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Holidays to Switzerland Travel Podcast Episode 12 Transcript

May 10, 2024 Last Updated on May 10, 2024

Visiting Ticino

You can see the full show notes and listen to this episode > here.

Hi, welcome to another edition of the Holidays to Switzerland Travel Podcast. Today, we’re going further south in the country, and my special guest is Veronica Lafranchi, who’s a country manager for Ticino Tourism. Now, I’ve briefly spent some time in the Ticino region around Ascona Locarno so I’m really interested to hear more from Veronica about the rest of this beautiful region and what it’s got to offer and why we should include that in our Swiss itinerary. Welcome, Veronica.

Thank you. Hello. Hello, everybody. 

Great to have you here. 


Great to be here. Even if you’re so far away, it seems you’re here in Switzerland.

That’s right. We’re in Switzerland in spirit, definitely. Can you start by telling us a bit about the Ticino region and how it’s different to perhaps the more well known, especially to non-Europeans, the more well known regions of Central and Northern Switzerland?

Yeah, sure. So we are located in the South, and what is different is that people in Ticino speak Italian. So you are in Switzerland, you have the Swiss quality, trains run on time, and it’s precise. But at the same time, you have this Italian flair. So not just people speak Italian, but you have Italian food, you walk around where Italian architecture. So you feel you are in Italy, but they say Italy for beginners. And still, beautiful outdoor. So the lakes, the mountains as in the north part, but just a little different with a little touch. So we recommend that people go going to Lucerne, Interlaken, the usual Switzerland, for people that are coming from far away, to come to Ticino to taste something different because it’s definitely an upgrade of your holiday to see something really different, and different from Italy as well, because if you cross the border from Italy and come to Ticino, you’re like, “This is not Italy”, because really it’s more clean and it’s just something in between. And we say we pick the best out of the two.

Yeah, absolutely. That’s how I would sum it up, the best of both worlds. Now, you mentioned there Italian food. So what are some of the typical dishes that people could expect to find in Ticino?

So here, again, it’s different from the north. We don’t eat so many potatoes. And what we eat here, it’s more of a northern Italian cuisine, so very similar to the cuisine they have in Milan. So risotto is a must. And Ticino used to be a very poor region back in the 1800s. In fact, many people from Ticino migrated to Australia and also California. So what they ate back then was polenta and chestnuts. My grandparents grew up with polenta and chestnut for lunch and dinner, basically. And now these dishes, they became delicates, especially chestnut. They’re appreciated. They are cooked in different ways. And polenta, it’s probably one of the basic meals you could ever have, but still now they cook it with different side dishes.

And And people love to go back to the grottos. Grottos are the typical inns that we have here, and those are nowhere to be found elsewhere in Ticino. There are restaurants, not typical restaurants, but they’re made in… They always have a stone cave where they store the cold cuts, the cheeses, the wine. And then you don’t find a grotto in the middle of a town. They’re always a little bit in the outskirts.

They typically have a place in the shadow because it tends to get quite warm in the summer. So people go there and enjoy their meal on these stone tables. And you don’t find spaghetti or pizza in a grotto, you just find risotto, polenta, the cold cuts, merlot. We also have white merlot in Ticino, and it’s one of the only places in the world that offers white merlot. The typical one is merlot, but the white one is unique from this region.

Lovely. So there’s plenty of different foods to try when we visit.

Yeah.

Two of the places that many people would possibly have heard of are Lake Lugano and Lake Maggiore. What are the two main, or what are the differences, between the two lakes?

Well, the size, Lake Maggiore is much bigger, but the Swiss part of Lake Maggiore, it’s just one-third of it. And Lake Lugano has also a little bit that goes into Italy. So that’s similar, that both lakes have a piece that goes into Italy. The difference is not very much because Ticino is not a huge region, so it’s very similar. Probably people have in their mind pictures of Como, which is just 25 minutes away from Lugano. So the landscape, it’s quite similar to Lake Como. Lake Maggiore, maybe it’s more… The mountains are not so steep on the lake, so it’s a little bit more soft hills, but still they go up. So beautiful to go and see the rivers, like the Verzasca River. I invite everybody to Google Verzasca Valley and see the Yeah.

I want to talk to you a bit more about that in a moment.

But both are beautiful. And maybe Lugano, it’s more international than Locarno, which is on Lake Maggiore. Actually, I know people from Australia might not know this region so much, but when it comes to going on a holiday, a Swiss person would probably go either to Ticino or to the Graubunden, and that’s their preferred destination. Where to go on a holiday. Where would people from Australia go on a holiday, on a domestic holiday?

