Who knew that just two hours by train from Zürich there is a little slice of southern paradise? Think palm trees, green hills, bright flowers, pink houses, lots of boats, narrow cobblestone streets and warm sunshine even when the rest of Switzerland is still doing the gray spring thing.
We took the early morning train from Zürich, and I perched myself comfortably next to the window for the first big rail adventure. The scenic route begins as the train goes along Lake Zug and Lake Lucerne and snowcapped peaks start to feel closer and closer. I named this blog post “Chasing the sun” because that’s literally what we were doing – Zürich was rainy and cold on that day and for about an hour so was the scenery traveling south. But then we zipped through the Gotthard tunnel (cool!) and blue skies were waiting on the other side. I felt like I hopped onto a magic carpet or something because the switch was so fast. The closer you get to Lugano, the greener and rounder the mountains get until they become hills gently rolling into the landscape.
Lugano makes the best first impression. You get off at the train station, and the first thing you see is palm trees, sparkling water in the distance, and the tower of Cattedrale S. Lorenzo set against hills and a blue sky. It’s like the landscape is saying “welcome to vacation”. As you make your way down to the lake, you pass through the streets of old town, with little shops and random sets of stairs. We were there on an Easter Sunday so I don’t know what the city is like on a “regular” day, but to us, it felt quiet and calm. The first real view of the lake comes once you reach the promenade, and you see the small waves between the trees and the hills surrounding the horizon on all sides. It feels like a bay – smaller and cozier than Lake Zürich. (I just checked lake sizes for fun – Zürich is 20 sq meters bigger but Lugano gets over 100 meters deeper.)
From here on I could describe our entire day in detail, but I’ll just let you explore it for yourself (because you must!) and say with conviction that it’s really worth to see this side of Switzerland because it is so different from any stereotype, so beautiful in its distinct way, and is such a relaxing stop if you’re touring the country.
- I loved paddle boating on the lake in the middle of the day – the sun is strong, the water is at your fingertips, and the hills are all around you
- The famous “gateway to heaven” gate and the incredible tulips are located in Parco Civico, which is walking distance in the city
- We took the funicular to Monte San Salvatore (a bit pricey, but worth the trip) and the views there are stunning – you can see all of Lugano on one side and all the way into Italy on the other. My boyfriend even claimed he could see the skyscrapers of Milan, a fact I cannot verify because as I said before, my sharp vision stops at 20 meters. (Those of you with great eyes, feel free to go up there and tell me if he was telling the truth ;))
- I cannot recommend any restaurants because, as I said, we were there on a holiday day and only the “touristy” restaurants were open. They are great for a drink with a gorgeous view, but the kitchen is so-so.
- It’s wonderful to finish the day by watching the sunset over the lake with some ice cream. I couldn’t wait so I had gelato within hours of arriving 😀
I am so glad we had the time and the idea to spontaneously travel there, even more so, that we live close enough to do this as a day trip. Now I know where to find the sun when I really need it 🙂