A day in Lugano, Switzerland
Lugano, Switzerland is another world as compared to the more northern cities we have explored. As soon as our train pulled in we could feel life slow down just a bit. Our biggest regret was not spending more time in this region of Switzerland, we had just one full day to spend in Lugano and made the most of it.
We hopped off the Gotthard Panorama Express at Lugano’s main train station, the express’s last stop. Just beyond Lugano trains head into Italy.
Everyone departing the train heads down the funicular to the city, but our hotel for the evening was directly behind the station. A pink house sitting on the hill, the Hotel & Hostel Montarina is an oasis and quite the find for your Lugano stay. (Read our full hotel review here.)
In the morning Jeff and the Big Little, our early risers, headed up the hill a bit further from the hotel to the Parco del Tassino. (Just head up the hill from the train station and you can’t miss it.)
They enjoyed some of the best views of Lugano in the early morning light.
They also found a great playground. When they got back to the room the rest of the group was awake and ready to head out for the day.
Our first stop was the grocery store at the train station. We bought a few items for a picnic breakfast.
We got a bit turned around in the train station, but finally found our way to the little train that winds its way around the small towns surrounding Lugano. (It’s across the road from the main station, but not down the funicular.) The train ride is covered by the Swiss Rail Pass.
We were headed to the Alprose Chocolate Factory. The factory is a few block walk from the local station. We made a quick stop at the playground across from the factory to eat our snacks and play a bit. Then we headed into the factory. You have to pay cash for admission, so make sure you have some on hand.
You start your visit by getting a taste of the melted milk chocolate right from the fountain. Yummy!
Then you can head upstairs and watch the factory at work. We found this fascinating. Not every station was working when we were there. This packaging line was sealing all the chocolates and then filling them into bags. The workers on the floor were happy to wave at the kids.
After the factory there is a small room full of Alprose Chocolate memorabilia. There is also a video playing. We asked at the front desk and she turned the English version on for us.
The store has a whole tasting bar so you can try out all the chocolate. We made sure to sample them all. Yummy. Can you believe we left without buying anything? Our slim packing means we were basically out of room.
We took the train back to town and then hopped on to the funicular. The Swiss Rail Pass covers your rides. You can also walk down, but it’s always more fun to ride. The funicular drops you off right in the center of town, which is perfect for exploring.
The town is full of drinking fountains. We took every opportunity we could to fill up our bottles with this cold, tasty water. I had to stop and check out this tasty patisserie, Ristorante Grand Cafe Al Porto. There is plenty of cute outdoor seating if you have the time to sit and enjoy, let the kids run around in the pedestrian street. The Panettone’s in the window were enough to draw me in.
The town couldn’t be cuter. The houses are all full of flower boxes. It feels very Mediterranean and old world Europe at the same time.
We popped into the Church of Santa Mara degal Angioli which hosts the work, “Passion and Crucifixion by Italian artist Luini, a disciple of Leonardo. It’s certainly worth a visit.
The waterfront walk is what you always see in tour books for Lugano. If we had more time we would have spent more time just hanging out here, watching boats come in and out and enjoying the shade of the tree lined path.
We wanted to hop on another boat and venture to a more remote part of Lugano. The ferry boat makes regular turns around Lake Lugano. It’s important to be familiar with the ferry schedule, as many of these places are only served twice a day by the ferry. You don’t want to miss the boat or you’ll be walking 45 min to catch a local bus back to town. The ferry ride is of course lovely. We grabbed a seat inside and by the window so we could enjoy the views.
Our lunch location was perched on the cliffside of one of these ferry stops, Locanda Gandriese. Jeff called as we were boarding the boat to let them know we were coming on the next ferry.
When we arrived they had a table waiting for us on the patio, overhanging the cliff. There are only four tables out there so calling ahead was essential. We could see up Lake Lugano in one direction.
The other direction looked right into Italy. A cool breeze comes off the lake making this the best possible place to enjoy lunch…even with kids.
The place is small and family run. The kids took turns heading over to watch the kitchen turn out delicious food.
Everything we ate was fresh, local and incredibly tasty. It was one of those meals we will remember for years to come.
I think we are both still talking about the boys’ meal which we all sampled. These little pockets were packed with flavor.
After lunch we had about 20 min before the last ferry of the day departed, so we decided to explore the town just a bit. You can’t really get lost as the narrow pedestrian roads have nowhere to go but along the cliff side.
There are plenty of guest houses here so it would make a very romantic place to stay. I would love to come back when I don’t have anything better to do but enjoy a great book and stunning views. For now though the lack of kid-friendly things to do kept us from doing more than exploring for the afternoon.
Every turn revealed new little statues and art right in the building walls.
When you hear the ferry whistle it’s time to follow the boat signs back to the dock. You can count on this boat ride to be slow and crowded. We picked up people from all the neighboring areas as we headed back to Lugano. The boys were tired and so were we. We listened to some Americans chatting away and zoned out. It’s not often we can understand the chit-chat around us.
Our time in Lugano was drawing to a close. It was time to pick up provisions for our train ride back to Zurich. It’s a quick ride, under two hours thanks to the recently opened Gotthard Base Tunnel, the world’s longest and deepest transport tunnel. We found a lovely market and picked up a bunch of fruit, veggies and drinks for the trip.
We bought some pizza by weight and a few sandwiches. (We should have bought more pizza!) We paused at the fountains to fill up our water bottles. Then we took the funicular back up to the train station.
There is a bit of strategy when you choose your train back to Zurich. The trains coming from Italy are more crowded and tend to be less reliable. Sure, that’s a generalization but we’ve found the same to be true of Dutch versus Belgian trains. Choose a Swiss Train and you’ll find plenty of seating. We even nabbed our own little compartment, Harry Potter style. We enjoyed some family time and were even able to plug in all our electronics for an extra charge.
Train dinner was had in the darkness of the Gotthard Base Tunnel. We were all really jealous of the kids’ margherita pizza…definitely should have picked up more of that. Two hundred and fifty grams was not enough.
When we popped out of the tunnel the sky was grey, our sunny Mediterranean day was gone. We had a quick transfer outsize of Zurich that took us on a local train into the Zurich main station.
We arrived in Zurich to more overcast skies and rain. We had one day left on the trip, but were all tired knowing we had left the beautiful landscape behind us and would spend our last day in a more urban setting.
This was also our goodbye to the Swiss Trains. Our Zurich hotel was connected to the airport by a tram. We couldn’t have asked for a better way to get around this incredibly beautiful country.
Swiss Rail provided me with a first class rail pass in exchange for a review of our experience. All opinions are my own.