This glorious, Italian-speaking Swiss city lies on the northern shores of glacial Lake Lugano. Lugano oozes a unique blend of Swiss-Mediterranean cultures particularly when it comes to its architecture and cuisine, but visitors also love its graceful and sophisticated pace of life.
The sacred passeggiata (afternoon stroll) is a favourite Lugano pastime while its vivacious city centre boasts plenty of chic boutiques, pavement cafes and bars to enjoy. Take in the atmosphere by winding your way through the maze of steep, cobbled streets leading to the edge of the lake and its pretty promenade. But there’s far more to do besides. Here are a few of the top things to see on your trip to Lugano:
Giardino Belvedere (Belvedere Gardens)
This lakefront sculpture garden is the perfect setting for fourteen modern works by local Ticino artists. They sit amid the garden’s palms, oleanders, magnolias and camellias making for a wonderful setting. At the far west end of the gardens, there’s a public swimming area, ideal for cooling off during the summer heat and enjoying the magnificent lake views.
The 18th century Villa Malpensata is the place to go for cutting-edge art. Recent exhibitions have showcased works by the likes of French sculptor Jean-Arp and German avant-garde artist Hans Richter. Sitting majestically on the lakeside, the Art Museum dedicates itself to temporary exhibits of 20th and 21st century art in general.
Museo Cantonale d’Arte
This museum shows the works of local modern artists, mostly from the 19th and 20th centuries. However, there are also a few pieces from previous centuries which document some outstanding Ticinese artists like Pier Francesco Mola, Giovanni Battista Discepoli and Giuseppe Antonio Petrini. Foreign artworks are mixed in, including such masters as Struth, Degas, Orozco, Renoir and Pissarro Dijkstra, to name but a few.
Cattedrale di San Lorenzo
No visit is complete without dropping in on the city’s principal cathedral. Behind its Renaissance façade, this early 16th century cathedral showcases some of Lugano’s ornate baroque statues and frescos. Outside, take the time to marvel at the far-reaching views across the Old Town’s terracotta rooftops and onwards to the lake and surrounding mountains.
Hermann Hesse Museum
A fifteen minute train ride from Lugano city centre is Hermann Hesse’s home at Montagnola. The writer and artist expressed his love for the Ticinese landscape in thousands of reflections, poems and watercolours, particularly in the last latter years of his life as he enjoyed working in his garden and vineyard.
Cruising on Lake Lugano
Lake Lugano might as well have been made for boat tripping. Choose between paddleboats or cruises taking you from one lakeside village to another. There’s an array of excursions to choose from – a simple crossing, a lunch trip, a grand tour, a shopping excursion and, of course, the quintessential evening dinner cruise. Pick up the boat timetable (orario) which lists options and ask the Tourist Information for more details.
On the Lugano side of the lake is a stunning cluster of houses hanging over the lake and at the foot of Monte Brè. The town offers a few quiet, romantic hotels and many tempting restaurants in stunning locations – try Restaurant Miralago Gandria mainly for its romantic setting, and Locanda Gandriesi with its small terrace.
Aside from restaurants, Gandria is a town with a unique atmosphere with quiet, angular lanes, steep staircases and walled courtyards with arcades making for a very romantic setting. What’s more, the town is car-free zone so it’s easy to appreciate the character of its original buildings – don’t miss the well-preserved chapel of San Rocco which dates back to the year 1645.
From Gandria, you might like to take a walk 45 minutes back to Lugano along a stunning lakeside promenade passing olive groves and pretty Castagnola, a suburb of Lugano.
Museo del Cioccolato Alprose, Caslano
When in Switzerland, you must take enough time – every day if needs be – to savour the delights of sumptuous Swiss chocolate. This chocolate-crazy museum is as much a hit with kids as with adults. Go on a tour detailing the history of chocolate in Caslano and watch it being made in this working factory which produces some 6,000 tonnes of traditional chocolaty treats per year. To get there take a 20 minute train ride from Lugano to Caslano.