Bond & Beyond: Discovering Lugano in the Ticino Region of Switzerland

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After visiting Switzerland four times, I thought I knew the country well. Geneva, Zurich, Interlaken, Lucerne, Zermatt, Berne, Gstaad and St. Moritz painted an alpine wonderland image my generation had grown up consuming on the 70 mm screen. The turquoise blue lakes and towering peaks of the Swiss Alps became the perfect alpine playground for actors to romance and chase the villains. In India specifically, Yash Chopra brought Switzerland into a billion living rooms with one hit after another – Silsila (1981), Chandni (1989), Lamhe (1991), Darr (1993), Dil To Pagal Hai (1997), and above all Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge or DDLJ (1995). But until 2022, little did I know there’s an equally stunning yet much less visited area of the country that’s ripe for exploration: Lugano in the Ticino region of Switzerland.

I love Lugano sign on Lake Lugano, Switzerland
I Love Lugano sign on Lake Lugano, Switzerland.

After spending five days in Geneva, I landed in Lugano, a lake-front city of the Ticino region hidden amidst the lap of mountains and lakes. Set on the southern side of Switzerland and nestled up against Italy, temperate Ticino is the Italian-speaking region of the country. Here you’ll find palm-fringed promenades, baroque architecture, Medieval castles, Italian cuisine and an enchanting, laid-back attitude that’s impossible to resist. I enjoyed the Italian hospitality served with Swiss precision for three days in Lugano and nearby places. I even got to try some unique experiences, such as invoking the James Bond inside me at the highest bungy jumping point in Europe and visiting the smallest village in Switzerland. 

In this article, find out more about Bond and Beyond mysteries of the Ticino region, including what is special about Lugano and the Ticino region. Is Lugano worth visiting? My key Ticino experiences, along with a list of the best places to visit in Lugano, where to stay, restaurants to eat and what to shop in Lugano, and a lot more practical information that will help you plan your next trip to this seemingly offbeat destination in Switzerland.

Lugano: love at first sight

I arrived in Lugano from Geneva using the Swiss Travel System and fell in love with the place at first sight. I was welcomed by Mediterranean weather contrasting with the wet and cold Genevan weather. Later, during my conversation with the locals, I realised that the Ticino region is often referred to as Switzerland’s Sonnenstube (“Sun Lounge”) for its average of 2000+ hours of sunshine per year. People from the northern parts of the country flock here to enjoy a balmy Mediterranean climate that is mostly mild and sunny, even during the winter months.

Lugano, lakeside promenade. Pic credit: Switzerland Tourism
Lakeside promenade, Lugano, in the Ticino region of Switzerland. Pic credit: Switzerland Tourism

And the temperature was just one of the many more aspects in which Lugano differs from the other parts of Switzerland. The next difference was the Italian spirit of the region I could feel everywhere and in everything – be it the language, food, culture or people.

My timing couldn’t have been more perfect, as, at the time of my arrival, the entire city was gearing up to welcome the Autumn season with its three-day autumn festival in early October in Lugano city. The town’s lanes and piazzas featured a variety of Ticino gourmet specialities, local wine, cheese, and much more. The smell of various scrumptious delicacies wafted in the air, taking complete control of my senses, forcing me to follow it and taste every food item available at the festival. While my taste palette relished a plethora of distinct flavours, my ears enjoyed the melody of the folklore music.

Places to visit and Things to do in Lugano.

Sometimes referred to as the “Rio” or “Monte Carlo” of Switzerland, Lugano, the sophisticated, bustling city of the Ticino region, is not to be missed and deserves a two to three days visit at the very least.

While this place is brimming with dozens of spots worth visiting, the scarcity of time allowed me to see only a few places. Here are some of the must-visit places and exciting things to do in Lugano:

A boat trip on Lake Lugano

Discover the beauty of southern Switzerland from the perspective of the water. Travelling around Lake Lugano by boat is a leisurely approach to the area’s lush landscape and quaint towns. The ticket booths at the many ports around the lake are where you may purchase your boat ride. Possessing a rail pass will allow you to travel at a reduced rate or even for free in some cases. Individual reservations are not accepted except for groups and lunch/dinner cruises. It’s a good idea to bring a pair of shades and a windbreaker, as the lake can get chilly. 