On a domestic holiday?

Yeah.

To Queensland, where it’s warm. Yeah. That’s the number one destination.

So we are the Queensland of Switzerland.

Yeah, right. Perfect. Excellent. Now, you touched on there, the Verzasca Valley. So if you don’t mind, can you just run through some of the most popular places for people to visit in Ticino, and that being one of them?

Valle Verzasca, for sure, is one of the most popular. A bit remote, and otherwise Lugano, which is the biggest city, or Belinzona, which is the capital and has three castles, which are UNESCO World Heritage. Then Locarno, which is popular because of the film festival taking place, I used to say every year. Last year, it didn’t, of course, take place. We’ll see this year with the Piazza Grande, which fits 8,000 people in a normal year, and a beautiful huge screen with people while to watch the movie Under the Stars. And then Ascona, which is also called the Pearl of Lake Maggiore, with a beautiful lake promenade, which is a pedestrian, and there is a lot of art galleries, restaurant on this lakeshore. Probably if you Google it, it’s the best way to get an idea.

Yeah, the beautiful coloured buildings, I think that just is so symbolic of Ascona, isn’t it? Yeah, they’re just beautiful.

With the palm trees Yeah, because in Ticino, we have palm trees as well. So that’s what sets us apart from the rest of, the climate. That’s why Swiss people, when they come, they go on a holiday. They like to come to Ticino because when it rains in the north, it’s sunny in the south, which is often the case.

Yeah, good. Now, you mentioned Bellinzona and the three UNESCO castles there. Can you tell us a bit more about the history of those? And I believe that only one still intact these days. Is that right?

No, actually, all three of them, they have been renovated in the ’90s. And the history is that Ticino is historical go through way from the north to the south. So from… Well, there is other one, but probably the Gotthard Pass was the most popular, and still is. So if you go from Germany to Italy, you will very much likely pass through Ticino. And that was the case also back in the days. And so you would go through Bellinzona. And what they did is that they blocked the way. Those castles are not castles where Kings and Queens would live, but they were strategically located because of land possession. So they could close the way. And still today, you see it is three castles. In fact, one is up in the hill, and you can totally tell that it’s a strategic position where they could spot people going through the valley. And it’s definitely worth a visit. There are restaurants, one in the bigger one inside the city of Bellinzona, and another restaurant atop the castle. Yes, definitely worth a visit.

Okay, and you mentioned Lugano, and it’s quite a large city, but there’s some Some lovely smaller villages around the Lake, isn’t there? Morcote, Gandria.

There’s Gandria, there is Morcote. Morcote, which back in 2016 was the counted as the most beautiful village of Switzerland. So they are located on the lake, so you can take a boat, and with your Swiss Pass, you can go for free. And there used to be fishing villages, and they kept their uniqueness with the Italian layer and architecture. And today, they’re not fishing villages anymore. Actually, the Swiss lakes, at least here, they’re too clean to fish, because it’s too clean and the fishes don’t… Can’t find anything to eat. Yeah, you can find because they don’t find food. It’s too clean. It’s true. And so no more fishermen, but some beautiful restaurants. So it’s really nice to see these two villages.

Yeah. And Lugano is also surrounded by mountains, isn’t it?

Yes. I mean, we call them the pre-Alps. Lugano is not in the Alps yet. But the north of Ticino is. So if you go towards the north part, Airolo, that’s where we also go skiing just domestically. It’s small ski resorts. But yeah, Lugano has nice soft… It’s more than hills, definitely, but soft mountains where you can go. This week, I went for a snowshoeing experience. What is nice is that the whole year round, you can basically do hiking or snowshoeing, this year because we got a lot of snow. And you go up there, either you reach the top with the funicular, there is two, going up to Monte Bre or Monte San Salvatore, and then you start your hike or you can hike from the town.

Or if you don’t want to do it too hard, you can do the Olive Trail, which goes from Gandria to Lugano along the lake. It’s a 45 minute walk among the olive trees. So what I think sets Ticino apart is the diversity, because you go from the glaciers in the north to the palm trees in just like 45 minutes. I mean, there’s many different places around the world, but where everything is so close by, not so easy to find, I guess.

