On Site: Rail Europe Trip— Day Three, Lugano

Venice cruising Editorial Use Only Copyright by Susan J Young Europe cruise
Photo by Susan J Young

The Swiss Pass may well be one of the cooler inventions to come along for tourism since the GDS. When a client has one of these passes, they can ride almost any public transportation in all of Switzerland for free, or at a greatly reduced rate. They can also get free or discounted access to museums and attractions all over the country. Please tell me—why we don’t have this in New York? Ride the subway for free and get into MoMA as a bonus! Seriously, it’s a great deal, and helps visitors explore more of the country and what it has to offer. Book it for your clients at www.raileurope.com, and tell them to hold onto it while they travel. They’ll need to show it often.

See more of Switzerland's cities in the video below.


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With Swiss passes firmly in hand, our little group departed Milan at the crack of dawn to head across the border to Switzerland. Just a few miles from the border is Lugano, a town on a lake of the same name, surrounded by the Alps and some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in all of Switzerland. (The Italian town of Como is just a few miles away. We looked for George Clooney, but didn’t see him. Alas.)

The train ride—not even a high-speed one—was all of an hour, and crossing the border was effortless. We arrived at the station and went to our hotel to drop off our bags. The Hotel du Lac is technically in the town of Paradiso, and the gorgeous area lives up to its name. The lake is a brilliant turquoise blue, and a low mist made the mountains seem unapproachable and mysterious. (The hotel is right on the lake, and guests can swim in its waters or in the pool.) Our guide, Eliana Richina ([email protected]) got us first on a boat across the lake (lovely views of the villages along the shores) and then on a cogwheel train up Monte Generoso. Both trips were free with the Swiss Pass—the former took maybe 40 minutes, and the latter about an hour to reach the top of the mountain.

From there, we hiked a few yards to the peak for some spectacular views. Tell your clients to bring solid walking shoes that they don’t mind getting a bit dirty—the goats that graze on the side of the mountain are awfully cute, but they make the path very messy. Afterwards, we had a late lunch of local cuisine (ricotta-and-spinach ravioli, cheese-covered vegetables) at the peak’s restaurant, and relaxed for the ride back down the mountain.

Eliana took us on a walking tour of the town, where we could see the Cathedral and one of the major churches. The first dates back to the year 818 (it’s been restored and renovated a few times since), and the second—St. Mary of the Angels Church—has some original frescoes by Bernardino Luini, a student of Leonardo da Vinci’s. (The artwork in the church was covered for years, and is in a remarkable state of preservation. Some drawings on the walls look like sculpture and statuary—a perfect trompe-l'œil. Send your art-aficionado clients to check the church out.

See more of how to get around in Switzerland in the video below.

We then wandered through the old part of the city (built onto a hillside—tell your clients to bring good walking shoes!), passing little boutique stores and luxury retailers. (The former Palace of Justice, a building from 1425, now houses a Cartier store.) Suggest your shopaholic clients spend a few hours just wandering the town and going from store to store—if they get tired, there are plenty of gelaterias for them to recharge their batteries.

We were going to have an alfresco dinner at The Spaghetti Store, but the amazingly rude staff drove us out of there and over to Pizzeria Mary’s, a very nice restaurant with a patio that catches cooling breezes off the lake. Try the spinach gnocchi…or the tagliatelle Bolognese…or any of their different risottos. Really, it was all delicious, and light enough to be enjoyed outdoors on a warm night. (They also had a very tasty white Merlot, something I’d never tried before. It went beautifully with the pastas.)