Lugano, a Christmas with a Mediterranean heart

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Lugano, a Christmas with a Mediterranean heart

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Lugano, the capital of the Tessin, perfectly combines a Swiss soul and a Mediterranean heart. Located on the shores of the homonymous lake, the city is popular because of the elegance of its pastel-colored buildings and an innate dolce vita style that can be felt everywhere in its streets. A decidedly milder climate than in German-speaking Switzerland makes it, together with the whole of Ticino, one of the most popular destinations for tourism in Switzerland and beyond. Big public parks, elegant fashion boutiques and excellent restaurants make Lugano a perfect destination all year round. But during the Christmas period Lugano hosts a charming and rich Christmas market and turns the Parco Ciani, one of the largest and most elegant city parks, into a magical enchanted forest. We were there during a day trip and here is our travel story.

Lugano

We love... Lugano!

Located on the shores of the lake of the same name, Lugano perfectly combines a Swiss soul and a Mediterranean heart. The first time you visit the city, you will be surprised by the elegance of its streets, the pastel colours of the buildings in the centre and its porticoes, which provide a backdrop for elegant fashion and jewellery boutiques and a marked “dolce vita” style. Together with the entire Ticino region, Lugano is one of the most popular destinations for Swiss and international tourism, thanks to its mild climate and wide range of recreational and cultural activities. The city is in fact also an important cultural centre and for many years has been offering a wide variety of exhibitions and shows through the large cultural centre LAC and the museum MASI (Museo d’Arte della Svizzera Italiana). Therefore the city is a perfect destination at any time of the year. But during the Christmas period, Lugano hosts an evocative and rich Christmas market that starts from its historical heart, Piazza della Riforma, and extends through many of the small streets and squares of the centre. It is not by chance that we have listed Lugano’s Christmas – Natale in piazza – as one of the top 8 Christmas markets in Switzerland! Moreover, every year during the festivities Parco Ciani, one of the city’s largest and most elegant parks, is dressed in lights and colours, transforming itself into a magical enchanted forest.

Our day trip to Lugano

How to spend an otherwise boring and rainy Saturday? This time we have decided to focus on the cities and to discover another of the many Swiss Christmas markets. The chosen destination is Lugano, the city with a Mediterranean heart, where the sun is shining today and the temperature is warmer than in Central Switzerland! So we got our tickets for the direct train from Lucerne and arrived in the city in just under two hours! We arrived here at around three o’clock in the afternoon: we would have liked to stay overnight and explore the town on Saturday evening, but that’s not really possible today and we will certainly return here in spring or summer to enjoy the lake and its “dolce vita” style. As soon as we leave the central station, the city welcomes us with a magnificent blue sky as a backdrop to the high mountains and the bell tower of the San Lorenzo Cathedral. We take a few photos and walk down the steps from the top of the central station to the historic centre.

The city center

Lugano is truly beautiful. The heart of the city is small and on a human scale, easily explored on foot with no effort. Starting from the station and walking down the steps, we stop for a few minutes in front of the ancient Cathedral of San Lorenzo. The church dates back to the 11th century, but much of what is visible today is the result of an extension in 1400. The interior is elegant and richly decorated, but what is certainly striking is its bell tower, which stands out between the blue of the lake and the green of the city’s mountains. In front of the church, a large square offers you the possibility to take some photos of the town from above and of Monte Brè. We continue our descent down Via Cattedrale, a pleasant little cobbled street slightly downhill lined with numerous boutiques, craft shops, art galleries, antique shops and picturesque corners that deserve a photo! This part of the city is truly charming and here, perhaps more than anywhere else, the atmosphere is lively and authentic. From here, it’s only a few minutes to the heart of the city, where we are greeted by the elegant cobbled streets and pastel-coloured buildings. The streets of the city centre are rather crowded today, after all it is Saturday afternoon and it is almost Christmas time: for many it is shopping time! We first go down Via Pessina, a narrow street full of bars and restaurants, ideal for an aperitif! But the real heart of shopping in Lugano beats under the elegant arcades of Via Nassa, where you can find the most important fashion brands and many jewellery shops. From here we continue along Piazza della Riforma, the political and administrative heart of the city. This square, which has always been Lugano’s “parlor”, hosts all the city’s main cultural events. We take a few photos of the big tree, but decide to wait until it is dark and the Christmas lights come on.

