I distinctly remember an intense feeling of anxiety that emerged one week after I had moved to Lugano, Switzerland. I was sitting in a public park straight out of Wes Anderson’s dreams (i.e., there was a vibrant pink castle) looking down at the city. Everywhere I looked the view was perfect — almost too perfect. The hedges were all evenly trimmed, the trashcans aligned, the buildings polished. I was convinced that nothing this “perfect” could possibly be real.
But here I am, four years later, still in Switzerland, and now completely adjusted to the Swiss ideals of living well. And while I have come to terms with the extraordinary level of cleanliness and energetic Wes Anderson-esque colors abundant throughout the country, the backdrop of mountains juxtaposed with a glistening lake have me constantly appreciating how lucky I am to actually live here.
If Lugano isn’t already on your bucket list, it should be. Nicknamed ‘Paradiso,’ the city of Lugano, which is located in the canton Ticino, sits on the Italian border, roughly one hour from Milan and 30 minutes from Lake Como. It is a small city with big views and a sub-tropical climate. The latter makes it perfect to visit anytime of the year, as the region gets more sun than anywhere else in Switzerland.
The best way to travel around Switzerland is by using its impressive public transportation system. From trains to trams to buses, the Swiss live up to their stereotype of being punctual. If you are planning on traveling to a few different Swiss cities, I highly recommend getting a train pass which will end up saving a lot of money. Download the SBB (Schweizerische Bundesbahnen) app to get information on all possible routes and prices. Supersaver tickets also happen to be a great deal, so if you know you are planning to use the train, check a day or so in advance and look for tickets with the “%” sign next to them. This means that they have low occupancy, so rates come at a large discount.
Villa Principe Leopoldo is that luxury hotel you end up spending way too much time in, but can justify because you are literally staying in a palace that overlooks the city. Although a bit far from downtown Lugano, the gentle ambiance more than makes up for the drive. It also offers a free local shuttle, which is helpful for those guests without a car. (Think old-school Italian villa.)
The View Lugano has an incredible view of Lugano’s lake. This boutique hotel with its modern touch is also well known for its luxurious spa. It’s worth a stay for its location central to downtown.
La Cucina di Alice is the type of restaurant that you want to spend hours drinking wine in on a rainy day. Romantic and cozy, it is located directly across from Lake Lugano, making this restaurant perfect anytime of year. Boasting a local and seasonal menu, my personal favorite is the Matcha Pasta Maltagliati.
If you are looking to people-watch in the city’s main square (the Piazza della Riforma), then Sass Cafe is the restaurant for you. This is where I bring all my friends who come to stay with me. Recommended dish: Paccheri Pasta with tomatoes, basil and parmesan. And you absolutely can’t leave without trying the chocolate lava cake for dessert. Overall, the food is fresh, simple and oh so good. They also serve an incredible house prosecco that pairs well with every dish.
Craving something healthy? Mauri Concept’s in-store cafe has got your back. I feel like I’m back in LA when I eat at this trendy spot. Part hair salon, part restaurant and part concept shop, Mauri offers vegan salads, bagels with avocado and fresh juices (as well as amazing haircuts).
If you only have a few hours in town, be sure to walk along the lake and through Parco Ciani. Green and lush scenery with swans waddling around, it is truly picturesque. After your walk, head over to the Lugano Arts and Cultural Museum (LAC, Lugano Arte e Cultura). The multi-purpose building opened in 2015 and has been putting on fascinating exhibitions ever since. The exterior itself is a work of art.
If you want even better views of the region, check out two nearby day hikes that are worth the effort. Monte San Salvatore is the shorter of the two and offers views of both Switzerland and Italy (around two-and-a-half hours from base to top and back). Monte Boglia, about an hour-and-a-half longer, offers sweeping views of the entire city and nearby mountain ranges. Trails are well marked and easy to follow.
If hiking really isn’t your thing, both mountains have funiculars that take you to breathtaking viewpoints. If you are more of a long, leisurely stroll type of person, the Gandria Trail walk (Sentiero di Gandria) is for you. Gandria is a lakeside village filled with 16th and 17th century Italian houses and restaurants serving local Ticense food.
Although Lugano is a rather quiet city, there are countless small bars and other options for drinks. The canton of Ticino produces wine — notably merlot — so a vast majority of the wines available are locally grown at nearby vineyards.
Il Fermento is an urban brewery that serves up German flatbreads to go along with their craft beers. Located right across from the lake, they are always busy, but they will make sure everyone finds a table no matter what. It’s an absolutely great stop for a late-night snack and drink.
Seven Lugano is many things. From the street view, you are greeted by a two-story lounge with a full bar that plays music late into the evening. On the top floor is a restaurant with views of the lake and incredibly fresh food. Hidden on the middle floor is a hip club playing the hits, open until 5am. Basically, it’s a one-stop shop for a guaranteed good night out.