luganoLugano, the pride of southern Switzerland, conjures up images of beautiful scenery and delightful Mediterranean weather.  For this Indian family, it was the perfect balance of beach and children’s activities. 

I was holidaying in Switzerland last May with my family (husband and two kids) and decided to spend a few days at this distinctly Italian flavored resort in the Ticino region. I heard that Lugano enjoyed the best of both Italian and Swiss cultures – the vibrant charm of the Italians and the order and punctuality of the Swiss.

We found Lugano through the staff at the Swiss Tourism office in Mumbai. The advisor there was very helpful and gave us fantastic suggestions on where to visit in Switzerland, especially places which would appeal to kids!  Plus, we were looking to stay in a “Kids Hotel” as the Swiss Tourism brochures advertised their fantastic children’s activities. We short listed all the towns with Kids Hotels and chose Hotel Lago Di Lugano which met all our expectations!

As the quaint villages, rolling green valleys, and magnificent mountains whizzed past us on our train ride from Zurich to Lugano, we seemed to lose track of time immersed in the scenes and didn’t mind the three and half hour journey at all. And though the hotel is located in Bissone, about 20 minutes from Lugano, it’s actually at the border of the suburb of Campione. We had booked a family apartment and found the rooms to be very spacious – something that is a novelty in most European hotels. Our bedroom had a balcony offering lovely views of the Lago Di Lugano and the looming San Salvatore Mountain.

Hotel Lago Di Lugano

Taking advantage of the “Kids Hotel,’” we dropped the kids off to play for a few hours at the Pinocchio Club, an activity centre, while we toured the rest of the property. The Pinochhio Club offered loads of indoor and outdoor activities for the kids.  The only problem we found was that our kids couldn’t communicate with the other kids as most of them were German-speaking, while my children only spoke English. While it would have been much more enjoyable if they could have participated in group games or interacted with the kids, the staff at the club could speak in English and they took very good care of them.

The hotel gardens were lined with date palms, multicoloured tulips, and other stunningly colourful flowers, thereby exuding a very Mediterranean kind of ambience. The in-house restaurant was kid-friendly with a small tent-like play area within the restaurant, which was an excellent way to keep the kiddies busy till their meals arrived! As an aside, many Indians are vegetarians (my family isn’t) and most don’t eat beef (mine doesn’t) so eating in restaurants can sometimes prove difficult. Although we did have minor dietary restrictions, we didn’t need to give any special requests during our stay in Lugano as the restaurant menu was quite accommodating for us and the kids.

The hotel operates boats for guests –  but only on sunny days.

One major chore we were uprepared for was washing our clothes at the self-service washing machine in the laundry room. A typical trait of we Indians is to save money, and we would happily do all the laundering on our own rather than pay a bomb for giving our clothes to the hotel’s expensive laundry service! We soon found out that operating the washing machine wasn’t all that easy (the price you pay for not spending money!). Since the instructions in the laundry room were all in Italian, we asked for help from their staff. The handsome housekeeping guy also knew only Italian. So with some difficulty, the housekeeper reading the manual in Italian and translating the instructions through gestures, we managed to communicate somehow and got the machine started off. All this pantomime made me quite exhausted by the end!

One more thing – my bed collapsed in the middle of the night.  There was some wildly gesticulated explanation that I did not understand but I didn’t let that dampen my spirits the next day.  After a sumptuous buffet breakfast, my husband and I left the hotel to explore Lugano and possibly hike Mt. Bre. The kids preferred the rock climbing, games and crafts offered at the Pinocchio Club.  The bus picked us up right outside the hotel and took us straight to the Lugano Central Bus station.

LUGANO

I found Lugano to be a bustling city with lovely lakeside promenades lined with flowering trees and squares with gushing fountains. Grandfathers were lounging in the piazzas and chatting with their old pals, while grannies took the kiddos in prams for strolls along the promenade.

The warm sunshine was infectious; my husband and I, too, got caught up in the cheerful ambience, spotted a park bench, sat back, and relaxed.  So many couples, both young and old, were leisurely walking along the streets, window-shopping, lounging at the sidewalk cafes, or smooching, oblivious to people around them. I especially admired the older folks holding hands and looking all lovey-dovey.

luganoWe spotted loads of modern-looking hotels crowding the lakefront. The residential houses, though, with their earthy-looking walls, green colored Venetian windows and red-tiled sloping roofs had an uncanny resemblance to the Colonial British architecture buildings in my hometown of Calcutta. In stark contrast to the area near our hotel, the city seemed a bit noisy, with cars and buses whizzing past the main road next to the lakefront. I was glad that we had chosen to stay at the quieter Bissone, away from the noise and the hustle and bustle of the city.

