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On the terrace of the Grotto Redorta in peaceful Sonogno, you’d be forgiven for struggling to place your exact location. It’s beautiful and dramatic, with stone cottages topped by chalet-style roofs. The bill for lunch is in Swiss francs, but everyone’s speaking Italian over polenta with Gorgonzola. You’re in Switzerland – but everything has a little extra Mediterranean flair. It could only be Ticino.
Switzerland’s southernmost canton was once part of neighbouring Lombardy. In the Verzasca valley, there are serious mountains. On the shores of Lake Maggiore, there’s a balmy resort feel, with chic Ascona at hand for a smart passeggiata, while its twin lake town Locarno is home to a lively market and film festival. Bellinzona, the canton capital, is different again, with city life and tourism at its trio of UNESCO-protected castles stopping when it’s time to queue for smooth chocolates.
Whether you’re striking out on Lake Lugano towards one of Caprino’s grottos (Ticinese taverns) which can only be reached by boat, or heading further south to taste some of Mendrisiotto’s excellent Merlot, it’s difficult not to think of the food. Game and chestnuts are big in autumn, local cheeses vary subtly from season to season (try the raw-milk Zincarlin), but as the sunshine arrives all thoughts turn to ice cream.
The man credited with first selling ice cream to Londoners, Mr Carlo Gatti was proudly Ticinese. Good gelato comes as standard in most places, but it’s hard to beat the amaretto version served with chocolate tart at La Casetta, the summer restaurant at the lakeside property, the Hotel Eden Roc. No wonder Mr Gatti, who had tasted all the delights of London, couldn’t resist going home in the end.
Swiss flies to Zurich from London City, Heathrow, Manchester and Birmingham 17 times a day from £126 return. Flight time is 1h30. swiss.com
Onward train travel to Ticino takes between 2h30 and 3h. sbb.ch
When to Go
All year, but the valleys are most accessible between spring and autumn.
Where to Stay
Hotel Eden Roc, doubles from £265, including breakfast. Flamboyant design and a lakeside spa make it the
best spot in Ascona. en.edenroc.ch
Where to Eat
Grotto Redorta, Sonogno
A typical Ticinese grotto in a peaceful valley setting. Beautiful views from the terrace. grottoredorta.ch
Osteria Malakoff, Bellinzona
The Fusos’ well-regarded family restaurant. Pasta is a highlight. + 41 91 825 4940
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