Stefan Jermann takes a fast-train ride to the leisurely canton of Ticino. Follow in his footsteps on your own journey through Switzerland
Zürich is a slick 21st-century metropolis. It’s fun, fast-paced, and a constant whirlwind of activity. However, not every Swiss person likes this hectic way of life. Some choose to do things at a less hurried pace — some people choose the slow life. So as a devout city slicker I decide to find out about how the other half live and catch a train to the canton of Ticino, the most laid-back region of Switzerland. This idyllic region that borders Italy, comes with lush valleys, cerulean rivers and endless sunshine. If Swiss clocks didn’t run to time, this is one place where they’d run slower.
Strangely enough, it’s the new fast-paced train line that will get me there. I catch the train at Zürich main station, which whisks me through the Gotthard Base Tunnel underneath the Alps, and arrives in sunny Lugano in just over two hours. As we move further towards the border, I am ready to shed the warm clothes I needed in Zürich and pull on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. We pass through the hills of Malcantone where thanks to the Mediterranean climate, outstanding Merlot wines are produced.
With the mix of dreamy landscapes, Mediterranean climate, and Italian vibe, I feel as if I’m on holiday. I leave the train behind at Lugano, and catch a short funicular ride to the center, where I go for a stroll through a picturesque park filled with colorful rhododendrons and statuesque cypress trees. Children are whizzing past me on their bicycles, but they are the fastest thing here. The whole city moves in a relaxed low gear.
An elderly woman stops to pass the time of day. Taking pity on the worn-out city slicker she suggests I go for a stroll along the Olive Tree Trail, which runs alongside the lake. Taking her advice I wander along the short trail that brings me out onto a terrace filled with ancient olive trees and offers jawdropping views of Lake Lugano.
I breathe myrtles, cypresses, and laurels that are often found in flavorsome pasta sauces. It’s a sensory overdrive and it doesn’t take long before my mouth starts watering. So I head to the town to find the Piazza della Riforma.
For tucked between the arcades of the little streets and high-end luxury retailers is the holy grail of delicatessen shops. Domenico Gabbani launched the delicatessen on Via Pessina in 1937 and it’s since expanded into a butchery, bakery, bar, restaurant, and boutique hotel. I can’t help but to grab myself a serving of salami and a dish of Mozzarella di Bufala. If I had the time I’d stay here for a week and try everything that Gabbani has got to offer.
However, there’s one more foodie pilgrimage that I need to make while I am here and that’s to one of Lugano’s famous grottos. These former stone dwellings used by farmers to store wine and cheese have now been turned by locals into mini restaurants. One Lugano gem is Grotto Morchino, which is run by the Olgiati family. This tiny eatery on the edge of town has been welcoming visitors since 1842. I take a seat at one of its wooden tables and get ready to enjoy some of the dishes that they have become famous for. The menu changes depending on what produce they can buy.
Today I get to choose from roasted pork knuckle, delicious Ossobuco, which is a veal shank braised in wine, and minestrone. I order the minestrone and with each slurp from my spoon, I can taste 100 years of culinary history. I then tuck into the pork knuckle and wash my lunch down with a jug of Merlot, which comes served in the traditional ceramic boccalino. While the rest of Switzerland, happily pours their wine straight from the bottle, grottos in Switzerland still prefer to serve their vintages in these striped ceramic jugs. Like everything else that they do, it is about celebrating the food. It’s about taking high-quality local ingredients and giving them the respect they deserve.
To burn off the calories, I head towards the Paradiso district and walk along the lake. The sun has already set and the magic hour turns the lake and the mountain landscape into a captivating painting. I can see why they call this place ‘paradise’. I wish I had time to hike up to Mount San Salvatore. From the top of the mountain, you can even see the Alps of Savoy — that’s as close as you get to heaven.
TAKE IT SLOW
Three more ways you can wind down in Ticino
Be A Locavore
Take a seat at the one-star Michelin restaurant Arte Al Lago at Villa Castagnola and you will be served fish caught fresh from the lake.
Leave The Car Behind
Guests staying in hotels in Ticino can apply for a Ticino Ticket, which lets you use public transport for free and get discounts on cable car rides, boat trips, and local tourist attractions.