The lesser-known Swiss lake town of Locarno promises the greatest quantity of sunshine of this mountainous land. 2,300 hours!! If however you are visiting in the early spring, don’t be surprised if you do wake up and find the lake has disappeared under a thick blanket of fog. This is yet another beauty of Lago Maggiore. The sun will burn through and reveal the magic through the morning.
Springtime in Locarno may be too late for skiing and too early for swimming at the Lido. It is however the excellent time to visit. Not too busy and the Camelia festival is in full swing. A walk through to the end of the picture-perfect Old Town will take you up to Castello Visconteo. A more adventurous walk is through Verzasca Valley; the Sentierone (Long Trail) winds along the emerald green river, bubbling pools and crumbling cow barns.
After all this walking, where better to go for a bite to eat than one of the grotti.
Satisfy your ravenous appetite with a taste of traditional ticinese cooking. Under the vines at Osteria Chiara, lean back against the stone walls and order a merlot with a hint of blueberries and chocolate. Seated at the granite tables, savour the richness of the osso bucco as the sunsets over the lake. Your day is complete.
As the gateway to the South of France, Valence bridges many polarities. History, art, and architecture are well-represented with an outstanding diversity, ranging from La Maison Mauresque (The Moorish House) to the stoic Romanesque Cathedral of St. Apollinaire. Housed in a former convent, the International Shoe Museum has something for everyone, not just the shoe-lovers amongst us.
Saturday mornings buzz with life at the market in Place des Clercs. It is also worthwhile to simply sit outside with a morning coffee and watch the world go by. Stepping out into nature, Valence’s parks are filled with rare trees, namely the Parc Jouvet cypresses and the cedar groves at Parc Jean-Pedrix. These two outdoor areas are the antithesis of each other but both are ideal for a gentle stroll. For those looking for a little more activity, grab a bike and head out on the V63 cycle route which twists and turns alongside the Isère river.
Feeling the hunger pangs after all this activity, grab La Suisse to eat. Confected after Pope Pius VI died in Valence in 1799, this pastry is in fact a shortbread man dressed in the uniform of the Vatican’s Swiss Guard. Coming from Switzerland, we love those little reminders of home. Need something more substantial to eat, Maison Pic, under the direction of Anne-Sophie Pic, is a third-generation Michelin starred restaurant. It is definitely one of the many reasons to visit Valence. Cocktails in the relaxing water garden, lunch in the wooden splendour of André or a fine dining experience in Pic: the choice is yours.
Orta San Giulio
A hidden jewel amongst the Italian lakes, Orta San Giulio is positioned halfway down Lago d’Orta.
A medieval village which is renowned for its two Michelin-starred restaurants: Locanda di Orta and Cannavacciuolo’s two-star restaurant at Villa Crespi. At his Moorish mansion, you will be taken on a gastronomic journey from the South to the North of Italy with a selection of carefully chosen accompanying wines. If you’d prefer a good Barolo, Matteo, the villa’s sommelier, will have one amongst his fine cellar. If you wish extend this luxuriously gourmet experience with an overnight
stay in such an outlandish architectural folly; however, a better view of the lake will be had at one of the many other hotels or villas in Orta or hidden in the hills.
It is here that you will discover the Sacro Monte concealed amongst the forest. Wandering amongst the twenty chapels devoted to the life of St. Frances of Assisi with their frescoes and woodcarvings, the vista across the lake becomes evident. Positioned in the middle, the island of San Giulio beckons. Rent a vaporetto for half a day to get a view of the mountains from the lake, but don’t forget to stop off at the island. Immerse yourself in the life of the Benedictine nuns as they walked around this islet on the Way of Silence. Return to the mainland for aperitivo at one of the many bars in the main square for the ideal end to a first-rate day.
Though Switzerland may be lacking in maritime coasts, it is certainly makes up for it in lakes. However, a part of the hinterlands of Bern really is very watery. Translated as “many fountains”, the Lauterbrunnen Valley boasts a phenomenal 72 waterfalls; the most famous of which are the Staubbach Falls and the Trümmelback Falls. Inspiring the German writer Goethe, the Staubbach tumbles 300 metres down a vertiginous cliff; while the Trümmelbach Glacier is the source of the Trümmelbach Falls which are in fact ten separate glacier waterfalls corkscrewing out of the face of the mountain.
The village of Lauterbrunnen is a postcard idyll of Swiss alpine life, located at the base of the imposing mounts of the Eiger, Jungfrau and Monch. With its extensive choice of accommodation, the village attracts a diverse clientele. There is truly something for everyone. This part of the world is particularly famous for its winter activities; nonetheless, summertime is full of bonafide adventures and adventurers. Climbers climb, paragliders glide. Looking for a gentler approach, then stroll along the Lutschinen Promenade as it meanders beside the Lutschine River; or hike up higher. Lush and fecund, “Milka” cows graze here. The pastures of the Bernese Oberland are sprinkled with meadow flowers. Breathe a breath of refreshing mountain air as you take it all in.
Guarding the gardens at the Hotel Punte Est, two imposing stone lions look out across the Ligurian Sea. At the far end of Finale Ligure, you are a world away from the hustle and bustle of the town. Just as Puccini recorded the beauty of the sparkling waters in his compositions, this villa was built for another great musician and composer of the Milanese opera house, La Scala. At the bottom of the hill, observe the Italians in their quintessential summer habitat, the beach club. Bagni Est Finale, with its strict lines of brightly coloured umbrellas is a traditional sight repeated all along the Italian Riviera.
Closer into the centre of town, the renovated Hotel Moroni is steeped in the traditional glory of days gone by. Surrounded by palm trees, the boardwalk just across the road is filled with restaurants that promise typical Mediterranean delights of calamari and branzino. A short walk from Finale Ligure back towards the hills is the medieval town of Finalborgo. Take a step back in time. The walled city is full of character and is popular with mountain bikers. If you are particularly hungry after a hard day on the beach or in the saddle, the best place to go for a filling pasta meal is Sotto Il Santo. Not your typical Italian restaurant: alternative flours and even gluten-free are as relevant on this menu.
Either side of Finale Ligure, villages spread out up and down the coast. Don’t drive by as each one is unique in its own way.
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