Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Weekend in Ticino

The other weekend we decided it would be a good idea to check out the Italian part of Switzerland, where the weather, language, and people, are supposedly much more Mediterranean than in other parts of the country. We drove up the Valais and over the Simplon pass, briefly into Italy and then passed into Ticino, which was quite a challenging drive in the end, being along some quite narrow mountain roads.
We arrived in Bellinzona quite late on Saturday, leaving us only some time to 'freshen up' before heading out to dinner. Around Bellinzona there is several castles, and a couple of them have restaurants inside. We took the none-too-clear advice of our guidebook to try the Castello di Sasso Corbaro, which is the highest of the three castles. Once inside however it was quickly apparent that the "Osteria-style" restaurant has gone significantly upmarket since the guidebook was printed. In the end it was really delicious and actually quite reasonably priced dinner! This, at least, was what we'd hoped from Italian-Switzerland!
The next day we caught the train to Lugano, where we were lucky to find an Autumn festival in progress. One of the local specialties of Ticino is Polenta, which we dutifully tried even though it was about as stodgy as we remembered it being. It was welcome anyway, since it was a cold and grey day.
We also had some of the local cake which was actually really good. Linda would remember the name of it but I'm afraid I've forgotten already.
Otherwise we just wandered around the town and along the waterfront which was a relaxing way to spend the day. I imagine it's a lovely place to be in Summer.

That night, back in Bellinzona, we went to the other castle restaurant (at Castelgrande) for dinner. This was a bit weird because the whole castle was really quiet, and the restaurant door was resolutely shut against the cold night air, but we managed to push our way inside and had another very nice dinner, albeit as the only customers of the restaurant that night.
The next day we went to Ascona, which is a really nice little town even in the rain, where we wandered around the streets and bought nik-naks in the shops.

We also dropped through nearby Locarno, but we weren't inspired even to stay for lunch and continued on to Bellinzona where we had a really nice lunch in the main square of the town.
We finished off our stay in Bellinzona by visiting the museum at Castelgrande, where we learned a bit about the local history and took lots of photos of the cloud-covered castles across the valley.
On the way home we went via the Gotthard pass, but decided the tunnel would be boring and instead went over the top of the mountains. This was quite frightening at first because there was a thick fog on the Ticino side, but once we passed into Uri it cleared up (although still raining quite hard).

This all would have been fine but for the fact we were unaware there was still one more pass to be negotiated on our trip, and this was probably the most difficult we'd been on. It took us over the Susten pass into Bern and was high enough that we were passing significant amounts of snow by the road.

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