In Switzerland for the 1st time: one day in Lugano

Today I will excitedly take you with me to the Italian part of Switzerland, to be more precise to the town of Lugano. It is located on the border with the Italy and you can really tell!

Why Lugano? When I decided to spend my vacation in Switzerland, I also looked at the possibilities of visiting neighboring countries. One stop was Milan, but in the end I decided not to go and just enjoy Switzerland properly. It was great that I found Lugano, which can be reached in 3 hours by train from Zurich – and without changing!

In addition to the beautiful views of the lake “Lago di Lugano“, I of course had to make a map of the places I definitely wanted to visit during my visit. I was originally thinking about San Salvatore, but it would take a long time to get there, either on foot or by local transport.

Finally, I discovered another viewpoint on the other side of the city – Monte Bré. And what was the best – there was a cable car! But I’ll get to everything.

I left for Lugano on Monday around ten in the morning from Zurich HB. What was interesting – the train ticket inspector on the platform, long before the train arrived, asked people if they were going to Italy (the train went from Zurich to Milan) and accordingly sent them to other parts of the platform, so that they could then just board the right carriage. I chose an empty wagon, which unfortunately was then crowded by a school on a trip. I was a little afraid that it would be a long journey because they were teenagers, but luckily both teachers sat in the compartment with us and watched the kids.

The views from the train were nice – first I saw plains and small villages in the middle of nowhere, then later we saw mountains (and maybe the Alps?) and highways randomly appearing from tunnels in the hills (it had big Need for Speed vibes). As for the train itself, ICE runs between Zurich and Milan – which is a comfortable high-speed train. In my wagon, I sat in a single seat instead of the classic 4, but there was another empty one across from me and it remained empty the whole way – the kids didn’t dare. I also had a folding table there. On the way back, I sat in a classic four, where there was a plug for both Swiss and European (Czech) plugs. Otherwise, I found out that I and ICE trains will not be friends, the 150 km/h is not good for my ears.

I got to Lugano around half past two and planned to take the train back at 6:30 in the evening so that I could get to the hotel in a fairly good time and get some sleep, because I was leaving Zurich the next day (yes, finally you have articles about the Swiss nature). So I had about 5 hours ahead of me. I’ll say straight away that this plan didn’t work out for me. Why? Keep reading.

Lugano is right next to the Swiss-Italian border, and even opposite San Salvatore is the Italian part of Campione d’Italia (like a village in Switzerland, but surrounded by the Italian border). What else makes Lugano special? The very first Eurovision was held here (in 1956). And no, that’s why I didn’t really go to Lugano. I only read this while writing this article. However, I’m happy about it, it must have been really good back then.

I don’t know how many degrees it was when I arrived, but I had the feeling that it was at least 100. Lugano is already quite far from the Alps and the sun is not afraid to hit it. Just like in Basel and Zurich, the sky was blue and the sun was shining like there is no tomorrow. I walked from the station to the lake, which meant going down about a million steps (going down was fine, going up after a whole day was a much bigger challenge). From the stairs, however, one has a beautiful view of Lago di Lugano and Monte Bré, and nothing really compares to that.

I spent a while at the lake, because there is nowhere to hide (the bench under the tree was of course occupied by other tourists) and the heat was unbearable. There I decided that I should eat. I originally thought about take away or even a restaurant, but I didn’t want to waste too much time and finally decided on Coop. The road to this supermarket led through a very Italian-looking part of Lugano – a narrow pedestrian zone, tall buildings with balconies and expensive boutiques everywhere you look. From the supermarket, I decided to go check out the cable car to Monte Bré. I took the main road straight to the first part of the cable car, so unfortunately I completely skipped the other parts of the city – the more touristy ones.

Due to the weather, I expected that there would be a lot of people at the cable car (at least according to the reviews on the Internet), so I was ready to give up on the view and return to the center of Lugano. However, there was no line and except for one couple, I had the entire cable car to myself. This cable car to Monte Bré consists of two parts – the first is short and free and takes you to the start of the cable car that goes up to Monte Bré (to get to this part of the cable car without using the first one, you would have to go half way around the hill). The cable car to Monte Bré and back cost me 13 francs thanks to the Swiss Travel Pass (and more on that in one of the future articles).

On the way up, I had a view of Lugano and the surrounding area, the journey didn’t take more than ten minutes, and at the top a shop with refreshments and a view awaited me. I skipped the snacks, after all I wanted to enjoy the view and ride back down and hooray for the train.

From the first view, I walked past the Maria Assunta church through the forest to the viewpoint over the village of Bré. It is the last village before the border with Italy. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to go and see it, but according to the internet there are interesting places to see. Through that village, one can go down to Gandria, which is also one of the popular tourist spots. From Gandria you can then take the bus back to Lugano. The view that day was amazing – I could see all the mountains, villages and towns in the Italian valley on the east side of Lago di Lugano.

