This is a part of Switzerland that has long attracted writers, artists and mystics. On the hillside above Ascona, Monte Verita (“Hill of Truth”) was a commune before such things were fashionable. Founded in 1900 as a “co-operative vegetarian colony” by the son of a Belgian businessman, it quickly became a mecca for well-heeled anarchists and naturists, freemasons and freethinkers, European Buddhists and earnest alternative types of all descriptions. The better-known visitors included Carl Jung, Erich Maria Remarque, Paul Klee and Rudolf Laban. Later a Bauhaus hotel was built here by a German baron; newly restored, it’s now the centerpiece of the Monte Verita conference centre. The Hill of Truth aims to be once again, as the website proclaims, “a magnet for the convergence of ideas”, but comes across today as a melancholy place, with its empty, leaf-strewn swimming pool and post-utopian houses abandoned in the woods.

Description: Monte Verita (“Hill of Truth”)

Monte Verita (“Hill of Truth”)

Though he visited Monte Verita, it was the little doll’s-house village of Montagnola, on the ridge of the Morcote peninsula south of Lugano, that German novelist Hermann Hesse chose to make his home, first in rented property and then, from 1931 until his death in 1962, in his own house. It was here in Montagnola, in between painting and gardening, that Hesse did his best work, from Klingsor’s Last Summer (a paean to the life-enhancing power of the south and its colours) to The Glass Bead Game.

Description: German novelist Hermann Hesse

German novelist Hermann Hesse

The Hermann Hesse Museum in Torre Camuzzi – in a wing of the first house the writer rented in Montagnola – is a touching tribute to the man and the place he loved. We get to see his panama hat, his gardening shears and his Smith Premier No.4 typewriter; but the lasting impression is the sense of a wandering soul finding its perch. “The sun shines more intensely here,” he wrote of his adopted home; “the mountains are rosier… wine, almonds, figs and chestnuts grow, and the people are good, civilized and friendly.” The tourist board could hardly have put it better; but after a week of Ticino sun and cool Alpine water, good Ticinese food and wine, courtesy, gentilezza and mountain air, I knew exactly what Hesse meant.

Description: Museum Hermann Hesse Montagnola

Museum Hermann Hesse Montagnola

Where to stay & eat

Prices for restaurants are for dinner for two, without wine

Lugano and the morcote peninsula

Description: Villa Principe Leopoldo hotel

Villa Principe Leopoldo hotel

The most characterful of a handful of five-star hotels on Lake Lugano, Villa Principe Leopoldo (5 via Montalbano, Lugano; 00 41 91 985 88 55;; villas from SFr540, about $555) combines the aristocratic seclusion of a garden setting with the warmth of a private villa. In the grounds, the Residence Principe Leopoldo offers a shade less history and opulence, but also lower rates (from about $415). The most romantic lakeside retreat in the area is a modest three-star, Elvezia al Lago (21 sentiero di Gandria Castagnola; 00 41 91 971 44 51;; doubles from $200), which can only be reached on foot or by boat. For a light lunch or dinner accompanied by a glass or bottle from the extensive wine list, head for city-centre classic II Bottegone del Vino (3 via Magatti, Lugano; 00 41 91 922 76 89; closed Sun; about $110). Up in the leafy suburb of Massagno, the outside tables of II Grotto della Salute (4 via dei Sindicatori; 00 41 91 966 04 76; closed Sat/Sun; about $85) are shaded by four huge plane trees; the menu is light, featuring big salads and Mediterranean mains such as seared tuna with cherry tomatoes. High above Morcote, the Alpe Vicania (Carona road, Vico Morcote; 00 41 91 980 24 14;; closed Mon; about $91) serves ricotta-filled tortelloni and polenta with various sauces beneath a pergola. The Morcote peninsula’s only real boutique hotel, Dellago (9 Lungolago Motta; 00 41 91 649 70 41;; doubles from $215) has funky rooms and lake views the restaurant (about $130) serves Mediterranean dishes with an Asian twist; its wine list service and view are all outstanding.


