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Holidays in Switzerland: discovering Ticino, the Italian-speaking corner of the country

The pasta is sublime. The square is bathed in the warm September sun. All around you are bustling pizzerias and chatty ice cream parlors, and sailors from nearby Lake Maggiore in remarkably stylish shirts, all saying ciao and buon giorno.

And Francesca, the guide, is leaning over the table, frowning in surprise.

‘Your train was six minutes late ?!’

Pictured is Locarno in Ticino, which Sean describes as 'an idyllic corner of Italian-speaking Europe'

Pictured is Locarno in Ticino, which Sean describes as ‘an idyllic corner of Italian-speaking Europe’

‘Yes.’

‘Mio Dio. So it must have come from Italy!

It’s a puzzling moment, because the scene is very Italian and yet, as the guide’s reaction suggests, this isn’t exactly Italy.

This is secret Italy, that is, we are in Locarno in Ticino: an idyllic corner of Italian-speaking Europe, hidden in the southernmost corner of Switzerland.

Ticino is where Germanic precision meets Mediterranean flair, which means that alongside great Italian food and happy Italian conviviality, you get neat Swiss streets, immaculate Swiss service, and yes, incredibly punctual Swiss public transport. Which also means you don’t need a car.

Francesca jumps to her feet. She is grabbing her phone with her downloadable Swiss transport app (SBB Mobile).

Your bus will be here in 40 seconds.

She is correct. Again. Ten minutes later we leave the center of Locarno behind and stop by the Castello del Sole, recently awarded the title of best hotel in the Swiss Republic. How to describe this wonderful refuge? Let’s say it’s like a noble estate somewhere in Tuscany, inexplicably thrown into a lush alpine valley and blessed with its own lake-beach, several emerald meadows with sleepy donkeys, and a vast Edenic farm that produces figs, grapes, wheat. , aubergines, chili peppers, walnuts, lemons, tomatoes, peaches, quinces and much more.

Local products at Vini e Distillati Delea Angelo SA, a vineyard in the Ticino region

Local products at Vini e Distillati Delea Angelo SA, a vineyard in the Ticino region

Local products at Vini e Distillati Delea Angelo SA, a vineyard in the Ticino region

That afternoon we visit their vineyards for a tasting of the world famous Merlot. And its pink. And his beer. And its effervescence. And his gin. And other things that, to be honest, are beginning to blur.

We then staggered to the hotel’s Michelin-star restaurant Locanda Barbarossa, all crisp pergolas, and chefs trained by Gordon Ramsay, who use much of this incredible food and drink.

Later we slept, soundly, deeply, in the suites in the shadow of the lodge, feeling like pampered lesser royalty.

It’s so quiet I swear you can hear risotto rice growing outside.

Delight: Brissago by Lake Maggiore, which Sean describes as the 'pretty cuckoo clock capital of the Ticino region'

Delight: Brissago by Lake Maggiore, which Sean describes as the 'pretty cuckoo clock capital of the Ticino region'

Delight: Brissago by Lake Maggiore, which Sean describes as the ‘pretty cuckoo clock capital of the Ticino region’

The photo shows Castelgrande, one of the three Bellinzona fortresses that appear on the UNESCO list.

The photo shows Castelgrande, one of the three Bellinzona fortresses that appear on the UNESCO list.

The photo shows Castelgrande, one of the three Bellinzona fortresses that appear on the UNESCO list.

The next day: Bellinzona (21¾ minutes by train from Locarno). Little Bellinzona is the picturesque, prosperous and charming capital of cuckoo clocks of the Ticino region, and is full of frescoed houses, quiet basilicas, cobbled squares, Benetton outlets, extremely healthy-looking students on bikes, and huge and melancholic castles that rise unexpectedly. of bare rock, right next to pretty cafes.

Ticino, civilized for the first time by the Romans, was disputed by the kingdoms of the north and the south, who sought to dominate the strategic transalpine trade routes.

In the 14th century, the Dukes of Milan took temporary but definitive control and erected these three UNESCO-listed fortresses.

We chose to see Castelgrande, the most famous. First we have to walk through a tunnel from the city center, which goes deep into the rock.

Then we ascend in a kind of elevator between the Stone Age and Star Wars, which throws us into the sweet green square of the castle.

From here you can tour the castle museum and take exhilarating hikes up the top of the wall with a glorious view all the way to the end of the valley, to Locarno and neighboring Ascona. Okay, this is the next stop.

The Hotel Eden Roc, right on the beautiful shore of Ascona’s Lake Maggiore, is where tall green mountains plummet into deep blue waters.

Recently renovated, with a new wing and a gleaming spa, Eden Roc has several swimming pools, excellent restaurants and, at night, one of the greatest views of the Maggiore shores.

The image is the islands of Brissago, a small archipelago of two islands with a subtropical microclimate

The image is the islands of Brissago, a small archipelago of two islands with a subtropical microclimate

The image is the islands of Brissago, a small archipelago of two islands with a subtropical microclimate

Just half an hour from Ascona are the Brissago Islands, a small archipelago of two islands with a subtropical microclimate.

During several hours of pleasure we walk through the famous gardens, with their Spanish cacti and alpine roses, accompanied by Francesca, who tells us the long and slightly salacious history of the place.

He was appreciated by poets, monks, artists, philosophers, English artists, and an eccentric German Jewish industrialist from the 1930s who, when he was not tending this beautiful garden, used to throw gold coins into his pool for naked girls to retrieve. There are pictures. ‘

It is a fitting end to a Ticino tour. A secret but beautiful garden, hidden in the Swiss lakes and peaks. Northern but Italian, mountainous but Mediterranean. And punctual, but sexy.

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