Most likely your image of Switzerland features skiers kicking up rooster tails of powdery snow as they speed down towering mountains. That is most definitely Switzerland.
But there is another Switzerland in Ticino where you will delight in the Swiss version of Italian culture. In Lugano, you will enjoy the best of both worlds–Swiss efficiency and the Italian joy of cuisine, wine and life.
Hotel Splendide Royal on Lake Lugano
Easy to reach from anywhere in Switzerland by Swiss Rail, Lugano is a forty-five minute flight from Geneva or Zurich.
The 5-Star Hotel Splendide Royal is a member of the Swiss Deluxe Hotels, Leading Hotels of the World and part of the Roberto Naldi Collection. Built as a lake-front palace in the 19th Century, the large public spaces, tall windows and marble columns give the hotel a comfortable, old world grandeur.
The original building has 48 rooms with hi-tech services and elegant bathrooms with double sinks. In 1984, a new building added 45 executive suites. The new rooms are efficient and comfortable but the rooms in the palace have more charm.
The original building is beautiful. Ask for a tour of any unoccupied rooms. Like snapshots of the past, some rooms have handcrafted wood inlaid doors, others have intimate sitting rooms, golden brown parquet floors, high ceilings and chandeliers.
No two rooms have the same antique furnishings nor the same color scheme. That is the result of a design that evolved over a hundred and twenty-nine years.
The most elegant rooms were originally on the first and second floors. Before elevators were installed in the 1900s, the guest rooms were on the lower floors. The upper floors were for the servants travelling with the guests. That explains why the “royal” rooms at Splendide are on the first instead of on the top floors. Once elevators were available, the upper floor rooms were remodeled to give them an elegance like those on the lower floors.
During the warm season, breakfast is served on the terrace facing the lake. On sunny mornings, you will be very happy with the setting and the incredibly generous buffet with fresh fruit juices, cereals, fresh fruit, dried fruit, charcuterie, smoked salmon, a selection of cheeses, yogurt, hot entrees, breads, muffins and sweet pastries. If you don't see what you want on the buffet table, order egg dishes and freshly brewed coffees and
teas from the wait staff.
Explore Lugano's old city
As soon as you have unpacked, you will want to walk fifteen minutes north to the old town on the shaded, lake front promenade. With a view of the lake, the walk will allow you to unplug and refocus on the pleasures of life. A breeze off the lake passes through the leaves of the horse chestnut and linden trees. The small boats moored in the harbor sway with the motion of the waves. Only the buzzing of motor scooters and the rumble of a passing diesel truck reminds you that you are in a busy, modern city.
Before you reach the old town, you will see LAC (Lugano Arte e Cultura) in Piazza Bernardino Luini. A cultural center with an auditorium for performances, an art museum and lecture halls, the sleek, modern building would be at home in London, New York or Rome. The impressive structure makes good use of floor to ceiling glass windows that look out onto the city and Lake Lugano.
There are popular dance and musical performances in the acoustically superior auditorium. Since the shows frequently sell out, ask the concierge to help you get tickets.
You will want to spend the better part of the day exploring the permanent collection and the temporary exhibitions. The curatorial staff uses the large spaces to great advantage. When I visited, “And Now the Good News” was the special exhibit.
And Now the Good News_MASI Lugano (1) ©LAC 2016_foto Sabrina Montiglia
Prints, sculptures, collages and paintings from the collection of Annette and Peter Noble explored the ways in which we consume the news. The perception of an event sometimes collides with an alternative reality as in photo montages by Joan Fontcuberta, “Googlegram: Abu Ghraib,” and Rashid Rana, “Veil V.” In both, the large images seen from a distance are familiar–a U.S. solider mistreating an Iraqi prisoner in one and several women in burqas in the other–but examined close up you see a pixilation of hundreds of small photos commenting subversively on the larger image.
A few steps from LAC, you will reach the medieval church of Santa Maria degli Angioli at the entrance to the upscale shopping area, the Via Nassa pedestrian mall.
Before you indulge in worldly goods, take a moment to step inside the church and admire a fresco attributed to Bernardino Luini (1480-1532), a disciple of Leonardo di Vinci.