Lugano is only 40 miles from Milan, which doesn’t make it surprising to find the city close on the heels of its more fashionable neighbour. Lugano too boasts of designer shops and famous brands. Via Nassa is one of the “luxury” streets with fashionable boutiques and world famous brands like Armani, Ermenegildo Zegna, Bucherer, and the like, and also lined with cafès, perfumeries, etc. We did some window-shopping at Via Nassa and I even managed to buy myself an Armani designer blouse from the Emporio Armani store, which was offering a discount sale.

We planned to visit Mt. Bre first – called the sunniest mountain in Switzerland and with supposedly great views from the top. But when we reached the funicular station at 1 p.m. we found it firmly shut! There was a signboard in Italian but because we didn’t speak or read the language, we couldn’t understand what it was telling us. Some locals who spoke a bit of English finally translated and explained that the funicular was closed for siesta. I had heard of the siesta concept in Italy, but hadn’t expected that part of the culture to infiltrate “clock-work precision” Swiss cities as well! We left the place disappointed and headed by bus toward the fishing village of Gandria.

Here, too, there was some confusion regarding the validity of the Swiss Travel Passes that we had bought and we had a tough time explaining to the driver (who of course didn’t understand English) that the passes were supposed to be valid for bus travel as well. After some gesticulations, the bus driver gave in to our earnest expressions and though I don’t think he was convinced, he was nice enough to allow us to ride up to Gandria. When we finally arrived in the fishing village of Gandria we showered the bus driver with a host of smiling “Grazies.”

GANDRIA

Gandria is the tiniest village I have ever seen – the only walking path in the village takes all of 15 minutes to cover and runs in between tiny houses and restaurants piled next to each other and bordering the lake! The village is famous for its beautiful location and superb food offered at the restaurants dotting the lake, especially amazing fish delicacies. We ducked into all the restaurants to check out the menu and opted for one with a good lake view. Surprisingly, in such a small village, the waiter spoke excellent English and (for once!) we didn’t have to struggle to comprehend the menu printed in Italian.

Gandria can be reached by foot from Lugano in two hours along a path by the lake called the Olive Path, leading along fields of olive trees and offering a splendid view of the Lake of Lugano.

MT. SAN SALVATORE and MELIDE

We did ebark on one mega-tour from our hotel.  I drew up an ambitious plan to visit three places: Mt. San Salvatore, the Swiss Miniature Park at Melide, and the beautiful village of Morcote. This may not sound like an ambitious plan, but after poring over the bus and boat timetables, I realized that in order to get connections to all three places we had to time our sojourns very accurately. It was a sunny day unlike the previous day and so we took a complimentary boat ride from the hotel right up to Lugano Paradiso. From Paradiso pier we walked a short distance to reach the Mt. San Salvatore funicular stop. Fortunately there was no “siesta” concept at this funicular station and we rode up to the mountaintop.

Mt. San Salvatore is 912 meters high and offers superb views of the lakes below and mountains all around. There is a church at the top, which has a terrace where one can climb up and get stunning panoramic views. We could see at least two other smaller lakes from the top, apart from Lake Lugano. There were also walking paths that offered 3 hour hikes to Corona (Ciona) and then Morcote.  If the kids weren’t with us that day we might have ventured on the hike.

The Swiss Miniature Park in Melide has models of all the monuments and landmarks of Switzerland such as the Alps, lakes, castles, farms, cathedrals, etc. There are small trains, funiculars, and toy cars whizzing automatically on the roads and tracks laid out. One can see the rotating cable car rising up to Mt. Titlis, the funicular chugging up to Jungfraujoch, and the toy sailing boats on Lake Zurich. The children chose the Miniature Park as one of their favorite attractions (the game parks were the big winners).

The next day we left the city for our next destination, Brienz bid adieu to Lugano at the train station. I had found this beautiful city to be a laid-back and cheerful place, with warm locals, superb cuisine and great scenery – not to mention the handsome Lugano men, all with a smile on their face and trying their best to help you. The Lugano ladies must have been beautiful too, but for that you will have to ask my husband! Mamma Mia, lovely Lugano, we promise to come back again!

Moumita Deb, mother of 2, lives in Mumbai and has waited a very long time for this article to be published!