Ascona and Locarno, Switzerland

Overview

Ascona and Locarno are in Southern Switzerland and are part of the canton of Ticino. They are situated on a river delta formed by the River Maggia before flowing into Lake Maggiore. Sheltered by the mountains of the Alps, Ascona and Locarno enjoy an exceptional climate in which hydrangeas, magnolias and camellias blossom as early as in March. Visitors will find plenty of opportunities for pleasant walks among gardens, along the shores of the lake and on the vine-covered slopes above the lake in friendly little villages such as Orselina.

The area around Ascona and Locarno offers many attractions and activities. Mainline trains speed south to Lugano and stop in Bellinzona, from where a branch line is heading west to Ascona / Locarno.

Locarno

The focus of Locarno is the famous Piazza Grande, a busy square surrounded by charming old houses and just off the palm-lined lakefront. The Piazza Grande is frequented by locals, who enjoy coming here for a stroll, as well as by tourists, attracted by the shopping arcades, cafes and restaurants. And especially on summer weekends, when the sunny terraces overflow with people. Every year in the beginning of August, film buffs meet in Locarno to attend the International Film Festival, when Piazza Grande becomes a huge open-air cinema screen.

The most important sight in Locarno is the Santuario della Madonna del Sasso, on a wooden crag above the resort in Orselina. Other sights include Castello Visconteo – a castle named after the Visconti, a famous Italian family who ruled over Milan from the 13 -15th century. Today it is a Municipal and Archeological Museum which is devoted to the region. Chiesa San Francesco – consecrated in 1230 by Umberto di Monserrato, the Bishop of Como, is the church attached to a former Franciscan convent that was extensively restored in the 16th century. Arcades laid out on three levels surround the beautiful courtyard at the Casa Rusca – Piazza Sant'Antonio. The house is a fine example of a 17th century patrician residence.

Ascona lies in a spectacularly sunny bay on Lake Maggiore. It is one of the most exclusive tourist destinations in Switzerland and boasts a beautiful lake promenade, boutiques, a welcoming Lido (public swimming pool), restaurants and magnificent walks in the surroundings. The Old Town of Ascona was built around the 16th century church of Pietro e Paolo and exerts a special fascination: an intricate web of lanes containing every kind of shop leads to the piazza, which lies directly on the lake. The panorama opens out over the lake where you will find cafes and restaurants in the sunshine.

The Centovalli (100 valleys) is an area that begins behind Ascona. The name was given to a valley that offers a variety of landscapes extending east from the River Maggia Delta to the Italian border. Certainly one of the most attractive areas of Switzerland, the Centovalli is a paradise for hiking and biking alike and includes breath-taking gorges with sparkling waterfalls and bridges, colorful fields, vineyards, chestnut groves and sleepy little villages.

Attractions and Activities

Discover Ascona and Locarno

Ascona and Locarno are blessed with an exceptional climate which provides for opportunities for pleasant summerlike activities as early as March. The area is among the best in Switzerland for leisure walking and mountain biking.

Excursions in Ascona / Locarno

Cardada and Cimetta Mountains
From Locarno, you can either take the bus up to Orselina or the funicolare from Locarno to Orselina (situated within walking distance of the train station). From Orselina you take the cable car (designed by Mario Botta) to Cardada. The cable car has windows from bottom to top, therefore also kids see a lot. At Cardada, there are various hiking paths, a small playground and two restaurants. There is also the possibility to take the chairlift up to Cimetta. From these two mountain tops, you have an excellent view and lots of walking trails. Ideal for everyone, including older travelers and/or kids.

Centovalli ("100 valleys")
Centovalli is the name given to a valley that offers a variety of landscapes, which extends east from the Maggia river delta to the Italian border. A nostalgic and romantic trip not to be missed by rail buffs is the blue and white narrow gauge train that leads past breath-taking gorges with sparkling waterfalls, over spectacular bridges and through colorful fields, vineyards, chestnut groves and sleepy little villages. The Centovalli Railway runs from Locarno to Domodossola (Italy) through the picturesque Centovalli and the Valle Vigezzo in one and a half hour. Timetable

Sopraceneri
The Sopraceneri region takes in the whole of the northern two-thirds of the canton of Ticino. Road and rail lines stream down from the Alpine tunnels, bypassing the Ticinese hinterland and funnelling into the cantonal capital Bellinzona, a quietly elegant city often passed over in favour of the lakeside resorts. The real beauty, however, of this rugged region lies in the very hinterland that most people see hurtling past at 110kph. Unspoilt Alto Ticino, comprising a network of wild, pre-Alpine valleys and mountain-top lakelets glittering in clear, crystalline sunshine, holds some of the best walking in the country.

Sottoceneri
The region south of Bellinzona and Locarno is much more developed than the Sopraceneri, with dozens of neat, prosperous towns crammed in between the narrowing international borders to east and west. The principal draw is the sophisticated and stylish city of Lugano, sited on a bay of the glorious Lago di Lugano, which twists out into Italy on both sides. Jutting out into the lake just a stone’s throw from the city is the sun-drenched Ceresio peninsula, dotted with idyllic Italianate country villages and crisscrossed by some of the loveliest easy walks in the canton.