The Internazionale (35 Viale Stazione; 00 41 91 825 4333;; doubles from $215) is one of the city’s best hotels for business or pleasure; recently renovated, it has functional but stylish bedrooms, efficient service and free Wi-Fi. Two restaurants stand out: the Michelin – starred Locanda Orico (13 via Orico; 00 41 91 825 1518;; closed Sun/Mon; about $215), where chef Lorenzo Albrici serves authoritative dishes that draw on influences from Sicily to the Pyrenees; and near-neighbour Osteria Mistral (2 via Orico; 00 41 91 825 1518;; close Sun; menu $60 to $100), whose maverick chef Luca Brughelli conducts dinners on culinary mystery tours (you merely choose the number of course), which in my case began with one of the best thing, I ate in Ticino: a delicately spicy melon, cucumber and tomato gazpacho with a dollop of goats’ milk ice cream.

Description: Bellinzona


Locarno & Ascona

Among Ascona’s four luxury hotels, it’s the Giardino (10 via del Segnale, Ascona; 00 41 91 785 8888;; doubles from about $410) that is currently the most convincing, thanks to its service, relaxing classic/ contemporary décor and spa facilities. It also has, in Ecco (closed Mon/ Tues; about $260), Ticino’s top restaurant of the moment, where young chef Rolf Fliegauf offers food which, he says “moves from molecular cuisine to focus on genuine ingredients and authentic flavours,” In a lane of the old town, the Riposo (4 Scalinata della Ruga, Ascona; 00 41 91 791 3164;; doubles from about $185) is the best mid-range option, with tasteful, Mediterranean-hued rooms, a heated outdoor pool and a magnificent lake-view roof terrance. Lorcano hotels tent to be business-oriented; but the centrally-placed Millennium (2 via Dogana Nuova; 00 41 91 759 6767;; doubles from $135) is an exception, with its 11-room hotel with dinky, jazz-themed rooms. Another good city-centre option in old Locarno is the Caffe dell’Arte (Via Cittadella 9; 00 41 91 751 9333;; doubles from $260), a stylish seven-room B&B with the bonus of the town’s most laid-back café, pasticceria and aperitivo bar. Back in Ascona, Seven (2 via Moscia; 00 41 91 780 7788;; closed Mon/Tues lunch; about $225) is the place to be seen portside; it’s a cool, minimalist lounge bar of a restaurant with seductive, Mediterranean fusion cuisine. In Locarno, the Locanda Locarnese (1 via Bossi 1; 00 41 91 756 8756;; close Sun; about $130), off Piazza Grande, does a good range of seasonal Italianate main courses. Every local’s favourite country restaurant – though only a 10-minute drive from the centre of Locarno – is Centovalli, in the former station building of Ponte Brolla (CH-6652 Ponte Brolla; 00 41 91 796 1444;; closed Mon/Tues about $90), it has outside tables under a lovely vine-covered pergola; risottos and succulent steaks are the kitchen’s star turns.

Description: Road locarno ascona switzerland

Road locarno ascona switzerland

Valleys and mountains

Most visitors who overnight here tend to be either second-home owner or walkers staying in hostels. But there are a few good places to stay, the Valle Maggia, north-west of Locarno, has two equally lovely country B&Bs, the cute and artsy Casa Ambica (00 41 91 753 1012;; doubles from $165) in Gordevio and the simply cute Ca’ Serafina (00 41 91 756 50 60;; doubles from $175) in Lodano. And at the confluence of the Centovalli and the Valle Onsernone, hotel/restaurant. Tentazioni (Via Cantonale, Cavigliano; 00 41 91 780 7071;; doubles from $200; meals about $130) has friendly hosts, five cosy, contemporary rooms and creative Italian cuisine.

Description: The Maggia is a river in the Swiss canton of Ticino

The Maggia is a river in the Swiss canton of Ticino

Getting there

 Ticino is best accessed from Milan’s Malpensa airport, an hour from Lugano. EasyJet ( flies there from Gatwick, Luton and Edinburgh; Flybe ( from Birmingham and Manchester. Flight from the UK about 2 hours 30 minutes

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