This Charming Lakeside Town Is Switzerland’s Mediterranean-Like Escape

The train had been extremely punctual and the pasta currently heaped onto my fork — perfection. If I didn’t know the actual border was a mere 15 minutes away, it would be nearly impossible to draw the line between Switzerland and Italy. Villages and vineyards scaled steep hillsides, waterside cafes stood sandwiched between a rocky shoreline and the storybook town promenade, and old-world architecture complemented narrow cobblestone streets demanding to be mindlessly wandered. The temperature was unmistakably hot; endless summer vibes hung in the air, and the sun shone so aggressively that the water sparkled in between bobbing sailboats. By Lauren Breedlove

Prosecco in hand, I took a break from my carb-fest and dipped my toes in the blue water. At first glance, it would be easy to assume that I was cooling off in the Mediterranean Sea — but I wasn’t even close. I was on the north shore of Lago Maggiore, which stretches so long that the portion I was wading in was actually part of landlocked Switzerland.

Image Credit: Lauren Breedlove

I was spending three days in the Swiss Riviera, a treasure of the Italian-speaking Ticino region, nestled on the southern side of the Swiss Alps and known for its mild climate — a contrast to the rest of the country. The natural trio of mountains, valleys, and the lake are straight out of a postcard, offering a fulfilling outdoor playground with plenty of Italian food and drink to fuel any adventure. The tiny village of Ascona had captured my heart in a matter of minutes; it was big on charm and proof that you don’t have to travel to the Mediterranean to feel like you’re in the Mediterranean.

Here’s why you should plan a trip to this lakeside town in Switzerland soon

Ascona
Image Credit: Lauren Breedlove

You know you’re in a special place when you can see Italy from your balcony. My home base was the Hotel Eden Roc, one of Swiss Deluxe Hotels’ luxurious and sustainable properties, as well as the only true beach resort in all of Switzerland. Inside, vibrant colors reflect Ticino’s character, and outside, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a bad view. By day, sounds of delight can be heard from boats on the lake, and by evening, live piano music wafts from the lounge while the property’s restaurants are filled to the brim with patrons indulging in delicious meals as the sun tucks itself behind the mountains.

It’s a true holiday escape; not a day passed without seeing guests in fluffy white robes cross the well-manicured lawns towards the pool or lake for their ritual morning swim, as I sipped my morning ritual: a perfectly executed cappuccino.

With two cultures blending seamlessly, visiting Ticino is like hitting the culinary jackpot. Some of the world’s most coveted cheese, chocolate, wine, and pasta can be found in Ascona and the surrounding areas. Local ingredients are celebrated on tables in restaurants and in authentic, family-run grottos.

Eat melt-in-your-mouth Swiss risotto; Ticino is the northernmost point to grow the traditionally Italian grain and it graces almost every menu in some form. Twirl fresh pasta that has no business being that delicious and wash it down with Swiss wines like the crisp Il Bianco di Chiara, a white merlot that became a personal favorite. Stuff your face with perfectly cooked polenta, brasato (stick-to-your-ribs stew), local meats and cheeses such as the addictive formaggio d’alpe (mountain cheese), and sweet torta di pane (bread cake). It’s a pinch-yourself situation for a foodie.

Lakeside town in Switzerland
Image Credit: Lauren Breedlove

The typical Ticinese grotto experience is one that shouldn’t be missed. These small establishments are scattered throughout Ticino, serving regional dishes from their family cookbooks to stone tables situated under the shade of a pergola or canopy of trees. Way back when, the setting was a cool cave where farmers kept their harvest in a dry place. A table would be perched on the edge, turning the outdoor space into a no-frills dining experience. They are the definition of a social gathering place, one to enjoy a leisurely meal with friends or family.

In addition to having four on-site restaurants, including the Michelin-starred La Brezza, Hotel Eden Roc hosts its own version of a grotto meal — a beachside Serata Ticinese under a leafy pergola once a week during the summer months. To experience some of the other grottos in the area, consider Grotto America in nearby Tegna, or Grotto Ticinese.

Ascona
Image Credit: Lauren Breedlove

Ascona has long since been a haven for writers, painters, and other artists. With such beauty, it’s obvious why so many, like Swiss expressionist Ignaz Epper, drew their inspiration from the Ticinese landscape. His old workshop and home, Casa Epper, sits at the forefront of the Eden Roc property, having been transformed into a gallery exhibition space for local artists and a museum. It also hosts weekly art courses in things like linoleum printing. I spent an afternoon absorbing the artsy culture doing just that, where I delighted myself with a make your own Ascona postcard project, taught by the resident artist Maddalena Mora.

Speaking of the arts, Ascona is big on festivals. Everything from flowers to street art, film, and music is celebrated throughout the year. In fact, its sister city is New Orleans, and it hosts a very popular jazz festival every June, something worth planning a vacation around. Or, come in the autumn for the Chestnut Festival and soak up the fall colours.

Lakeside town in Switzerland
Image Credit: Lauren Breedlove

Ticino as a whole is just begging to be explored. From indulgently slow strolls along the village promenade and live orchestra performances in the Piazza G. Motta to solo sunrise missions at Chiesa San Michele, a hillside church with an unbelievable view, and bike rides to the quiet neighboring village of Ronco, there’s something for everyone interest. Take a picnic lunch to the Brissago Islands, where you can wander the botanical garden in between bites, or grab the ferry to other lakeside villages, one more picturesque than the other. Don’t miss venturing into one of the unspoiled valleys Ticino is known for; a visit to Verzasca Valley’s cliffside Corippo, a stone village frozen in time, will leave you dazzled.

Or, take advantage of Hotel Eden Roc’s Moving Mountains program, designed to add value to every guest’s stay. It’s curated and led by the property’s outdoor butler (yes, this is a real job), who will take you on an adrenaline-pumping tandem paragliding adventure, a guided lake paddle in the marina’s kayaks, a trek at sunrise, or to mingle with other guests over a game of bocce in a place that the world champion of the game calls home (and sometimes even makes a surprise appearance).

Ascona offers the best of Italy and Switzerland with Mediterranean-like weather — it’s the stuff of dreams. The tiny village has, without a doubt, gained a permanent place in my daydreams. Monday through Friday afternoons, for the foreseeable future, I’ll have my “Ascona moment,” as I’ve deemed it — one where my mind drifts from everyday life to sipping an Aperol on the pier, people-watching on the promenade or drooling over a cotton-candy sunset in Switzerland’s unexpected Mediterranean escape.

This story first appeared on travelandleisure.com

Main and Feature Image Credit: Lauren Breedlove

Related: 10 Charming Small Towns Around the World You Can Visit by Train

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