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They say, "When in Rome…" but there's no need to travel so far south for a taste of the good life. Do as the ancient Romans did (and the wealthiest Italians and Swiss still do) and vacation in this balmy corner of paradise.
Though it's often know as the Italian Lake Country, the shores of Lago Maggiore and Lago di Lugano are also partly Swiss. You won't find white sands or waist-high waves, but its Mediterranean feel has nonetheless earned Ticono's lakes section a reputation as a summer idyll. From the tall palms and semitropical vegetation that grace the coast to the rounded green mountains that feel a little like Rio, the Ticino lakes are an ideal destination for beachcombers, photographers, sportsmen, and lots of other nature lovers. Sunbathe at Lugano's famous Lungolago. Take a daylong cruise on Lago Maggiore. Hike the many trails that wind from the lakes to the mountains. No matter how you spend your free time, you'll probably want to spend most of it outdoors.
Best Time to Go
In south-of-the-Alps Ticino, you can usually dine alfresco from March onward. By June, there are sunny skies day in, day out. July and August may be hot and crowded, but that means people-watching is at its best and that the water's fine. Autumn brings richly hued leaves and sparser crowds.
Both Lago di Lugano and Lago Maggiore are crisscrossed by many ferries. By day, choose the scenic tour that whisks you from Lugano around the lake, stopping at Campione d'Italia, Ponte Tresa, and Morcote. By night, a jazz or gin-soaked "booze" cruise on one of the many sleek party boats awaits. Feeling sporty? You can rent a kayak or canoe in nearly every town on Lago Maggiore and paddle your way across the gentle waves to Italy. Bring a picnic lunch and just drift before garnering the strength to make it home. For those who don't fancy a workout, most rental outfits also offer less taxing paddleboats.
Being so close to Italy means that car traffic can be intense, and biking here is best suited to experienced riders. For a short adventure on two wheels, pedal through Lugano's old town and window-shop at the numerous art galleries or designer boutiques before stopping to indulge in creamy gelato.
Brave souls can rent a bike, or one of the hugely popular electrically assisted "e-bikes," and pedal the roughly four-hour, 50-mi Locarno-Camedo-Locarno loop. From the Lido, you'll cross the Maggia River to Ascona and ride along the lake, with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and the Isole di Brissago. At Cannòbio, you can head back to Locarno along the same route, or continue through to Camedo and the picturesque Centovalli before arriving back where you began this tiring, thrilling journey.
Begin in the Castagnola area of Lugano, following the Sentiero (Footpath) di Gandria, which passes by narrow cobblestone streets, manor houses, and silver-hued olive trees. Just past the Sasso (Rock) di Gandria, stairs lead up to the quaint fishing village of Gandria. Time for a cool drink on a balcony overlooking the lake.
Colorful buildings, sunny café terraces, and even a castle—all this in only one block on Ascona's waterfront. From the vantage point of a sunny café terrace you can take in the effervescent atmosphere of this chic little town. Or cross the street to sit idly on a park bench, with only the endless blue water before you.
Capture the magic of the Ticino lakes region by setting your lens on the following sights:
Locarno's Casa dei Canonici and its medieval garden in the heart of the Old Town—and Madonna del Sasso perched on the hillside above.
Campione's otherwordly casino, visible from any point across Lago di Lugano.
The more-than-900 varieties of camellia trees in bloom at the Camellia Park in Locarno.
Glistening bathing beauties (of both sexes) in skimpy suits at Lugano's Lido.
Tiny Gandria's winding streets and stately mansions.
The crumbling stone houses and colorful frescoes in Vira, one of the tiny villages that line the Riviera del Gambarogno, a 10 km stretch of Maggiore lakeshore that's across from Locarno.
Views of Monte San Salvatore rising lush above the morning fog.
Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Maseratis whizzing along lakeside roads.
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