Golden light falling on Lake Lugano in the Ticino region of Switzerland

You can learn more about them by visiting their official website. 

A walk around town

Long ago, I discovered that walking is the best way to explore any city. And that’s precisely what I did in Lugano; I strolled across the city. Also, you can easily pair a ride on the funicular or a cruise on the river with this. A self-guided tour where you can explore places at your own pace, without the interruption of a guide and unearth the stories behind every space. The path takes you through the city’s parks, the lake, cathedrals, and the posh retail district of Via Nassa.

Lugano, Christmas Market. Pic credit: Switzerland Tourism
Lugano, Christmas Market. Pic credit: Switzerland Tourism

Dedicate around 2.5 hours to walking around the city, and remember to capture the beauty of the sights you discover along the route. You may spend an entire day taking a boat tour or visiting a lookout point, such as Monte San Salvatore or Monte Brè. Remember to get clicked around the ‘I love Lugano’ sign on Lake Lugano.

Visit Mount Brè or Mount San Salvatore for a panoramic view of Lugano.

Mount Brè is a peak in the Ticino region of Switzerland, not far from the city of Lugano. It stands at an elevation of roughly 900 meters. Compared to Switzerland, that’s relatively low, but it’s high enough to get a great view of the surrounding lakes and mountains.

You can ride a vintage funicular (established in 1908) to the top of Monte Brè with one change in between. It travels through a residential area as well as the woods. The funicular operates from 7 AM to 9 PM, with extended hours during the summer. A round-trip ticket for an adult costs CHF 25, while a child’s ticket costs CHF 12.50. However, if you have a Swiss Travel Pass, you get a 50% discount. The 360-degree view from the top is worth spending an evening. From the top, you can see the entire Lugano city and beyond – the most prominent spot is, beyond a doubt, the shimmering Lake Lugano, hugged by surrounding mountains. Beyond that, you see the Italian city of Porto Ceresio. I was a little late when I reached Mont Bre, so I missed the golden hour, and the clouds and haze had drawn a veil on Lugano’s beauty. Maybe next time, I’ll be able to time my visit better.

Visit Mount Brè or Mount San Salvatore for a panoramic view of Lugano.
Visit Mount Brè or Mount San Salvatore for a panoramic view of Lugano.

Less than five minutes walk from the funicular station is Restaurant Vetta, where you can enjoy a coffee or lunch along with the stunning panoramic views of the town. The best spot to check that out is their terrace. 

Like Monte Brè, Lugano’s Monte San Salvatore offers stunning views from a convenient vantage point. The city, the majority of the lake, and nearby mountains like Monte Brè and Monte Generoso can all be seen from here. 

Lugano’s Monte San Salvatore offers stunning views from a convenient vantage point.
Lugano’s Monte San Salvatore offers stunning views from a convenient vantage point.

Dine at Piazza Della Reforma 

The neoclassical Piazza Della Reforma is the most cherished part of Lugano in the Ticino region of Switzerland. And you can spend days exploring Lugano’s mysteries by navigating the puzzling maze of cobblestone streets that branch off from the Piazza and unearths Lugano’s secrets of Incredible delicacies and shops. The city’s cuisine is recognised for featuring the finest Italian, Swiss, and particularly “Ticinoian” delicacies. The best way to experience the region’s culinary specialities is to go on an exploring excursion in the city. Many city tours are available; google them or check the Ticino website.

Piazza Della Reforma, Lugano
Place to see in LuganoPiazza Della Reforma

Appreciate art at MASI Lugano 

If you are an art lover, you’ll love this. It is the newest and the largest modern art museum in the Ticino region. 

Enjoy outdoor art at verdant Parco Civico-Ciani. 

A splendid lake-front park peppered with outdoor art. You can follow the park to a wide wooden promenade that loops around the lake. Grab a glass of white merlot (the signature vintage of the Ticino region) at lakeside L’Antica Osteria del Porto.

