Make the best out of your 2018 Locarno Festival Experience with our highlight guide of the Lake Maggiore and its valleys. It includes hand-picked addresses to dine, drink, dance and shop, as well as the region’s most stunning vistas and unusual ways to get your body moving – guaranteed to elevate your stay to the next level!
Walking in the mountains and valleys
From a palm-fringed beach to the icy slopes of a glacier in less than 40 kilometers: that’s all it is from the lake shore at Ascona to San Carlo in the upper Val Bavona. And then from San Carlo it’s a mere 15 minutes by cable car to reach the beautiful area of Robiei at 1900 meters above sea level, just below the Basodino glacier, the biggest in the Canton. A spectacular high Alpine landscape which attracts 20,000 visitors every year.
Walking against the backdrop of the Alps: the region of Lake Maggiore has 1400 kilometers of paths and trails to walk in unspoiled natural surroundings and enjoy spectacular views. Overnight stays outside towns and villages are made possible by over 30 mountain huts and refuges. There are endless locations for a perfect picnic and a refreshing dip in the Lake or in one of the many mountain streams and rivers.
A geological panorama
The mountain Cimetta (1670 m) offers a unique attraction! In fine weather from the peak above Locarno you can see two extremes of Swiss territory: the highest point in Switzerland, namely the Dufourspitze (4634 m), the summit of the Monte Rosa massif, and also the lowest, Brissago on the shore of Lake Maggiore (193 m).
Right on the highest point of Cimetta is a circular observation terrace, with information boards on the origins and evolution of the surrounding mountains. As well as offering a breathtaking panoramic view of the region, this geological observatory allows you to make out the Insubric Line or Periadriatic Seam, the fault that separates the southern and northern parts of the Alps, revealing how the Alpine Chain was formed.
Right in the middle of Lake Maggiore lies a tiny tropical paradise: the Brissago Islands. Shaded by majestic trees and fringed by luxuriant ferns, the Canton Ticino’s Botanical park holds over 1600 species in an area of 25,000 sq. m. Only the larger of the two islands, Isola Grande or Isola San Pacrazio, is open to the public.
Authentic places with unique character
The lively market held every Thursday in Locarno’s Piazza Grande is part of a tradition that goes back centuries – it was first mentioned in the records in 1164. The oldest historic building in the city, built in the 14th century, is the Casa del Negromante, which now houses a bar and restaurant very popular with locals.
A paradox for modern times: Val Bavona is a place where a huge amount of hydroelectric power is generated, but the houses there have no mains electricity. Until 1959 the valley and its twelve villages could only be reached by a mule trail. Thanks to that difficulty of access the Val Bavona, now no longer inhabited all year round, has preserved its original character intact.
A treasure to discover!
There’s a special way to explore the region of Lake Maggiore: audio guides that tell you about the history and traditions of each place, as you walk through the old town in Locarno, the historic center of Ascona, or discover the main tourist attractions. You can listen to the audio guides online, or download the free iziTravel app.
Ready for a treasure hunt? At the tourist information office at the Locarno train station children can ask for a treasure map. By solving a series of puzzles, the map takes you to discover the city’s secrets. The treasure hunt begins in Piazza Grande and takes about two hours to complete. Once finished, children can hand in their maps at the tourist office and – if they’ve answered correctly – receive a prize!
Idyllic, adventurous Valle Verzasca
With a population of only 13, Corippo is the smallest municipality in Switzerland. The tiny village in the Valle Verzasca, a handful of stone houses gathered round the church, is perfectly preserved. As a bridge between its past and the future there is the “Albergo Corippo” project, which plans to turn the entire village into a hotel dispersed among the original buildings.
The Verzasca dam is an impressive 220 meters in height, making it one of Europe’s tallest. It was made world famous by the opening scene of the Bond film Goldeneye – Pierce’s Brosnan’s bungee jump is widely regarded as the best stunt scene in film history. On top of the dam is the world’s highest fixed bungee-jumping platform.
A paradise for cyclists
A fantastic trail for expert mountain bikers: starting at Alpe di Neggia on Monte Gambarogno, a technically challenging single trail drops 1300 meters to Vira Gambarogno at lake level. The terrain is particularly steep and difficult in the first section, but the stunning views over Lake Maggiore and the Magadino flood plain are well worth the effort.
The Cantonal cycling trail through the Vallemaggia, awarded the 2016 Prix Velo for cycling mobility, is well signposted and suitable for all riders. Starting from Locarno, the trail follows the shore of Lake Maggiore, winding through picturesque villages and unspoiled landscapes till it reaches Ponte Brolla, where it continues into the wild and romantic valley that takes its name from the Canton’s most scenic river, the Maggia.
Getting around on public transport
Free public transport and reduced fares and admission for cable cars, ferry boats and numerous tourist attractions. All guests staying at least one night in a hotel, hostel or campsite receive free the Ticino Ticket, which cannot be purchased separately and is valid until midnight on the day of departure.
A nostalgic train trip can be had on the 52 km Centovalli narrow-gauge railroad between Locarno and Domodossola in Italy. The route runs across the “hundred valleys” of its name, through rich chestnut woods, over picturesque bridges and along narrow canyons. A spectacular landscape that changes with the seasons.
Sun, sand and fresh water
A refreshing swim in the lake or in a crystal-clear river, canyoning, wakeboarding, rafting: the Ascona-Locarno region is a paradise for water sports enthusiasts. For relaxing on the beach there are public bathing places and truly unique Lido facilities with motor, rowing and paddle boats for hire.
The Lake Maggiore region offers waterside fun and relaxation for all ages. The Ascona Lido has one of Switzerland’s longest sandy beaches, while its park, shaded by ancient trees, has sports facilities, bars and restaurants. There is a wealth of things to do, not just for water sports fans but also for wellness lovers who just want to relax.
Art and culture
Art lovers will find 22 museums, 7 theaters and over 40 art galleries to enjoy in the region. The Ascona-Locarno Cultural Pass allows reduced admission to institutions taking part in the scheme: full price for the first ticket paid, but a reduction of 20% on all subsequent tickets.
Interested in architecture? Then don’t miss the exhibition “Mario Botta. Sacred Space.” at the Pinacoteca Comunale Casa Rusca in Locarno, open through 12 August. For the first time the renowned Canton Ticino architect presents 22 designs completed in various countries, including Switzerland, Italy, France, Israel, Ukraine, South Korea and China.
On a rocky outcrop above Locarno stands the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Sasso, the most important place of pilgrimage in Italian-speaking Switzerland. For centuries pilgrims have made their way to this holy mountain, where the Virgin Mary is reported to have miraculously appeared in 1480. The Sanctuary of the Madonna del Sasso can be reached in only a few minutes by funicular railway from Locarno.
Culture has a home address: via dei Cappuccini 8, Locarno. It’s where you’ll find the Teatro Paravento, whose drama company organizes a packed year-round calendar of performances and cultural activities, held in the charming garden during the summer months. In August during the Locarno Festival the “Bistrot Paravento” offers live music every evening.
Specialties of local cuisine
The multi-faceted identity of the Canton is reflected in its cuisine. From gourmet restaurants to grotti (typical rustic-style and simple taverns), typical Ticino cuisine is based on local produce combined with a Mediterranean sense of fine living. The traditional grotti are known for serving local specialties washed down with good wine.
Fine dining, Ticino-style: passionate local chefs have achieved success by re-interpreting the regional cooking of Lombardy. More than 15 of the region’s restaurants boast Michelin stars or Gault-Millau ratings, and over 20 are listed in premier gastronomic guides.
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