Yeah. Okay. Now, there’s no doubt some unique experiences that people can enjoy in Ticino. So I wanted to ask you about a couple of those. And please, if there’s any others that you think we should know about, please let me know. But one of them is that beautiful church above Locarno, the Madonna del Sasso Church. What could you tell us about that?

That’s a very nice church. Actually, it’s a lot for local or for people that are like, pilgrimage. It’s not a mass tourism. We don’t have mass tourism anyway in Ticino, but it’s it’s not the first place that a tourist coming for the first time in Ticino would go, even though it’s beautiful. It belongs to the Sacri Monti, we call them sacred mountains. There is many also in the north of Italy. And so people doing pilgrimage, they also go to that church, Madonna del Sasso. It’s called Madonna of the Stone, translated in English.

Yeah, okay. So I I did this when I visited Locarno. And for those listeners that don’t know, you catch it, or you can catch a funicular from Locarno, which is a very short ride up to where the church is. And when you walk out onto the, I guess, the balcony at the side of the church, the views over the lake are just absolutely magnificent.

So you don’t need to go there and be Catholic. You can go there and enjoy the view. It’s really nice.

Yeah, absolutely. And then, of course, you can go further up with the cable car to the mountains, which, again, that just blew my mind – the views from up there are incredible.

Actually, from there, so you could take three means of transport, a funicular, the cable car, and the chairlift to go up to the top. And if you arrive in Cardada, so after the cable car, there is a panoramic point where you can see the lowest point of Switzerland, and the highest, in in one place. So there is a passarella, and there you see the Brissago Islands, which are the lowest point, and the point Dufour, which is the Dufourspitz, it’s the highest point.

Yeah, that’s good. That was a really fun thing to do. And I’m not a fan of cable cars and so on, because I’m a bit of a scaredy cat. But I actually forced myself and the cable car was okay, but the chair lift, no!  But it was definitely worth it because the views from up there are just amazing.

Now, there’s also for those like me who aren’t fond of heights, there’s a lovely train ride that goes through the Centovalli. Could you tell us a bit about that because that was one thing I was hoping to do, but I didn’t get time. So I’ll have to be for the next visit.

It’s funny when I went to university, I used to do that train ride every weekend, and it was so normal. And when you see something, you’re young, you don’t see anything special anymore. And now I do it, having travelled the world and doing that again, How couldn’t I see this view? Well, most of the time it was dark, so winter, right? Five o’clock, it was, six o’clock was dark.. So there is actually a journalist from Italy that came, that did that ride, I believe four years ago, and he started to call it the Foliage Train. And somehow this name started really booming in the media. And we also call it now the Foliage Train.

We need tourists to find names and to see the beauty because it gets normal. So it’s called Centovalli train, and it’s a train run among Centovalli, which means in English, 100 valleys, and you really see 100 valleys. It goes slow because it’s not a highway, so you have all the time to take pictures and to enjoy the landscape. And you would see a lot of palm trees in the summer, and especially on the Swiss side.

And then you would see the snow, but also during the fall time. And it’s a good reason to come in the fall, because during the fall, you see the beautiful colours. Yeah, really.

And you can combine that with a late cruise, can’t you? So you can start in Locarno, and do the train ride, and then get the ferry back.

Yeah, it’s the Lake Maggiore Express. So which is a hop on hop off train, and so train and boat. So we buy this ticket from the company of Locarno, which is it’s called FART, F-A-R-T, and you buy that directly from them. It’s called Ferrovie Autoline Regionali Ticinesi. That’s why it’s called FART. I guess they didn’t know English back then when they call it.

So basically, you go with the boat from Locarno to Stresa, which is in Italy. And there you can hop off on the boat. And then from Stresa, you go to Domodossola with the train, and then from Domodossola, you come back to Locarno. It’s not a day, it would be more of a two days.

Okay. Yeah. Excellent. Now, another church that looks really fascinating, I haven’t visited this one, is the little black and white church in, is it Mogno, in the Vallemaggia.

Vallemaggia, yes. The Maggia Valley, we call it. Mongo, it’s a church designed by the star architect, Mario Botta. He is from Ticino. He designed also the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, many things around the world. So he built that church in Mogna after an avalanche destroyed the old church. And it really stands out because you have this typical village made of stone houses, and then you have this modern architecture, and it’s controversial. I love it. Some people say it’s too much of a shock to see that modern building in that little village. In any case, many tourits go there because they’re a fan of Mario Botta, and so they go to see that church.

