After all the intense walking and sightseeing of the past three days, today was a relatively calm tour of two Swiss towns that, despite their distance, are easily accessible via trains and buses.
We started off taking a train from Lugano to Locarno, a somewhat touristy town on the north end of Lake Maggiore. The town has some very nice shopping, especially in the outdoor stalls, where bargain-hunters can find new and used products. Be sure to bring cash—even some of the indoor stores don’t take credit cards. They do, however, take euros, and will give change in Swiss francs—a nice way of converting currency without going to a bank.
A street in Locarno
We wandered around the city, browsing in shops and admiring some historic architecture (Leonardo da Vinci is believed to have designed one ruined palace), and then caught a “postal bus” to head up into the mountains. (These popular regional busses used to deliver mail to the remote mountaintop villages. Today, they serve as public transportation to and from these villages and between other towns and cities.)
The ride up into the mountains is wonderfully scenic, and passes numerous villages, some of which look like they haven’t changed in hundreds of years. The bus also stops at the Verzasca Dam, a popular spot for bungee jumping. (It was used in the James Bond film Goldeneye.)
We got off the bus in Lavertezzo, a tiny village on the Verzasca River. The spot is a popular swimming area for locals, and the river was filled with people jumping off of rocks into the surprisingly cold water.
We had lunch at a genuine grotto—a restaurant built outside of a cave used for cold storage. The Osteria Vittoria is a family-run business, and the food, while simple, is fresh and delicious. (Our herb-stuffed trout was from the river below us.) The osteria has a large covered patio for alfresco dining, and no one was in the restaurant’s interior. (Given the views and the fresh air, that wasn’t surprising at all.) After lunch, we climbed down the rocks to dip our feet in the river and enjoy the spectacular scenery.
Osteria Vittoria in Lavertezzo
The postal bus returned, and we rode down to a train station to head back to Lugano (and for a quick dip in the lake by the hotel—refreshingly cool on a hot day!). For dinner, we went across the street to the Grand Hotel Eden, where we met with Hugo Ferrer, the head of Swiss Travel System. Ferrer gave us an in-depth presentation on the state of public transportation in Switzerland: After a difficult 2009, the company is seeing an increase in sales, and the biggest challenge they are currently facing is adding enough seats to the existing infrastructure. Longer trains are being developed, and they have just invested in some double-decker models, which should be delivered in 2013. He also talked about more benefits of the Swiss Pass (free admission to more than 400 museums and attractions across the country! Kids under 16 ride for free on their parents’ pass!), and gave us details on the seven scenic routes throughout the country. We’ll be on the Wilhelm Tell Express tomorrow, so more about that when we’ve actually seen it!