys and magnificent mountains whizzed past us on our train ride from Zurich to Lugano, we seemed to lose track of time immersed in the scenes and didn’t mind the three and half hour journey at all. We had booked ourselves at the wonderful hotel Lago Di Lugano located in the suburb of Bissone, a 20 minute drive away from Lugano city. The hotel is designated as a ‘KidsHotel’ – which is a certification offered to hotels that cater especially to families with kids. Though it comes under Bissone, it is actually at the border of the suburb of Campione. We had booked a family apartment and found the rooms to be very spacious – something that is a novelty in most European hotels. Our bedroom had a balcony offering lovely views of the Lago Di Lugano Lake and the looming San Salvatore Mountain.
We left the kids to play for a few hours at the activity centre for kids called the Pinocchio Club while we toured the rest of the property. The hotel gardens were lined with date palms, multicoloured tulips and other stunningly colourful flowers, thereby exuding a very Mediterranean kind of ambience. The in-house restaurant had a small play-area which was an excellent idea to keep pesky kids busy till their meals arrived! After a nice dinner at this restaurant, we retired for the night. I wasn’t prepared for the nasty surprise awaiting me; in the dead of the night my bed suddenly gave way and collapsed! I had to make do the next few uncomfortable hours on the couch. The handsome carpenter who came in next morning to inspect couldn’t give us a convincing explanation about the faulty bed; he simply shrugged his shoulders with a shower of explanations in Italian, which obviously we couldn’t follow!
I decided not to let this minor glitch dampen my spirits and after a sumptuous buffet breakfast, left the hotel to explore Lugano city. We left the kids at the Pinocchio Club and hoped to do some hiking at one of the mountain summits, Mt. Bre. There’s a bus stop right outside the hotel and it took us straight up to the Lugano Central Bus station. I found Lugano to be a bustling city with lovely lakeside promenades lined with flowering trees and squares with gushing fountains. Grandfathers were lounging in the piazzas and chatting with their old pals, while matronly grannies took the kiddos in prams for strolls along the promenade.
The warm sunshine was infectious; we too got caught up in the cheerful ambience, spotted a park bench, sat back and relaxed. With its walkways and lakeside parks, Lugano seemed to be a stroller’s paradise. So many couples, both young and old, were leisurely walking along the streets, window-shopping, lounging at the sidewalk cafes or even smooching, oblivious to people around them. I especially admired the ‘oldies’ holding hands and looking all lovey-dovey and hoped that we would have the enthusiasm to do this when we got old! We spotted loads of modern-looking hotels crowding the lakefront. The residential houses, though, with their earthy-looking walls, green colored Venetian windows and red tiled sloping roofs had an uncanny resemblance to colonial British architecture buildings in my hometown of Calcutta. The city seemed a bit noisy, with cars and buses whizzing past the main road next to the lakefront. I was glad that we had chosen to stay at the quieter Bissone, away from the noise and the hustle and bustle of the city.
We planned to visit Mount Bre first – called the sunniest mountain in Switzerland and with supposedly great views from the top. But when we reached the funicular station at 1 p.m., we found it firmly shut. There was a signboard in Italian and the language again created a problem. We finally understood from some locals who spoke a bit of English that the funicular was closed for siesta. I had heard of the siesta concept in Italy, but hadn’t expected that part of the culture to infiltrate ‘clock-work precision’ Swiss cities as well! We left the place disappointed and headed towards the fishing village of Gandria by bus.
Here too there was some confusion regarding the validity of the Swiss Travel Passes that we had bought and we had a tough time explaining to the driver (who of course didn’t understand English) that the passes were supposed to be valid for bus travel as well. After some gesticulations, the bus driver gave in to our earnest expressions and though I don’t think he was convinced, he was nice enough to allow us to ride up to Gandria. We got down at the fishing village of Gandria after showering the bus driver with a host of smiling ‘Grazies.’
Gandria is the tiniest village I have ever seen – the only walking path in the village takes all of 15 minutes to cover and runs in between tiny houses and restaurants piled next to each other and bordering the lake! The village is famous for its beautiful location and superb food offered at the restaurants dotting the lake. We ducked into all the restaurants to checkout the menu and chose one of them with a good lake view. We were told that one could get amazing fish delicacies at Gandria. Surprisingly, in such a small village, the waiter could speak excellent English and for once we didn’t have to struggle to comprehend the menu card printed in Italian. On his recommendation, I had an excellent grilled sea fish with saffron sauce and baked vegetables and the restaurant lived up to Gandria’s reputation.
Gandria can be reached by foot from Lugano in two hours along a path by the lake called the ‘olive path,’ leading along fields of olive trees and offering a splendid view of the Lake of Lugano. We tried walking along that path and found it going through several villages dotting the lake. We returned back after a while to the pier at Gandria and went back to Lugano by boat, reveling in the sight of ducks and swans bobbing in the spectacular blue lake.
