The Ticino is Switzerland's only Italian-speaking canton. It is easily accessible from Zurich, Lucerne, Berne, Geneva and Milano (Italy). The areas around its two lakes, Lago di Lugano and Lago Maggiore, enjoy a distinct Mediterranean climate where palms and citrus trees grow; figs, olives and vineyards are cultivated, and other tropical vegetation flourishes. The architecture throughout Ticino is Renaissance and Baroque, and the atmosphere is very Italian.
The Ticino is divided by Mount Ceneri: the area to the north is the Sopraceneri (Above Ceneri), that to the south is called Sottoceneri (Below Ceneri). The main attractions are the lakeside resorts of Ascona/Locarno and Lugano, where mountain scenery merges with the subtropical flora encouraged by the warm climate. The cantonal capital Bellinzona and the quiet valleys of Alto Ticino also hold a great deal of charm. Ticino is known for its ancient churches in hamlets and villages across the canton. Many of them are Romanesque and contain medieval frescoes, and most featuring huge external murals of St Christopher, the patron saint of travelers.
Ticino means mild climate, unique natural contrasts and varied landscapes. The Ticino River, which gives its name to the Canton, begins in the Gotthard Region amid steep gorges and deeply carved valleys. Ticino is divided into four regions: Bellinzona, Lake Maggiore, Lake Lugano and the Mendrisiotto in the very south. Each region offers different and special scenery, and deserves to be explored. Ticino's flora is typified by the coexistence of plants of both Alpine and Mediterranean origin. It is the most interesting botanical region in Switzerland, for its subtropical climate. 2,300 hours of sunshine per year promote the growth of cypress, palm trees, camellias, mimosas and magnolias and chestnuts (just to list a few). Spring arrives earlier in Ticino and autumn lingers longer than in the rest of Switzerland. The Ticino lakes are the work of gigantic receding glaciers. Both the Lugano and Maggiore Lakes are shared with Italy. The sharp blue winter sky seems bigger through the lake's reflection; the early morning mists of spring which swirl above the lake are chased by the summer breezes, and in the autumn evenings, the explosive red of the setting sun mixes in the water with its pastel reflection. Ticino's mountains are characterized by steep ascents and sharp angles. Granite and, in some places, marble are quarried out of the cliffs. The alpine pastures are a special treat; mostly accessible only during the summer months. Water is an important element especially in the northern valleys where alpine springs and lakes are the source of great waterfalls and torrents.
Ticinese architects are internationally recognized and many contemporary objects can be seen in the urban as well as in the more rural areas. Some explain the high quality of many contemporary buildings in Ticino through the epic work of the migrant workers who, already in 643 AD, traveled all over Europe designing and constructing great buildings and whole cities. After World War II, the building boom enabled a new generations of Ticino architects to make a name for themselves. Ticino has made itself a recognized name for itself in the architectural world, lead by names as Mario Botta and Aurelio Galfetti. In 1996 the Academy of Architecture opened its doors in Mendrisio, as part of Ticino's new university.