The lakefront

In the meantime, we opt for a walk along the lakeside promenade. This area of the city is really charming, especially when the sky is blue and the lake mirrors the beautiful natural surroundings and elegant buildings on the coast.
The promenade from Parco Ciani, the city’s most famous lakeside garden, is about a kilometre and a half long and ends at the Paradiso landing stage. It is a real pleasure to walk along it and during the summer many boats depart from here to cross the lake and provide a taxi service. If you visit Lugano in the summer, we suggest you treat yourself to a special evening out by hiring a taxiboat to take you to one of the many Grottos (typical local restaurants serving home-cooked food) on the lake shores that can only be reached by boat. We suggest the Grotto Descanso, near the Cantine di Gandria, where we ate very well during a summer visit. Continuing our walk, we reach the Belvedere Garden, a panoramic terrace full of greenery and relaxation areas and an excellent observation point for photography lovers. Behind it stands the majestic building of the LAC (Lugano Arte e Cultura), a cultural centre built in 2015 that houses the Museum of Contemporary Art of Italian Switzerland. The building is decidedly charming and, although modern in style, is in perfect harmony with its surroundings and the nearby church of Santa Maria degli Angioli. From here, we lose ourselves for a while in the narrow streets of the old town. It is now dark, the Christmas lights are on and it is time to explore the Christmas markets.

The Christmas Market

In Lugano, Christmas means “Natale in piazza” (Christmas in the streets), the great Christmas event that brings to the city the magical atmosphere of the holidays. The Christmas market is held this year from December 1st to 24th and the traditional wooden houses will be located in the central Piazza della Riforma and neighboring streets. Here you will find local handicrafts (there is a remarkable stand selling small and elegant ceramic creations in Piazzetta San Carlo), toys for children, Christmas decorations and of course gastronomic specialties from Ticino and nearby Italy. In Piazza della Riforma there is also the big Christmas tree. The largest part of the market, however, is located in Piazza Manzoni, right next to the Town Hall. Here you can have a quick snack, sweet or salty, or simply drink a good Vin Brulè (mulled wine). But the “Christmas in the Square” is not only a market. Every year, in fact, the Parco Ciani, the largest and most famous civic park, is transformed into a magical enchanted forest full of lights. Of course, we took a tour and loved it. Moreover, the view of the city lit up for the festivities that is reflected in the lake from here is even more beautiful.
On the official website of the event you can find all the latest information on Lugano’s Christmas market.

How to get there

Arriving by train

Lugano Train Station

Arriving-by-train

As usual, we chose public transport to reach Lugano. Its location along the Gotthard railway axis makes travelling by train quick and easy. From Lucerne, a direct SBB train takes you to the city in about one hour and forty-five minutes. But Lugano is also well connected to other major Swiss cities. From Basel, the direct train takes just under three hours, from Zurich about two. Travellers from Bern and Geneva will have to change trains in Zurich and travel for about three and four and a half hours respectively. Finally, visitors coming from Chur will have to change trains in Bellinzona and travel for about two hours and forty minutes. Lugano is also well connected to northern Italy, with direct and fast connections from Milan, Padua and Venice.
In Lugano, the Railway Station is located in the district of Besso, a few steps from the centre that can be easily reached on foot through a comfortable staircase or, for the lazy ones, thanks to the funicular Sassellina.
Tickets can be purchased through the SBB website or through the SBB app and, as always, we suggest to check in advance the updated timetables and the different travel options.

Arriving by car

Lugano

Arriving-by-car

Lugano is obviously reachable also by car through the excellent motorway network that connects it to the main Swiss cities. From Basel, Zurich and Lucerne it is possible to reach the city in about 2 hours and a half to 3 hours driving along the A2/E35 (direction San Gottardo-Chiasso-Italy). From Bern, the journey by car takes just over three hours on the A1/E25 towards Zurich and then on the A2/E35 towards Lucerne-San Gottardo-Milan. From Geneva, it is advisable to pass through Bern and follow the above route, for a total travel time of about four and a half hours. Finally, from St. Gallen and Chur, Lugano can be reached in about three or two hours via the A13. Lugano is also easily accessible from Italy: the journey from Milan is about 80 km and takes just one hour and twenty minutes via the A9/E35 and A2.
The city offers many paid parking areas, some of them in the centre or in the immediate vicinity. However, we do not recommend arriving here by car: the city centre is small and entirely closed to cars, so as soon as you arrive in the city you will have to leave your car and walk. However, at this link (in italian only) you will find all the information about the car parks and their updated availability.

Tips

1

In Lugano you can eat really well and every time is a pleasant (re)discovery for us! This time for our dinner we opted for the “Ristorante Commercianti”, a traditional trattoria with a tasty home cooking. The staff is courteous and competent and the prices are within the Swiss average. We opted for meat dishes and a dessert. The risotto was absolutely excellent and the ossobuco with polenta is not to be missed. If you really want to end on a high note, don’t miss a portion of the excellent homemade tiramisù! You won’t regret it! And let us know what you think!

2

Another famous event of Christmas in Lugano is the Presepe Sommerso. A large crib placed on the bottom of the lake during the evening is illuminated by large reflectors that make it visible even from the promenade. The large statues are located in the Riva Albertolli area and will be visible until January 6th. Unfortunately, we had to give up the visit this time. However, if you are in Lugano during Advent, do not miss this opportunity and, if you like, please let us know by leaving a comment below!

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