|Bellinzona : eating and drinking|
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Like administrative capitals everywhere, Bellinzona suffers from a stunted entertainment scene – it has plenty of places to eat and drink, but none really stands out. Cheap self-service nosh is at Inova, Ticino’s version of Manora, in the Innovazione department store on Viale Stazione. Castelgrande houses two eateries (both closed Mon): the Grotto San Michele spreads itself over the panoramic terrace, where you can eat well for Fr.14–20, whereas the interior Castelgrande restaurant, full of postmodern black leather and tubular steel furniture, is a much snootier affair (091/826 23 53, www.castelgrande.ch) – you’ll get little change from Fr.60 for its modern, Ticino-inspired cuisine. The atmospheric Osteria Sasso Corbaro, in Bellinzona’s topmost castle (091/825 55 32; closed Mon & Nov–March), serves up authentic Ticinese fare – accompanied by plenty of wine – at stone tables in the shady castle courtyard, or in a great hall within; menus are Fr.25 or so. Portici, a pleasant osteria/pizzeria in the Old Town on Vicolo Muggiasca (closed Sun lunch & Mon), serves palatable food in its shady courtyard to a young, easy crowd of regulars for Fr.20 or less. Birreria Corona, Via Camminata 5 (closed Sun), is an atmospheric café-bar fronting quite a good restaurant in the back, with menus also around Fr.20. Pavement café-bars abound, including Café Commercianti, Via Teatro 5, a popular place that doubles as a gelateria, and especially around Via Codeborgo, where you’ll see (or hear) the jumping Amadeus Pub on Vicolo Torre (closed Sun) and the equally lively Peverelli at Codeborgo 12 (closed Mon).
Atmospheric steps wind down from Castelgrande to the elegant Renaissance buildings of Piazza Collegiata in the centre of the Old Town, dominated by the lavish Collegiata church, built by the same architect who worked on Como’s cathedral and decorated with Baroque frescoes and stucco. Narrow, shaded lanes branch out all around: arcaded Piazza Nosetto is just south, with the Cà Rossa house on the way featuring a striking red terracotta facade – a style fashionable in early nineteenth-century Milan. From Nosetto, a gateway leads into the courtyard of the Palazzo Civico, a magnificent Renaissance building rebuilt in the 1920s but still retaining its loggias which wind attractively around both upper floors.
Behind the Collegiata, on the eastern side of the piazza, a path rises to the picturesque Castello di Montebello (Tues–Sun 8am–6pm; free), some ninety metres higher in elevation than Castelgrande, with suitably impressive views of the town. From a vantage point on the lofty ramparts, it’s easy to trace the line of defensive fortifications which link the two castles across the width of the Ticino valley. The castle itself is impressive, with a fifteenth-century courtyard and residential palace surrounding an older central portion dating from the thirteenth century, the latter now housing a modern museum of Gothic and Renaissance architecture (Tues–Sun 10am–12.30pm & 1.30–5.30pm; Fr.4, or combination ticket for museums in all three castles Fr.8). A stiff 45-minute climb further up will bring you to Castello di Sasso Corbaro (April–Oct Tues–Sun 8am–6pm; free), some 230m above Bellinzona, designed and built in six months in 1479 by a military engineer brought in from Florence after the Swiss defeat of Milanese troops at the Battle of Giornico. It shelters a particularly welcome vine-shaded courtyard osteria and has a spectacular rampart panorama. A museum of local crafts and traditions is currently under renovation, and the castle keep has a gallery showing changing exhibits by contemporary Ticinese artists and sculptors (combination ticket valid). To save your legs, catch bus #4 from the centre to Artore near Castello di Sasso Corbaro, and wend your own path back down the hillside.
South of Piazza Indipendenza
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