After seeing the beauty of Switzerland in the mixture of urban and nature in Zürich, and then the smaller mountainside villages in Malans and Chur, I wasn't sure how much more this stunning country could charm me.
Then we arrived in the little town named Lugano.
Lugano was different than the other cities we had visited, for a few reasons. This small, lake-side town is Italian-speaking, rather than the Swiss-German that dominates the majority of the country. This was music to my ears. Swiss-German is beautiful to hear, but I found that I have major struggles with the language. Frustrated because I'm normally solid with languages, I was relieved to be hearing familiar sounds of Italian in Lugano. Lugano also tends to be overshadowed by the flashier Lake Como (hello, George Clooney), but I think we stumbled upon the better gem of the two. Less touristy, but just as beautiful.
Being right near the country border between Switzerland and Italy, Lugano's Italian influences resonate everywhere- from the trees in the neighboring town of Morcote, the architecture and design, the delicious classic Italian dishes, and the relaxed pace of life.
The city is centered around Lac (Lake) Lugano, and is a walking-friendly town for most destinations. We had just under two days to experience as much as possible, and unfortunately on the last morning when we were planning to venture out to San Salvatore for the well-known panoramic view of the lakes and mountains, it was unexpectedly raining with so much fog we wouldn't have been able to see much. We were so charmed with our experience here though, that we didn't feel too badly about missing it.
The two major experiences that made this trip to Lugano so special was our beautiful hotel and the lake cruise, so we'll kick things off with those!
109 years ago, this historic hotel was built by the Schmid family on some prime real estate in the heart of Lugano, right on the lake. Hotel International au Lac has been a family-run business since day one, and the attention to detail and providing a warm, personable stay is outstanding.
Upon arrival, we got to try some local Ticino wine and enjoy the beautiful view from the small balcony overlooking the lake right by the bar. The lobby also connects to a beautiful meeting area, a reading room, and the warm dining area with complimentary breakfast every morning. The breakfast service was amazing- the buffet spread was massive, and I loved that real silver silverware and coffeepots were used, alongside the classic linen tablecloths. Homey touches make all the difference to me!
Everything you would expect of a luxury hotel is provided by Hotel International au Lac, and it is extremely clean (something I am rather picky about!). Also, I had the best sleep of the entire trip in those comfortable Swiss-made beds. Whatever is in those mattresses, I'd like to bring home with me.
While it is an old hotel, I was truly impressed with the obvious efforts to keep the amenities up to date as possible with constant renovations. This hotel truly masters the balance of keeping up-to-date with modern renovations, while preserving the unique history of the family hotel. They have a room (pictured above) dedicated to showcasing their favorite things from the hotel throughout its evolution. Everything from old telephones, radio systems, books, porcelain bathing basins-- they captured the essence of the hotel. We had so much fun perusing, and made sure to sign the guestbook before we departed. They have every guestbook on file since the inception of this place!
When they had first told me they had a garden and a pool out back, I was not expecting the grandeur of this. When you first walk outside, you're greeted by lush greenery everywhere, and a fun life-sized chessboard. Walk up a few stairs, and you reach the pool and lounging area, which is the perfect place to read a book in the serene surroundings. My favorite part though, was this one stone table that was shaded by a little roof of leaves, overlooking the lake and mountain. Sitting there for a moment is a memory I'll not soon forget.
Hotel International au Lac truly had it all: hospitality, location, amenities, cleanliness, historical aesthetic, and charm. If looking for a place while you visit Lugano, I highly recommend checking them out. It's romantic and perfect for a couples getaway, but also has a welcoming family vibe for all ages. A big thanks to the Schmid family for welcoming us for the most wonderful stay!
What's the best way to see a city that is centered around a lake? Lake cruise, hands down.
We hopped on a cruise to soak in all the sights, and to head over to a small neighboring village called Morcote. At least, this was our intention. Thanks to some miscommunication in Italian, we rushed onto a cruise that wasn't the line we were supposed to be on, so we had a little layover in a town called Melide. Melide is home to "Swiss Miniatur," essentially a small-scale version of Switzerland, built as a theme-park like attraction. While we didn't have enough time to stop by, it comes highly recommended.
We got to hang out with some swans, and walk around the boat docks. There is a serenity in the air in Switzerland that I've never quite experienced prior to this trip. After conversing with some locals, I realized that nature is so enmeshed in their day to day lives that it doesn't seem that extraordinary to them-- whereas with little New Yorker me, I was practically giddy with all of these beautiful sights. I think Mother Nature did some of her best work in Switzerland.
After boarding our correct cruise, we were on our way to Morcote!
Morcote is the village at the south tip of the major part of the lake. We had about two hours to kill, so we strolled all the way to the end of the bend, gazing up at all the colorful houses lining the streets. There's a big church, Santa Maria del Sasso, here as well, which if you have some extra time to explore, I hear you should! We had to turn around though and our stomachs were growling at us to feed them, so we stopped by this adorable restaurant. I can't exactly call it lakeside, since it really hangs over the lake, so it's more like dining on the actual lake. Naturally, we had to finish our meal off with some homemade gelato, and we were our our way back to the main area of Lugano.
Via Nassa is the main little road of shops. Mostly filled with higher-end brands, but also some smaller boutiques, it leads into the Piazza della Riforma. This piazza has no shortage of restaurants to choose from (side note: our first night, we had dinner at a place called Tango that was solid Italian food-- the carbonara had me thinking about it for days afterward!). Continue east through the Piazza onto Via Canova, and you'll reach the famous Parco Ciani Civico in a few short minutes. We arrived in perfect time for magic hour, and wandered around the park while the sun dipped behind the mountains.
Finally, I can't not mention this last recommendation for a little restaurant called La Tineria. This tiny hole in the wall (but actually, it's essentially an underground wine cellar) restaurant had some amazing Italian food. The pasta was cooked just perfectly, and the wine comes in these adorable ceramic mug-like bowls. Switzerland is also not cheap, but this place was one of the more affordable restaurants in the main area. It was a perfect date-night dinner for our last night in Lugano.