Boat trips on Lake Maggiore
Visitors to Locarno can spend a pleasant afternoon relaxing on a boat and gliding along the water's surface. There are several boat trips available, ranging from a simple crossing ending at the pontoon on the opposite shore (Magadino), at Ascona or Brissago, to a proper excursion including a visit to Stresa and the Iles Borromes.

Art and Architecture in Locarno
The Piazza Grande is the heart of Locarno`s city centre. In the old town, patrician houses with concealed balconies bear witness to the supremacy of this once-wealthy trading metropolis. The Casa Rusca Gallery is one of Locarno`s most beautiful palaces: its huge collection includes works by celebrated Dadaists. Galleries, shops and cafés line the lanes of this city which boasts the mildest climate in Switzerland. Locarno`s landmark is the pilgrimage church of Madonna del Sasso – a place of prayer with extraordinary views over the lake and mountains.

City Excursions in Ascona / Locarno

Bellinzona
Everyone passes through Bellinzona, but few people bother to stop. Less than an half an hour from Locarno, this graceful and beautiful old town is the perfect place to draw breath and a mellow introduction to the easy pace of the Ticino. A fortress since Roman times, Bellinzona occupies a prime valley-floor position, holding the keys to the great Alpine passes of the Novena (Nufenen), Gottardo (Gotthard), Lucomagno (Lukmanier) and San Bernadino. Bellinzona lacks the hectic pace, the crowds and the touristic sheen of its bigger neighbors Locarno and Lugano. Gentle Bellinzona is blessed with medieval architecture and picturesque churches galore, and also serves as the main access point for excursions into the wild and little-known Alto Ticino (Soprageneri) region.

Lugano
A meandering Lake of Lugano and uncountable hills and mountains are surrounding Lugano and the area around it. Lugano is the third financial place in Switzerland after Zurich and Geneva and a holiday destination for many Swiss since the end of 1800's. Along the lake you see lots of Venetian-type villages, showing of the closeness of its neighbor Italy. Words and pictures cannot describe its beauty.

Summer Sports in Ascona / Locarno

A dive in the water
The area around Ascona and Locarno is characterised by a long, narrow lake called Lago Maggiore. Its shores are dotted with a number of places to swim, sandy beaches, fun water slides and great green meadows. The emerald green rivers which run in the valleys are very tempting; be careful, however, not to underestimate the danger of their currents! You’ll find the most varied forms of stones in all sizes. You can get interesting ideas about all water activities by going to the Tourist Office Lago Maggiore. The most important beaches of the region are: Lido Ascona, Lido di Locarno, Lido di Brissago, Lido Tenero.

Hiking
The region is riddled with some 201km (125 miles) of footpaths. The Locarno Tourist Bureau distributes a map indicating every trail; this map also outlines various itineraries with the time that it takes to cover them.

Biking
One of our favorite pastimes is to go biking along the way. At the train station (Piazza Stazione. tel. 091/743-65-64), you can rent bikes for CHF30 (~$25) per day. Bikes can be rented daily from 8am to 7pm.

Entertainment in Ascona / Locarno

Shopping in Ascona / Locarno

Most of the shopping is done under the arcades of Piazza Grande or in the Old Town and in Ascona. There is a cluster of fashionable boutiques along Piazza Grande, the centerpiece of the town's shopping district, but overall, shoppers usually do best by wandering through the town's three department stores.

Events in Ascona / Locarno

Locarno International Film Festival
The Locarno International Film Festival in one of the world top cinematic all-feature event where experimentation and entertainment, the cultural and spectacular, meet and mix successfully. The Locarno Festival has established itself in recent years as an important industry showcase for auteur filmmaking, a perfect networking opportunity for distributors, buyers and producers from around the world.

Link to other current Locarno events

Museums in Ascona / Locarno

The Castle of Locarno
The Castello Visconteo served as the seat of the Visconti Dukes of Milan from 1513 to 1798. It is now an archaeological museum, housing Locarnese artefacts from the late Bronze Age to the High Middle Ages. The show-piece is the collection of Roman glasses excavated in Ticino. The Castle is located near the large traffic roundabout, if you are coming by car from the by-pass tunnel, or from Ascona. Walking from the train station you'll find it at the end of Piazza Grande on the right-hand side.

Location and Map

Ascona and Locarno are located in the South of Switzerland, 211 km (174 miles) from Zurich, the nearest airport and 297 km (185 miles) from Geneva. Travel time by train from Zurich is 3 hours and 10 minutes and from Geneva it is 4 hours and 35 minutes via Domodossola. The resort is 270 km (168 miles) from Berne.

How to get to Ascona / Locarno by car

The Lago Maggiore area can be reached easily in summer and winter by the excellent highway A2 Basel to Chiasso, exit Bellinzona South. Locarno and Ascona are accessible via Simplon Pass, Centovalli and from Northern Italy along the Lake Maggiore.

ProCentovalli: Hiking and Biking Trails