From the viewpoint, I set off along a dusty road to the restaurant, the exterior of which is showed with more than one photo on the Internet. I heard some rustling along the way and thought it was just other people walking through the forest, but it turns out this hill is home to some beautiful lizards! I even managed to take a picture of one and it made me very happy, I always loved them in the Czech Republic.

At this moment, it was clear that I would not catch the scheduled train at 6:30, despite the high frequency of the cable cars. There is another viewpoint near the restaurant, but it is located in the garden of the restaurant and I didn’t want to spend a lot of money and wait God knows how long for service, moreover, because it was so hot that day, all the hills were the same blue. In the end, I went above the restaurant from where you can get back to the cable car and the view was pretty cool for me (and free yay):

After I took a hundred photos that looked the same, I tried the local toilet (they are also hard to find in Lugano, but they are very nice at the top of the Monte Bré cable car) and took the cable car down. I have to admit that I pushed the cable car with my eyes to catch the train. On the way back, I stopped at an ice cream shop and bought a lemon sorbet, which was nothing special, but as a sweet spot after such a great day trip, it was worth it.

One of the biggest killers and my stupidity was going up those crazy stairs back to the train station. At the same time, two local men were there and they were using those stairs for exercise – they would run up them and then back down and repeat. I think they’ve done it two or three times before I made it to the top. So I looked at the map to see if it was possible to get out elsewhere and I don’t know if I was already at those stairs and I wouldn’t have caught the 7:30 train, or why I didn’t pay for the local train (it might be free with STP), which goes from the city center to the station, but my knees thanked me. And btw, my train was 30 minutes late, if I had known, I could have taken the ride. It was delayed because we were waiting for a train from Venice – or so a local woman tried to explain to me in German-Italian. It was the first and last time public transport was delayed during my stay in Switzerland. As an excuse they gave us Appenzeller Bärli-Biber and oh my goodness, I’ve never had anything so good. Gingerbread cookie filled with apricot filling. It is said to be quite a popular snack of local people. The very next day, I bought one at Coop and brought it home to my mom and friends. Oh, and in the end we left Lugano without any Venice passengers. Oops.

I got to the hotel at 11 and I was dying a little, but Lugano is simply worth it. If you are ever in Milan or at Lago di Como, and you have more time, I definitely recommend a trip to Lugano. One hour from Milan by car, 40 minutes from Lake Como. If you don’t have a car, then the bus takes 1 hour from the lake, and you can get from Milan in an hour and a quarter by train or Flixbus.

I think Lugano is a great destination for everyone – for swimming lovers there is a lake, for hiking lovers there are crazy views from all the mountains around the lake, the town has beautiful architecture and there are more popular spots around Lugano itself – for example Morcote. I know that I definitely want to visit Lugano again sometime and maybe even spend a few days there.

What I liked about Lugano

Even though I found locals less friendly and that they had that high-end Italian snob face, I have to say that I had three very nice meetings. The first was when I came down with the cable car and took out my camera to take a picture. Cars drove slowly past me, but one lady stopped completely and called out to me from her car window because my USB cable had fallen out of my backpack. It’s silly, but one can never have enough USB cables. The second meeting was at the local Coop when I went there for the second time on my way to the station. I decided to buy a banana. Here in Ireland, all supermarkets weigh fruit and vegetables at the till. In this Coop, they weighed each other in their fruit-veg section. The cashier lady (the same one who served me the first time) got up and went to weigh my banana. When it dawned on me, I immediately started apologizing, but she was completely fine. It was probably due to the fact that they were closing in a few minutes and there was no one behind me and my appearance/demeanor must have shouted “tourist!”. However, it reminded me of what happened to me at Tesco a few weeks ago (I wanted to buy packaged bread rolls – these always have to have barcodes, at the self-service checkout I noticed that the barcode was missing. I approached the staff there to ask if she didn’t have it handy somewhere – in those smart books of theirs. Instead, the Irish woman snapped at me that I had to go back to the bakery section myself, that she couldn’t. So I really respected this Swiss lady). The third then back by the lake before I crossed the road to climb the killer stairs. One girl asked me to take a picture of her and her boyfriend. She was nice, but mostly they were both very nicely dressed and she didn’t want much background, so I guess I made some locals happy that night (maybe).

What I didn’t like about Lugano

Toiiiiiilets. I still don’t know where they have them in the city. People too. They are very good looking and skinny haha no, like it was a bit of a culture shock. Besides, when I was taking pictures, no one shied away, or they looked at me like back at home, hmm.