But both of those valleys, like have some incredible places to see, but it’s the the slate buildings that date back hundreds and hundreds of years that just make them really unique, isn’t it?

Yeah, they are dating back from the 13th 1400 or after, too. And there is many valleys which used to be populated just in the summer, and they used to be Valle di Transumance, transumance valley. It’s not a popular word in English, but it means that when people… They were taking the cows before going to the Alps in the summer. They were staying for a period of time in those valleys so that the cows could get new grass, and then they would go up there in the Alps in the summer and come back during the spring and the fall in those valleys. So, yeah, beautiful.

So they were traditionally only inhabited in the warmer months. Is that right?

This is especially valid for Valle Bavona, which is a part of Vallemaggia. Yes. Okay. Yeah. Down in the Vallemaggia, people would live there also in the wintertime.

Now, I think one thing I noticed when I was in the Valley of Verzasca, and sorry if I’m pronouncing it incorrectly.

Of course,

I went to see the amazing Bridge of Jumps, which I’ll get you to explain in a moment.

But in the valleys, there’s just so many different outdoor activities that you can do, isn’t there?

Yeah, the Valley of Verzasca. That’s probably the case for the whole region of Ascona Locarno, or yeah, those valleys belong to Ascona Locarno region as well. You can do the bunge jumping, for example, if you’re into crazy things, adrenaline things. And that’s the bunge jumping where James Bond jumped in the movie Golden Eye. And then there is a lot of rock climbing, you could do paragliding, and of course, hiking and mountain biking are also probably hiking and mountain biking, the most popular.

Yeah, sure. And swimming, if you’re brave in the river.

Yeah, in the swimming holes. It’s too cold for me and for many people. There you see another cultural difference. Swiss-German people come and they jump in this cold river, and I’m like watching and enjoying to watch them, but it’s too cold for me. It’s like probably like six, eight degrees celsius.

Yeah, definitely too cold. And we’ve mentioned a couple of mountains, and you said before that at the weekend, you went snowshoeing. Do the mountains, is it normal that they would have enough snow in winter to go skiing and other snow activities?

I mean, 20 years ago, it was perfectly normal. Nowadays, with the climate change, we don’t get that much snow every year. That’s why we don’t promote Ticino so much for skiing. But snow shoeing, like in the north, where Airola is,it’s there you get snow every year. And it’s near Andermatt in the German part. So there we get snow every winter. But we like to promote what we can deliver. So snowshoeing, yes, for sure. Beautiful. Actually, wow. I went this weekend. And this year we got so much snow that we can snowshoeing like 20 minutes from my house. I go up. I live in Locarno, and we went up and And all I was just marvellous.

I’ve been looking at photos on Instagram and it’s just incredible. But normally, the region is renowned for having a Mediterranean climate, isn’t it?

Yeah. Yeah. We have milder climate. That’s why I mentioned before, Swiss-German people like to come to Ticino because we are sheltered from the Alps, the cold wind doesn’t come through that much. And so a lot of days we have sunshine, and that’s why they come here. So it’s always warmer. Maybe, I don’t know how many days, but really rare that it’s colder than the north part. And we like the climate here, and it allows the palm trees to grow.

And have more of an outdoor lifestyle, too.

Yeah, that’s for sure. But still, even if it’s mostly sunny, we have the four seasons, so a beautiful spring. Spring is so nice with the blossoming of the flowers. We have a camellia festival in Locarno, for instance. A beautiful Magnolia. It’s like when you’re walking in the streets in the spring, you see fireworks like this beautiful pink trees. And also the fall is so nice, and the summer, of course.

Lovely. Now, being in Switzerland, I imagine that public transportation is plentiful. So I’m sure it’s easy to get around if people don’t have a car.

It’s super easy to get around. And we have a news, actually. In Switzerland, we like to drill mountains. And in 2016, they opened the new Gotthard train. So So it’s super easy, even faster to come from Zurich to Ticino. And now, one month ago, they opened the new Ceneri Base Tunnel, which allows to go even in a quicker way through Ticino. So before Lugano, Locarno was an hour, now it’s 30 minutes. So we call it more of a city Ticino rather than Locarno, Bellinzona, Lugano. Everything is so close and you just stay either in Lugano or Locarno, but instead, it’s just go around and it’s super easy. And what we have since 2016 is the Ticino ticket. So of course, the Swiss Pass it’s valid.

