«Palme e neve» define this most Italian of Swiss cantons in a nutshell. The shores of its lakes reflect an entirely Mediterranean lifestyle and nonchalance, while life in the mountains is harsh and rural.
The Grand Tour of Switzerland starts at Chiasso’s main customs post for our visitors arriving from Italy. The itinerary immediately heads for the mountains and the Muggio Valley. Less well-known but equally interesting are the Breggia Gorge and the Cement trail, near the former cement factory.
We arrive at Lake Lugano near Capolago, the starting point for the little train’s scheduled service taking visitors to Monte Generoso. The road follows the lake, crosses the Melide causeway and then branches left towards Morcote. This former fishing village offers views of Monte San Giorgio, which abounds with fossils. The road crosses the Collina d’Oro before stopping in Lugano, which should not be missed. You then head for Monte Ceneri and wave goodbye to southern Ticino (Sottoceneri). It might seem paradoxical but the Sopraceneri, or Upper Ticino, includes Switzerland’s lowest lying point at 193 metres above sea level, on the shore of Lake Maggiore. Locarno and Ascona, like Lugano, are resorts which radiate southern charm and offer a large number of excursions, for example to the Maggia Valley or the Verzasca Valley, well-known for James Bond’s spectacular jump from the dam in the film "Golden-Eye". At Bellinzona, a town with three remarkable castles, we join up with the main itinerary of the Grand Tour.
Drive from Mendrisiotto to Lugano via Morcote and the lake. Then pass over the Monte Ceneri to reach the Magadino plain and Lake Maggiore, with Locarno and Ascona.
Distance: 105 kilometres
Photo opportunity: The road via Morbio Inferiore and Castel San Pietro is not easy to find but is worth a detour. There are main roads from Melide to Lugano but the Morcote route is far more beautiful.
Excerpt from "Grand Tour of Switzerland" / Leg Chiasso – Bellinzona