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San Lorenzo Cathedral, Lugano (©_Switzerland Tourism)
With its compact cluster of Italianate piazzas and extensive tree-lined promenades, LUGANO is far and away the most alluring of Ticino’s lake resorts, much less touristic than Locarno but with, if anything, double the chic. Even Milanese style-junkies, who give very little quarter even to their own provincial towns, bring friends over to Lugano for some shopping, a lakeside apéro and a good meal. The ever-aspiring Luganesi return the compliment by dropping in to Milan – just 50km south – for a taste of big city highlife and to pick a good dance club. Their home town is nonetheless an exciting place, full of energy and style. Set on a south-facing bay of the cerulean blue Lago di Lugano, its lake vistas are astonishing – the city is framed on all sides by wooded, sugar-loaf hills rising from the water that have led to its being dubbed the “Rio of the Old World”. Both Monte Brè to the northeast and San Salvatore to the south are served by funiculars, and both give spectacular views over to the snow-capped Alps.
Lugano is third behind Zürich and Geneva as a Swiss banking centre, and the city centre reflects this, with none of Locarno’s Belle-Epoque stuffiness – its old alleys and winding lanes are full of commerce, whether in the form of enticing delicatessens and boutiques or graceful, villa-style hotels and apartment buildings. Ancient churches and a clutch of world-class art galleries, including the famous Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, are draws in themselves, quite aside from the simpler pleasures of a stroll under the lakeside palms alongside the shimmering lake. If there is a drawback to Lugano, it’s the traffic – unpleasantly heavy most of the time, especially along the lakefront corniche, and marked by alarming Italian-style driving. But at night, looking down from the summit of Brè amidst a warm southerly breeze, with the toot and rumble of cars rising from a bed of twinkling lights, you could feel yourself a long, long way from Switzerland.