Your eyes will take a moment to adjust as you enter the darkened interior. The paint has faded with time, but the vibrant images of human beings in states of struggle and devotion are exquisitely observed.
On Via Nassa you can window shop and fill your shopping bags with goodies from Louis Vuitton, Havana House, Bulgari, Ermenegildo Zegna, Versace, Patek Phillippe, Hermes, Massimo Dutti and Cartier. Cafes with tea and coffee, take-away shops selling grilled foods and sticky pastries and small restaurants line the street. Via Nassa leads to crisscrossing streets and plazas with outdoor cafes, art galleries and clothing stores.
Just off Via Nassa, in Lugano's main square Piazza Della Riforma, also called Piazza Grande, you will happily enjoy an afternoon people watching and having a bite to eat.
On a day when it was overcast and drizzling, I spent several hours at Restaurant Tango. I ordered a glass of Preludio (Bianco del Ticino, Chiodi Ascona) and a plate of spaghetti with clams, cherry tomatoes and fresh basil. Walking around made me hungry, so I was happy that the wine was accompanied with complimentary bowls of roasted peanuts, spiced green olives and a mixed plate of bruschetta topped with chopped tomatoes and basil and small bites of pizza with tomato sauce, onions and dried oregano.
The rain had stopped by the time the spaghetti was served. The claims were fresh and clean tasting. A simply prepared pasta can be so delicious. The Preludio was light and refreshing, I ordered a second glass, something I rarely do.
When I walked back to the hotel, the sun was shining brightly. The lake and surrounding mountains, Generoso, San Salvatore and Monte Bre, were framed against the dark blue sky. Bicyclists and joggers shared the promenade with children chasing one another as their parents walked hand in hand.
I promised myself, the next time I walked to the old city, I would bring a novel so I could sit on one of the benches facing the lake and enjoy the view while I read my book.
The concierge desk will make your visit memorable
While the internet has simplified travel, the best way to make your visit to Lugano exceptional is to have a conversation with a concierge.
Certainly the concierge can make reservations at restaurants, book winery tours, obtain tickets to museums and music venues and arrange for a car service. But the Hotel Splendide Royal concierge desk is happy to arrange more ambitious efforts.
Concierge Giovanni Lia told me a story about the extent the concierge desk will go to satisfy a guest's wishes. A guest, a man, had been window shopping on Via Nassa. As he described the experience to Lia, he had a love-at-first sight experience. Smitten with a woman who worked in a shop, he wanted to send her a 1,000 long-stemmed red roses. Lia explained that long-stemmed red roses are not easily found in Lugano. And a 1,000? Impossible. The man was not to be denied. He insisted. Nothing less than a 1,000 long-stemmed red roses had to be delivered to her shop the next day.
The concierge staff spent hours making phone calls to florists in the area. Against all odds, the roses were found. As requested, they were delivered the next day.
The woman was amazed by the roses that filled her shop. Unfortunately for the passion-struck man, the woman was happily married.
The man took the news stoically. He stayed until the end of the week. When he checked out, he thanked the concierge desk for their efforts. As Lia said ruefully, the concierge desk could supply the roses but not the love the man desired.
The first time I visited the hotel a few years ago, I benefited from the concierge desk's special efforts. When I checked in, I asked for help arranging travel to Venice where I was meeting my wife. Giovanni Lia called the train station and was advised that a transportation strike was scheduled for the next day. Labor strikes in Italy, he explained, are threatened all the time. Often they don't happen, but when they do, they can last for days or longer.
He advised me to leave immediately. The hotel car rushed me to the station. Within the hour I was on the train. I had barely arrived in Venice when the strike began and lasted several days. Even if he could not help the love-struck guest, Lia helped me. Had he not taken my situation in hand, my wife and I would have missed our romantic weekend.
Exploring Lugano and Ticino
With more time to explore Lugano this trip, Giovanni Lia aided me again. After we talked about my interests, he marked up a map with a walking tour of the area. He created a list of restaurants, local museums, music venues, art galleries and formal gardens that he thought I would enjoy.
Close to the hotel he suggested day trips.