Unfortunately, time constraints robbed me of the joy of enjoying some of the highly recommended places that couldn’t fit into my short itineraries, such as the town’s churches and cathedrals, and spending the day at the Lido, which has an Olympic-sized pool. Lugano, a pocket-size city in the Ticino region of Switzerland, may not be a big city like Zurich or Geneva, but it is packed with attractions.

Day tours from Lugano

Although Lugano was my base, I wanted to taste neighbouring places too. So, I planned a day of adventure in nearby areas.

Bungy Jumping at 007 Bungy Jump site

Being an adventure freak, I was earnestly looking forward to this. A lifetime experience, an adventure that tears your inner fear apart, thus freeing you and uplifting you to be a much more brave person. I was super excited to experience it first-hand since I learned that Lugano is the home to the world’s famous 007 Bungy Jump, the highest in Europe at around 220 meters (721 ft.) high! And that’s not all; this place is a prime location for directors to shoot action scenes. Some iconic stunt sequences from movies like “Golden Eye,” “Dhoom 3,” and “The Amazing Race” have already been shot here.

The journey to reach the Bungy jump location was quite scenic. It involved changing several modes of transport, starting from a Train ride from Lugano station to Tenero, followed by a bus ride to Verzasca Valley (arrival in Vogorno) and finally a 5-minute walk to the dam. It felt like ages before we reached the destination. Still, as the saying goes, the journey is just as lovely as the destination, and the adventure awaiting was all worth it. Upon reaching there, I went through pre-jump training and waiver form formalities. Once I had done everything, I was ready for one of my life’s most exciting and memorable adventures.

I volunteered to be the first participant. The people I travelled with pumped me up with cheers and motivation. The Bungy jumping experts from New Zealand (the home of bunjy jumping) carefully briefed me regarding the dos and don’ts. They were highly supportive and concerned with my comfort and safety throughout this thrilling experience. My heart was beating frantically against my chest, and I could feel the adrenaline rush that kept me on my feet. I was clipped to the harness, and all the safety checks were made before I headed to the jump-off platform. With a deep inhale and a count of 3…2…1, I took the leap of faith. Within a few minutes, I was in the air! The sensation of freedom was utterly otherworldly. I was joyfully yelling my heart out.

It’s hard to put my experience aptly into words, so I want to say just one thing – If you’ve never done a Bungy jump before, go for it. 

I pre-booked my bungy jumping adventure. The booking charges vary starting from 195,00 CHF. For more details and to book your life-changing experience, check https://www.007bungy.ch/en/booking, the official website. 

Corippo -visiting the smallest village in Switzerland

My next stop after the thrilling, action-packed jump experience at Europe’s highest bungy jumping point was the ancient Village of Corippo. It was a short bus ride to the village; upon arriving there, I hiked to Corippo, where my first stop was to treat myself to a soulful lunch at Osteria. To my rescue, as a vegetarian, the restaurant was Vegetarian friendly. 

It was astonishing to know that this small municipality was home to only ten residents. Following the developments in the neighbouring cities, most people left and migrated out of Corippo, leaving only ten residents, most of whom were adults and senior citizens.

I came across a young couple who had stayed and visited many destinations before settling in Corippo, Switzerland, where they had converted an old property into a motel. It was impressive to learn that while the authorities carefully transformed the old abandoned houses into hotels and motels, the restoration process caused no damage to the original vintage construction.

Corippo -visiting the smallest village in Switzerland
Corippo -visiting the smallest village in Switzerland

Overall, Corippo felt like I was relaxing amid nature as I hiked and enjoyed the panoramic views. 

Other day tours from Lugano

  • Explore Ascona and Locarno, two towns on Lake Maggiore
  • Walk across the Tibetan Bridge in Monte Carasso
  • Visit Ponte dei Salti and the Verzasca Valley
  • Visit Monte Tamaro
  • Hike the Monte Tamaro – Monte Lema Traverse
  • Enjoy the view from the top of Monte Generoso
  • Visit the UNESCO World Heritage castles in Bellinzona
  • Take a day trip to Milan, Italy
  • Spend a day on Lake Como

How to reach Lugano? 

Lugano is well connected by road, railways and air with all the major European cities.
Lugano is well connected by road, railways and air with all the major European cities.