Lugano is only 40 miles from Milan. Hence, close on the heels of its more fashionable neighbour, Lugano too boasts of designer shops and famous brands. Via Nassa is one of the ‘luxury’ streets with fashionable boutiques and world famous brands like Armani, Ermenegildo Zegna, Bucherer, etc., and also lined with cafÃ¨s, perfumeries etc. We did some window-shopping at Via Nassa and I even managed to buy myself an Armani designer blouse from the Emporio Armani store which was offering a discount sale. After lingering over a heady brew of coffee and sinful pastries at a cake-shop, we left for our hotel by bus.
Our kids seemed a bit tired when we picked them up from the Pinocchio Club at 6 p.m.; methinks, “All play and no work makes Jack a tired boy!” We decided to try out the local restaurants in Campione for dinner and headed towards the Campione pier, about 10 minutes walk away. The road to Campione had posh-looking villas all along and we had a good time admiring their old style architecture.
The lakefront promenade at Campione has quite a few nice restaurants and pizzerias and we chose one recommended by our hotel. Here too the menu card was in Italian, but we managed to communicate our orders to the friendly waitress without too much trouble. The kids treated themselves to massive pizzas while I and hubby had yet another mouthwatering grilled fish preparation.
Back at the hotel, we had a major chore lined up – washing our clothes at the self-service washing machine in the laundry room. A typical trait of we Indians is to save money and we would happily do all the laundering on our own – rather than pay a bomb for giving our clothes to the hotel’s expensive laundry service! We soon found out that operating the washing machine wasn’t all that easy (the price you pay for not spending money!). Since the instructions in the laundry room were all in Italian, we asked for help from their staff. The handsome housekeeping guy (yeah, with their clean-shaven chiseled features and stocky build, all Lugano men are dashing!) also knew only Italian. So with some difficulty, the guy reading the manual in Italian and translating the instructions through gestures, we managed to communicate somehow and got the machine started off. All this pantomime made me quite exhausted at the end!
We decided on a mega-tour the following day and I drew up an ambitious plan to visit 3 places – Mt San Salvatore, Swiss Miniature Park at Melide and the beautiful village of Morcote. The reason this was an ambitious plan was because after poring over the bus and boat timetables, I realized that in order to get connections to all three places, we had to time our sojourns very accurately. It was a sunny day unlike the previous day and so we got a complimentary boat ride from the hotel right up to Lugano Paradiso. The hotel operates its boats for guests only on sunny days; call it practicality or laziness! From Paradiso pier we walked a short distance to reach the Mt San Salvatore funicular stop. Fortunately there was no ‘siesta’ concept at this funicular station and we took the funicular ride up to the mountain top.
Mt San Salvatore is 912 m high and offers superb views of the lakes below and mountains all around. There is a church at the top which has a terrace where one can climb up and get stunning panoramic views. We could see at least 2 other smaller lakes from the top, apart from Lake Lugano. We observed that there was a walking path that leads to Corona (Ciona) and then Morcote in 3 hrs. If the kids weren’t with us we might have perhaps ventured doing the hike. We had a quick lunch at the self-service restaurant and the kids later amused themselves at the nearby games park.
Getting back to Paradiso we decided to take the train to Swiss Miniature Park in Melide. This is a park which has models of all monuments and landmarks of Switzerland like the Alps, lakes, castles, farms, cathedrals, etc. There are small trains, funiculars and toy cars whizzing automatically on the roads and tracks laid out. One can see the rotating cable car rising up to Mount Titlis, the funicular chugging up to Jungfraujoch or the toy sailing boats on Lake Zurich. We spent a whole lot of time pouring over the monuments and landscapes and later the children tried their hand at the various games available at the park. As a result of all this we missed the next boat connection to Morcote and had to forego that trip. I was most disappointed as I had read so much about this charming village from the travel brochures and really wanted to see the quaint place. Anyways the children were thrilled at spending so much time at the Miniature Park, so it was well worth it. We went back to the hotel by bus and had a lovely dinner (more grilled fish!) at the hotel’s restaurant.
Next day we had to leave the city for our next destination, Brienz – and we bid adieu to Lugano at the train station. I had found this beautiful city to be a laid-back and cheerful place, with warm locals, their easy-going attitude, superb cuisine and great scenery – not to mention eyeing the handsome Lugano men; even middle aged guys are quite dashing, from the cab driver, to the carpenter, to the housekeeping guy – all with a smile on their faces and trying their best to help you. The Lugano ladies must have been beautiful too, but for that you will have to ask my husband! Mamma Mia, lovely Lugano, we promise to come back again!