My husband and I will be spending 10 days in Ticino in June. We welcome any and all recommendations for things to do and places to stay. We are hoping to do a lot of hiking and a lot of good eating.
May I ask why you decided on 10 days in Ticino? It is lovely but nearly as great as the Berner Oberland, especially the Lauterbrunnen Valley. If I had ten days, I would stay in the L. Valley and hike my butt off. Although I do believe the food is better in the Italian part of SW. :-)
Thanks for your reply! We chose Ticino, in large part, because I speak Italian and have spent a good deal of time in Italy. We liked the idea of seeing the Italian side of Switzerland and getting a taste of both Italian and Swiss cultures (though I realize the mountain are not going to be nearly as breathtaking as in central Switzerland).
We also thought about going to different regions, but we also liked the idea of staying in a more contained place and not spending too much time traveling.
I've made several trips to the Ticino, though none recently, so verify the accuracy of this information if something sounds intriguing. These are places/experiences I've enjoyed:
Lugano: My preferred base city. It's lively and does feel quite different from the non-Italian parts of Switzerland.
Gandria and Morcote: Two small towns on Lake Lugano. One was accessed by boat; the other, by bus. I don't remember which was which, but Gandria is the closer one so probably the one visited by boat.
Locarno: I felt it had more of a grand-resort sort of feeling. It wasn't as appealing to me as Lugano, but that's just personal preference. It is the jumping-off point for two of my favorite excursions (see below). I don't remember whether I was able to do the excursions from a base in Lugano, but I think I was.
Centovalli (train from Locarno to Domodossala, Italy): Loved this trip with a sort of back-of-beyond feeling. Appears on lists of Europe's most scenic train rides. I don't think there's much of anything to see in Domodossala, so check the return schedule carefully.
Val Verzasca (via Postbus from Locarno): Lovely ride up the valley. It can be distinctly cool up there, so pick a good-weather day. You can walk part of the way back down. I don't know whether there are off-road hiking trails, but I figure the odds are good. From the scenic standpoint, this trip is probably better the earlier you go, because there are little waterfalls along the way, and there's more water flow earlier in the year. However, earlier means likely cooler and wetter and perhaps less than ideal for hiking.
Valle Maggia (via Postbus from Locarno): I have not taken this trip, but I've seen it recommended along with the Val Verzasca.
Bellinzona: I've only changed trains in Bellinzona, but I've always thought it looked attractive. There are three (!) castles, and it doesn't get a lot of ink in most guidebooks I've seen, so I figure it can't be horribly touristy. Sounds like my sort of place. Bellinzona's the junction for the rail lines to Lugano and Locarno, so very easy to reach from either one.
On the Italian side of the border:
Borromean Isles in Lake Maggiore: The islands (typically accessed from Stresa) should be manageable as a day-trip, though I've visited them while staying in Stresa. Stresa reminded me a bit of Locarno (i.e., attractive but not really my type of place), but the islands are quite distinctive. If the logistics work, I think this is a worthwhile excursion from Switzerland.
Market in Luino: About 25 years ago my mother and I made a day-trip to Luino (Italy) specifically for the Wednesday market. We agreed that it was not a good decision. Markets can change tremendously in that amount of time (current brief Lonely Planet write-up sounds more promising), but back in the early 1990s the Luino market was basically just new goods like inexpensive clothing and kitchen gear. No crafts, no antiques/collectibles. Not worth the hassle of visiting from Lugano via public transportation. Now, if we'd had a car and stopped on our way to some other destination, that might have been a different story. If you think this might be worthwhile, I'd suggest seeking the opinion of the local (Swiss) tourist office and hotel personnel. For reasons of economy, I imagine many Ticino residents make periodic trips to that market.
With 10 days in Ticino, I'd probably split the time between Lugano and Locarno, with a few day trips from each.
In Lugano you could visit Monte San Salvatore or Monte Brè, explore the area by boat or visit the towns mentioned in the previous reply. As I recall, there's a huge Casino part way down the lake (actually in Italy).
In Locarno you could take the scenic Centovalli Railway to Domodossola, down to Stresa by train and then return to Locarno by boat. You can also have a look at the impressive Madonna del Sasso Franciscan Monastery or take the Cable Car to Cardada and Cimetta for a fine meal or some light hiking. As I recall, there's a hotel/restaurant right beside the top cable car station, which has a nice patio overlooking the lake and the town. It's a great place to have a meal and watch the Paragliders sailing by. If you want to try your luck, there's a Casino down by the Ferry docks. Locarno is the location for a huge film festival in August (2-12 Aug. this year), and there are usually a number of major stars in attendance.
If you have a "generous travel budget", you could stop at the posh Bucherer jewelry stores in either town and pick up that $20K Rolex watch you've always wanted.
We really enjoyed Bellinzona as a day trip from Locarno, where we stayed. To me, Lugano felt more "grand resort-y" than Locarno, but we're all different! Ascona is also very worth a day trip - have a pizza at Pizzeria 4 Stagione, one of the best I've had anywhere in Italy. I also strongly second Ken's recommendation of Cardada.
A few other ideas:
Take the train from Bellinzona or Lugano up to Airolo. Make sure you take a local or RE train that uses the old line (and make sure it stops in Airolo) or you won't be be able to get off until Arth Goldau! The route is simply gorgeous and will really get you into the alps.
If you have a car, drive from Bellinzona up into Graubunden via Messoco. If its open, take the San Bernadino pass rather than the tunnel.
With regard to the Centovalli railroad, its AWESOME. Just make sure you look down at the river and its rock formations along the way - nothing like you've ever seen in your life before. Also, go to any larger station ask about a round trip package with a steamer on Lago Locarno to Stressa and then the Centovalli train back. It makes a great all day trip. Stressa is in Italy, is beautiful and a great stop for lunch. Domodossola is a hole - just get off the train and head to your connection (be it the Centovalli or the train to Stressa).
One minor point to clarify.....
"with a steamer on Lago Locarno to Stressa"
I believe that will be Lago Maggiore to Stresa. The boat will more than likely be an Aliscafo (Hydrofoil) as those are more typically used on the Italy - Switzerland route. THIS is one example.
Ken, nope, did that exact trip last fall. There are lots of hydrofoils on the lake for everyday "commuting" but also leasure ships. The boat we took wasn't a steam powered boat per se (I believe they're on Lac Leman, Zurichsee and Lake Luzern only), but a nice diesel powered italian "steamer". We hung out on the top deck, drank wine and watched the scenery go by. Amazing! And yes, you're correct, it's Lago Maggiore. Ugh...my brain is going as I get older!
A very beautiful round trip with a car on a beautiful weather day: starting almost from everywhere, drive the motorway to Biasca and up Blenio valley up to Lukmanier pass. (Easy hiking possibilities before the pass). Drive down to Disentis (baroque abbey and Stiva Grischuna restaurant). Up to Oberalp pass - short stop at the pass, narrow road ascending, magnificent road descending to Andermatt. Drive up Gotthard pass, stop at the pass, then the extremely scenic descent to Airolo - giving the car occupants the feeling they are landing on an airplane on the air strip at the bottom of the valley - motorway home.
The three passes are very easy to drive, but for the ascent to Oberalp on the Graubunden side that has a few narrow sections and several hairpin curves.
There is at least one steam powered boat in operation on Lago Maggiore, but I believe it's mostly used on shorter runs between specific towns. There are indeed some diesel powered boats that operate in addition to the Hydrofoils. I can't remember which type of boat I used the last time I took that trip,but vaguely recall that it was a Hydrofoil.