A few blocks from the hotel, a funicular–a narrow-gauge train pulled by a cable–goes to the top of Mount San Salvatore. At the last stop, I hiked the a hundred feet and climbed up the narrow, circular staircase to the roof of an ancient stone church. On the observation deck I rested for a minute and leaned against the pitted wrought iron railing. The view was breath taking. The lake is far larger than I expected. From that 360-degree viewing deck I could see that the lake curves around San Salvatore and stretches east farther than I could see.
To visit Gandria on the other side of the lake, Lip suggested taking the ferry that leaves from the Paradiso dock across the street. A twenty-minute ride from the hotel, the 14th century village is an artists' enclave. Shops, small restaurants and residences line a maze of walkways and stone staircases going up and down the base of Monte Bre.
In Gandria, I was again amazed that I was in Switzerland and not on the Mediterranean coast. In the microclimate of Lake Lugano, I walked up stone pathways past giant cacti, oleanders, ancient olive trees and towering palm trees. The weather here is comfortably warm in summer and in the winter, even on the coldest days, if there is snow, it quickly melts.
Lia also suggested longer trips because Lugano is a gateway to Ticino.
With a rental car, I could go to Lostallo in the San Bernardino Pass a half hour away. I could ride the Fondue Express Mesolcina, drink kirsche and eat cheese produced by the cows of a local farmer.
A few hours further into the countryside, I could explore the three castles of Bellinzona and walk along alpine streams to enjoy the serenity of the Swiss mountains. Or I could visit the Verzasca Valley where James Bond jumped off the Contra Dam in the movie GoldenEye. Bungee jumping nearby is available, but do not scream when you throw yourself into the gorge below because that would not be secret-agent cool.
Fine dining, fine wine
When you stay at Hotel Splendide Royal, you will want to have dinner at the fine dining restaurant La Veranda.
If you have an early dinner, you will want to ask for a table in front of one of the large windows draped delicately with shears and pleated, gold and white curtains. The curtains act as a proscenium arch, framing the drama of the setting sun as the wind-rippled surface of the lake darkens until Lake Lugano and Mt. Geleroso become one.
Executive Chef Domenico Ruberto is a transplant from southern Italy. He brought a love of fresh, seasonal, local products to his La Veranda kitchen. Serving the best dishes requires exceptional ingredients produced by farmers and vintners who are passionate about their products. In his home in Calabria on Italy's southern coast, for Ruberto, that meant developing relationships with the men and women who sold quality fruit, vegetables, charcuterie, cheese, wines, meat, poultry and seafood.
In Lugano he sought out the best local purveyors. He crafted his menu to celebrate the two “souths” by using products from the two regions. For a tasting, he prepared a local lake perch, with caperberries from Calabria. Sommelier Simone Ragusa paired the perch with a white merlot from Fratelli Valsangiacomo SA Mendrisio. The dish was a rhapsody of textures and flavors with fresh baby lettuce leaves, a celery puree, crunchy caperberries and a quenelle of salted almonds.
Ragusa paired the Valsangiacomo with several of the dishes because the white Merlot is unique to Ticino. Made with the Merlot grape, the skin is removed to produce a light, refreshing white wine that can be dry or fruity depending on the vintner.
If you enjoy wine, you will want to make an appointment to visit the wine cellar (Il Forziere del Vino) opposite La Veranda. In that scantum santorum Ragusa has created a homage to the wine producers in the region. A map on the wall shows the different Ticino wine growing areas. Ragusa compiled a Carta dei Vini with profiles of his favorite winemakers and descriptions of their wines.
After you have enjoyed a tasting of local wines, you will most certainly discover ones you love. Because very few Swiss wines are exported, Ragusa will suggest that you bring home bottles of your favorites.
When you are home with family and friends, you will have many stories to tell about your stay at the Hotel Splendide Royal and your exploration of Lugano. Bringing home local wines is a great way to share your travel experience. Not only will you have photographs to show them, but you can pour everyone a glass of Ticino wine.
When you go: Hotel Splendide Royal, Riva Antonio Caccia, 7 - 6900 Lugano, Switzerland
Ph. +41(0)919857711 - Fax +41(0)919857722, http://www.splendide.ch, email@example.com