Lugano is well connected with all the major European cities. So, you can quickly get to the city by plane, train or road.

Getting to Lugano by Train

Lugano is a stop on the main European North-South route and can be reached from many cities in the northern and southern parts of Europe by direct connections (mainly trains from/to Milano and beyond). If you plan to explore more of Switzerland or Europe getting a Eurail pass or Swiss Travel Pass is a better deal.

I had taken a 15-day first-class Swiss Travel Pass costing 675CHF. It took me around 4hr 48 minutes from Geneva to reach Lugano with a change at Zurich HB. During the journey, the landscape changed several times – from lush vineyards to rolling verdant valleys to sparkling streams and lakes to countless tunnels and bridges, to fluffy brown Swiss cows with bells grazing alpine pastures to modern cities juxtaposing with snow-covered peaks to cute Swiss cottages sitting atop idyllic spots. The magnificent beauty of nature swept me right off my feet and kept me glued to my window seat. However, I did enjoy the onboard pantry services of the Swiss Train System.

Travelling by Swiss Railways has to be one of my best train rides experience. It’s rightly said that Swiss rails run like clockwork, and the train network is punctual, efficient and frequent.

If you wish to reach Lugano quickly, you can skip the Train rides and instead opt for flights. 

Getting to Lugano by plane

Although the city has its airport about 15 minutes (6km) away from the city, it mainly operates domestic flights from Zurich and Geneva. The Flight from Zurich to Lugano take approximately 50 minutes. 

The quickest way to get to Lugano, from most places abroad, will be through Milano. There are frequent direct bus and train connections from Malpensa airport to Lugano (it takes about an hour to get to Lugano.)

Getting to Lugano by car

You can also grab the opportunity to have that one road trip that never materialises. You can travel from Zurich to Lugano and enjoy the scenic beauty along the way. The distance between Zurich and Lugano is roughly 200 Km, which will take about 2 hours. 

You can also drive from Lake Como in Italy to Lugano, which is just 32 km and takes 28 minutes in regular traffic.

When is the best time to visit Lugano?

While Lugano’s weather is much better than the rest of Switzerland, July through September are the ideal months to visit Lugano. The humidity is at its lowest, and the temperature is pleasant. However, staying in October had its perks. You can witness the Autumn food and wine festival, which is quite a different experience. 

The best time to visit Lugano is from July to September
The best time to visit Lugano is from July to September

Where to stay in Lugano? 

Lugano offers numerous stay options ranging from luxury hotels to budget hotels to Airbnb, which fits the pocket of every tourist coming to the city. 

During my visit to Lugano in the Ticino region of Switzerland, I opted to stay at Luganodante, a hotel that narrates the concept of hybrid hospitality. The best thing about the hotel is its location; a funicular from the central Lugano station brought me to the hotel’s doorstep. The convenient location is a blessing for travellers like me (who always end up overpacking and carrying big suitcases). That becomes a nightmare in old European towns where you struggle to drag your heavy suitcases on the cobblestone streets and steep staircases. 

For people travelling via other modes of transportation, the hotel is just 4.9 km from Lugano Airport, a 6-minute walk from a metro station and a 10-minute walk from Parco Civico. 

At the hotel, I was received by a friendly, polite staff who was always ready to assist me and determined to make my stay in their city memorable. 

Lugano also has some sustainable hotels where you can stay on your next trip:

  • Hotel City Lugano 
  • Hotel De La Paix 1
  • Hotel Federale 
  • Hotel Lugano Dante 
  • Hotel Splendide 
  • Villa Castagnola’s

Things you must know before you travel to Lugano. 

Swiss punctuality

The city sees Swiss precision followed by Italian culture, so you’ll find the locals very particular about time. So, arrive on time.

Free local transport card

 A service provided free of cost by any hotel, Airbnb or guest house you book in the city.

Visa Requirement for Indian Citizens visiting Lugano, Switzerland

All tourists holding Indian passports need a Schengen Visa to travel to Switzerland. The visa process takes at least 15 working days; however, in some cases, it could take longer. So, plan well ahead of time. The last time I applied for a visa, there was a three-month-long waiting period to get a VFS appointment. So, check the visa processing time before applying for the Schengen visa in India from VFS.

