Europe is one of those very rare continents where you can land in Italy for breakfast, and be in Switzerland by lunch. And if there ever was a town worth crossing the border for, it would be the Swiss city of Lugano.
An hour drive from Milan’s Malpensa Airport, Lugano is the largest holiday town in the region of Ticino, and with a stunning selection of natural sites, historic buildings, and a distinct Mediterranean flair, there are many reasons to plan a visit during your trip to Italy.
Whether you plan to visit Lugano as a day trip from Milan, or use it as your springboard to start exploring Switzerland, it’s cheap and easy to organize a shuttle bus, train, or private transfer (www.milanairporttransfers-italy.com).
The following are reasons to make the trip from Malpensa Airport to Lugano, and visit Switzerland while you’re visiting Italy!
Malpensa Airport to Lugano: Reasons to Visit Switzerland While in Italy
You Can Still Speak Italian
Located in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, Lugano is the largest city in the world with an Italian speaking majority outside of Italy.
It’s a Swiss city with an Italian accent!
All that Italian you learnt for your epic two weeks traveling through Italy? You can visit Switzerland and still understand the language!
Posh Cultural Scene
Positioned so closely to the designer capitol of the world, the sophisticated cultural scene from Milan has definitely made its mark in Lugano.
For those interested in shopping, cuisine and culture, there are posh designer boutiques, chic bars and pavement cafes to be found in the steep cobblestone streets. There are centers for the arts, museums, and tree-lined promenades; it’s a very fashionable city.
Standing out as one of Switzerland’s most important financial districts, there’s a lot of money in Lugano, and it shows, from it’s stately hotels, to banks, and flashy office buildings. Next to tourism, conferences, banking, and business are the biggest industries here.
One of Italy’s biggest draws is its ancient monuments and rich history. Though while wandering the streets of Rome the sheer volume of mass tourism can often become claustrophobic.
Lugano was settled by the Romans by the 1st century BC, and there are many monuments and Italiante Architecture to enjoy, without the crowds you would normally encounter in Italy.
The old centre of Lugano is packed with Italianate Lombardy style buildings and villas. Wandering around you’ll come across Renaissance and Baroque churches, Mediterranean style squares, and there is a small Italian enclave located on the southern shore of the lake called Campione d’Italia (translates to mean “Sample of Italy”).
You’ll also find many Venetian-style villages that surround Lake Lugano, from picturesque fishing villages on the lake, home to stepped streets and sleepy houses, and villages that hang off the slopes of the mountains.
Image: Max Stolbinsky (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
Stunning Scenic Beauty
Nicknamed the “Monte Carlo of Switzerland” for its Mediterranean scenery and laid back atmosphere, the actual city of Lugano sprawls luxuriously along the shores of a lush, mountain rimmed lake by the same name.
With the twin peaks of Monte Brè and Monte San Salvatore popping up behind the lake, this is a great base for hiking and mountain biking. There are many mountain biking trails (the largest network in Switzerland in fact!) that offer incredible views deep into the Alps.
Lugano is also conveniently located at the intersection of the Gotthard Panorama (runs from Lugano to Lucerne) and the Bernina Express (the highest transalpine railway in Europe), which are two of Switzerland’s most scenic train journeys.
It’s not uncommon for one day tourists to blitz into Lugano, arriving along the Gotthard Panorama route one day and taking off on the Bernina Express the next.
Things to do in Lugano in One Day
We recommend at least 2-3 days in Lugano, but only an hour out from Malpensa airport, Lugano is a fabulous option for a day trip from Milan.
There are many great things to do in Lugano, though the following are the highlights we recommend if you only have one day.
Morning: The Lake & Old Town
Spend the morning at the city’s main attraction; it’s beautiful eponymous lake. You can take one of the popular panoramic cruises, or just sit back and enjoy the view. Morning cruises last for 3 hours.
Located on Lake Lugano, you’ll then want to take a stroll around the Old Town (it’s traffic free and easily walk-able), including the 15th century cathedral of San Lorenzo. Built in the Middle Ages, there’s also an incredible view from here over the terracotta roofs of the old center.
Also keep an eye out for the Church of St. Mary of the Angels (Chiesa Santa Maria degli Angioli). The church dates back to 1499, and is known for housing the city’s best frescoes.
There are many lovely parks and gardens to explore inbetween the morning and the afternoon; one of the loveliest is Civico-Ciani with its long, tree-lined pathways, flower beds, and fountains.
The park is on the lake, and there are seriously stunning vistas of Monte Brè and Monte San Salvatore. Within the park you’ll also find The Natural History Museum, the Cantonal Library and the Villa Ciani.
Lunch: Lugano-style Piadine
It’s a pretty packed day, so you’ll want to pick up some lunch on the go. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a cultural treat.
Like the city, Lugano’s cuisine is very much a mix of both Switzerland and Italy. And nothing says this better than the Lugano-style piadine.
A piadina is a flatbread wrap where you create the fillings; a bit like a Mexican tortilla, but with a soft crust with your choice of ingredients. You can order it fresh or grilled, and it’s a great alternative to fast food.
A good place to stop for lunch is GianGusto, and you’ll have the choice to fill your piadine with cold cuts, prawns or ham to a range of cheese, salad and vegetables like aubergine.
Afternoon: Choose a Mountain
After you’ve picked up some lunch, plan on spending your afternoon on one of the city’s two mountains. It’s a 20 minute lakeside stroll (in opposite directions) to the funicular stations for either Monte Brè or Monte San Salvatore.
Both mountains have observation points that offer incredible views over the entire Lake Lugano Valley, and on a clear day these views can often stretch as far as the Monte Rosa and Bernese Alps. And both offer opportunities for hiking and biking.
The Olive Tree Trail is a reason to visit the slopes of Monte Brè; a 3.5 km trail lined with groves of olive trees that are hundreds of years old, and has played a big part in the heritage of the region. You also have the chance to visit the charming traditional village of Brè.
Monte San Salvatore offers the same 360 degree views of the valley, the lake, and the Alps, though the additional attractions here are a fossil research museum, azalea gardens, and the opportunity to hike to the picturesque village of Morcote.
If you choose to walk down instead of catching the life, the hike should take just over an hour. Both mountains have restaurants at the top.
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