But if you come to Ticino and you intend to stay a little longer, you don’t need that Swiss Pass, actually, because when you’re checking in a hotel or a youth hostel or a camp, in place, you get the Ticino ticket for free, which allows you to go in all the SVB train network without paying anything. So you get it at a check-in and it’s valid until the midnight of the day you check out, and you don’t pay anything.

It’s valid on trains, city buses, and the yellow postal buses. And you get reduction on the boats and reduction on other attractions.

Yeah. So we found that really useful because we actually stayed at Brissago. And we had a car, but we left our car at the hotel and just used the public transport, the buses to go everywhere. And as you say, we got reductions of admission fees and things like that as well. So it was really useful.

We are trying to be more and more and more sustainable and green. So we really encourage the tourists to make good use of the Ticino ticket.

Yeah. Excellent. Now, before we finish up and I get you to wrap up why Ticino is a must visit destination, there’s one place I wanted to chat to you about, which I visited, and it’s the smallest, known as the smallest village in Switzerland.

Corippo.

Yes, what an amazing place. Just getting there. Wow, that was interesting.

It’s called Corippo, it’s in the Valle Verzasca, and it has 13 inhabitants and two cats.

So it’s a small village. One and three, is that? That’s correct. One and three, yeah.

And And they used to have a mayor until four years ago. Now, actually, the village merged with… It was not stable to keep a village with one mayor for these few people. In Switzerland, we vote for everything. And so imagine voting in that village. Everybody would know what you’re voting, and it’s so easy to spot who’s voting. So now, that village belongs to another village of Valle Verzasca, so they merged together. It’s easier.

But it’s a beautiful village to visit, and it used to, back in the days, be one of those places where it used to live just in the summer, transhumance. And then people started to settle there also, and they had 250 inhabitants, but then it’s remote. We’re not so easy to get to. From Locarno it’s about 45 minutes. So commuting every day, 45 minutes, and people left the village a little bit. And so now I don’t think there is anybody younger than 65. Maybe the mayor was 65, but the other are all above 70.

Yeah. It’s definitely a it’s a beautiful village to visit. And the drive up from the main road up to the village was interesting. Very, very interesting.

They’re working on opening a spread out hotel where you don’t have a reception, but you go to the Osteria, which is the centre of the village. And they are renovating all these houses. So you’re not given the room 303, but they will give you the key of the house, and they say, tell you the family name of that house. Yeah, it’s going to be really interesting. They’ve been working on it. They’re raising funds, and I think this summer, they’re starting to open partially some of the house.

Okay, I love it. Well, yeah, I’d love it if you kept me informed when that happens, because I’m sure everyone, yeah, that would be something really unique.

Sure. Yeah, yeah. Great.

Okay, so So just to wrap up, what do you think makes Ticino a must visit destination?

Many things. I think that’s the thing about Ticino. It’s not just one thing. You don’t come for the Matterhorn or like in Zermatt. There is so many things. There is the climate, the diversity of the glacier and the palm trees together, the Swiss quality, the Italian style, the outdoor activities, and and it’s the unexpected Switzerland. Great for families, great for singles, and nice gastronomy, white merlot, many, many things, UNESCO, all heritage, many, many, many things. And that’s something that maybe you’re not too credible when you say, Yeah, we have the best stuff, but come here and check it out yourself. I’m not sure you want to be disappointed.

No, that’s right. Ticino has everything.

Yeah, but sometimes people ask me, how many days should I stay in Ticino? And I’m like, you can stay here many days. I would say a minimum of three, maximum of as much as you like.

Yeah, absolutely. On my visit, I stayed five days and we really just scraped the very top of the surface. So you could easily, I’d actually spend a week or 10 days just in Ticino, and you’d still have much more to see.

I’m finding places, like with the pandemic, I’m not going anywhere. And I actually like it because every week, I can discover new places if you like the outdoor. So many.

Excellent. Well, thank you so much, Veronica, for taking the time to speak with us. It’s been lovely to learn a bit more about Ticino. And hopefully, one day soon, when this pandemic is over, we can get back travelling and make Ticino the number one destination that we visit in Switzerland.

Thank you. It’s been a It’s been a pleasure for me as well. And I actually didn’t come to Australia yet. I visit the world a lot, but didn’t make it to Australia. I hope to come to Queensland.

Yeah. Well, you’ll be with lots of other Australians when you do.

I like it when it’s local.

Good. Okay. Thanks again.

Thank you so much. Bye. See you soon. Bye-bye.

You can see the full show notes and listen to this episode > here.