Currency used in Lugano

Although the Swiss Franc (CHF) is the official currency of Switzerland, even the Euro is accepted throughout the country. Be ready to keep a good amount of conversion in your wallet because you won’t resist the palatable food and shopping your hearts out.

What to pack for Lugano

Lugano witnesses multiple weather patterns throughout the year, so layering is essential for almost every season. While winter demands thermals, warm pants, socks, coats, and boots, for summer and autumn, you can carry breezy light clothes, but remember to pack a light jacket in case the temperature drops a little.

What to pack for Lugano - multiple layers of clothing is best
What to pack for Lugano – multiple layers of clothing is best

Best restaurants in Lugano

To name just a few, I have added a list of returns that will satisfy your cravings for authentic Ticinese, Italian and Swiss cuisines:

Food and Drinks in Lugano. Pic credit: Switzerland Tourism
Food and Drinks in Lugano. Pic credit: Switzerland Tourism
  • Ristorante Camino: Italian, Swiss cuisine.
  • Osteria Calprino: Italian, Swiss, Mediterranean cuisine.
  • Grotto Morchino: Italian, Swiss cuisine.
  • Grotto del Pep: Swiss cuisine.
  • Ristorante Elementi: Italian, Swiss cuisine.
  • Canvetto Luganese: Italian, Swiss cuisine.
  • Schnitzy: Italian, Swiss cuisine.

Must try food in Lugano

Lugano has a wide variety of cuisines, most traditional and some originating from the blends of two cultures. Some of those cuisines must be tasted atlases once before your trip ends. Here is a list of those must-try food items in Lugano:

  • Alplermagronen
  • Bratwurst
  • Zuger Kirshtorte
  • Polenta
  • Jugged rabbit
  • Bread Cake
  • Fondue Chinoise
  • Carpione fish
  • Cheese fondue
  • Swiss Chocolate

Shopping in Lugano

A trip to Lugano in the Ticino region of Switzerland would be incomplete without shopping. Many shopping items are available at boutique and regular pavement shops along the city’s ancient streets. Lugano also offers arts, antiques, and stationery items, from clothes to jewellery. 

Is Ticino a sustainable destination?

As a sustainability writer, I always search for destinations that truly promote tourism in a sustainable manner. And Switzerland is walking the talk when it comes to sustainability. In September 2021, the Switzerland Tourism Board launched the Swisstainable sustainability strategy, aiming to make the country the world’s most sustainable travel destination with four main pillars:

  • Enjoy nature up close and first hand
  • Experience the local culture in an authentic way
  • Consume regional products
  • Stay for longer and delve deeper

Following the strategy set by Switzerland Tourism Board, Ticino tourism is focusing on sustainable tourism practices through the promotion and development of transportation alternatives (the Ticino Ticket offers public transport free of charge); eco-friendly accommodations; low-carbon emission eco experiences; and culinary offerings (local, seasonal, organic, and vegetarian). I was lucky to experience all this in person during my stay in the region.

Summing up: Is Lugano worth visiting in Switzerland?

Lugano is Switzerland’s that mystique secret which hasn’t unveiled itself to the masses, allowing only a fraction of tourists to experience the coalescence of cultures. It’s a place to relax and have a laid-back stay in the care of charming peaks and soothing lakes. A vibrant city that offers something for every kind of tourist – fancy designer boutiques for shopaholics, bars and cafes providing mouth-watering authentic Ticinese, Swiss and Italian cuisine for the foodies, and enthralling panoramic views for nature lovers and photographers. So, Lugano is 100% worth visiting!

Even though I tried my best to translate my experiences in Lugano into words to give you a glimpse of this captivating city, I may need more than this article to justify my unforgettable trip. Plan a slow and sustainable trip to this un-touristy part of Switzerland before it gets too late.

What next?

In the following article, I’ll take you to the adventure capital of Europe – Interlaken.

Disclaimer

ATTA and Switzerland Tourism invited me to attend The Adventure Travel World Summit (ATWS) in Lugano, Switzerland. So I experienced everything mentioned above in person and took all the pictures during my stay in the city. Please do not copy anything without Travel See Write’s permission. 

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