Getaway to Lugano ...

I have seen many beautiful places in Switzerland, but Lugano has just hit the top of the list. I left Zurich on a snowy and grey Friday morning and, after two hours passing through spectacular wintry landscapes and myriad tunnels, discovered where all Switzerland's sunshine hides. Exiting Lugano main station, I gazed at a sweep of mountains against a brilliant azur sky, from Monte Bre to the tooth-like San Salvatore, which thrusts up from Lake Lugano. A nifty funicular takes visitors to the heart of the city centre, where sunlit squares are connected by winding alleyways and hidden corners.

Although it was out of season and so many of Lugano's attractions (such as the cablecars up Monte Bre and San Salvatore) were closed, there was still plenty to do. My hotel, the charming two-star Hotel Pestalozzi, was on the edge of the city centre and only 150-metres removed from the lake. I spent the first five minutes just gazing at the view from my window before going for a wander in the nearby Parco Ciani, which lines the lake front. A warm breeze was whipping up waves on the water; the promise of spring was already heady in the air. Colourful crocuses were peeping up in the gardens - the city will soon be abloom with a marvellous array of flowers. I followed the path along, winding into the city. Here, there is a curious mix of modern, block architecture and grand Italianate buildings - all dotted with mainly banks (Lugano is Switzerland's third-largest financial centre).

I made my way to the famous Piazza Riforma, which is lined with bars and outdoor seating during the summer; even on this day in mid-February, people were sitting outside. Snaking off from here is the swish Via Nassa, lined with designer shops. I made my way along Via Pessina, where I stumbled across a mouth-watering fruit stall (quickly bypassed when I noticed the CHF 75 per kg for cherries) and the divine Gabbani delicatessen. Courtesy of work, I was given a tour by Francesco Gabbani, who now runs the family business with his older brother. It was established in 1937 by his grandfather, a butcher, and is now one of the most popular addresses in the city, selling Ticinese and Italian treats, from bread and pasta, to cheese and wine, and local meats such as the Luganiga sausage.

Another delightful street is the Via Cattedrale, which snakes steeply up to, as you might expect, the cathedral. It is lined with surprising little shops - from haberdasheries to second-hand boutiques and expensive watch shops. Breathless upon reaching the Cathedral, you are rewarded with a magnificent view across the lake. That evening, after Tim arrived, we dined in La Tinera. Set in a basement with a wood-beamed ceiling, it is in the style of a traditional 'Grotto' but serves regional food at great value prices. We both had Ticinese merlot in Tazzina (ceramic cups), then I enjoyed asparagus risotto while Tim had Luganiga sausage with risotto. It was simple, but cooked to perfection - and cost less than a couple of take-out pizzas in Zurich.

The following day, we awoke to a promising golden haze and, keen to absorb as much sunlight as we could before returning to the dark lowlands, took the ferry to nearby Gandria. A tiny cluster of houses clinging to the steep slope, it is just three-kilometres from Lugano and connected by boat or the picturesque Olive Grove walk. We wound out through Gandria, passing tumbledown restaurants and little gateways to secret gardens, before meandering through olive groves and peeping over into cerulean coves. We both felt in the holiday mood - perhaps it was the sunshine, or perhaps not being able to speak a word of Italian. We left knowing "Parla Ingelese", "Buon giorno" and "Arrivederci"! We refreshed at the Grand Cafe Al Porto (with leaf tea and a divine raspberry and lemon-curd tart) then wandered some more around the city. As we later waited at the train station for the train home, the view was spectacular. A pinky haze gently dancing around the mountains and lights beginning to flicker in the landscape. How well I feel after just one night in Lugano.
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