Switzerland - Autum 2018
My second trip to Bellinzona did not disappoint. The city is easily reachable by train from multiple locations in northern Italy and Switzerland. For this trip, we departed Milan's Stazione Centrale, and we arrived at La Porta del Ticino 1hour and 45 minutes later.
We had a perfect crisp fall morning in the town, with the sun illuminating the mountainous background. The city is small, but it is worth it to make the trip just for Castelgrande, one of the three fortifications and a UNESCO World Heritage site of Bellinzona.
Castlegrande was renovated by architect Aurelio Galfetti from 1980 to 1991, and it is the closest one to the city center. It has two different access points just a few blocks away from the train stations. You can walk to the Piazza del Sole, where there is a monumental opening in the side of the rocky mountain face which leads to an elevator. The elevator takes you up at the top to a ramp that ends to the castle hamlet. If you are feeling adventurous and want to take in the breathtaking views, you can walk on the narrow streets in front of the palazzo comunale, which lead to a winding road and the castle gate at the top. The castle grounds offers tons of places to view the city and the surrounding mountain range. For the best view, clime la Torre Bianca (The White Tower), which provides a 360 degree birds view of the town.
The castle has two restaurants. Castelgrande Restaurant offers a relaxing meal, while enjoy the view of terraces and vineyards, the perfect place for the aperitif. Grotto San Michele provides a rustic setting and authentic Ticino's cuisine. Castelgrande also has a museum with two wings, one dedicated to the history of the castle and the region and the other has temporary exhibits.
The city has more to offer, but dedicating a day to Bellinzona is sufficient to see all its sites, and it puts you in a strategic location to explore other cities in the region. We made our way bay back to Milano, by stoping in Lugano next.
Rivera - Cappella Santa Maria degli Angeli
If you have time, and the funicular is running, then you must visit the Capella Santa Maria degli Angeli. It is about half way between Bellinzona and Lugano, in the town called Rivera. Monte Tamaro's cable car is 5 minutes walk from the train station, and it takes you right to the mountain top, where the church is located. The church was designed by Mario Botta with paintings by Enzo Cucchi. The location perched at the edge of the mountain, and the foggy atmosphere makes it architecture magical, like you are floating above the clouds. It is the perfect location to retreat and meditate an afternoon.
I visited the church on a previous trip during the summer, but on this trip we were unlucky. We arrived just two weeks after Monte Tamaro's low season, in which the funicular is closed. You can hike on the side of the mountain on a winding path, the trek takes about 3 hours to reach the top. We could only see the church from the train at the tip of the snowy mountain shown in the picture above, and hope to visit on our next trip in the region.
On the way back from Bellinzona to Milan, we made a pit stop in Lugano.
I visited the city for the first time during Virginia Tech's summer abroad program, in 2007. Back then I new it was a city I wanted to return. It was even more special that I could share it with my husband on 2019's Fall. I always found this city one of the most romantic and charming that I've ever explored. Lugano has winding hilly cobblestone street with hidden quint squares. The city is nestle between the edge Il Lago di Lugano and mountains (Lugano's Prealps), and it offers its visitor a myriad of spectacular views from the beautiful lake side promenade and multiple high grounds.
We spent the afternoon walking around the lake through the newer part of the city, touring some of the newer projects like Casa del Pico, and Scuola Dell'Infanzia. We also passed by several of Mario Botta's very distinctive building designs. Though the day became substantially chillier after sunset, it was worth the wait to have dinner at a restaurant right on the lake.
I hope to come back again soon, though I think next time I would focus on wondering in the historic center and hiking to the many mountain tops.
A very early start still resulted on a delayed train from Milano to Zurich. The connections in Switzerland were like a Swiss Army Knife, precise and on point. The trip was not easy, and I am still amaze that we made every connection even when we only had minutes to spare. From Milan, there is two ways to get to Vals. You can take the train to Bellinzona and then take a bus that takes around 5 hours to Ilanz, then from there there is another bus hour ride to Vals. This option has long wait times, since the trains and bus don't arrive nearly as often. My husband and I took option 2 - which has more train transfers but the trains are pass every hour, and the scenery was beautiful. Our connections took us from Zurich to Chur to Ilanz by train in approximately 2 hours, and then 1 hour bus ride. What is also great about the connections we took, you have the option to buy train tickets for the day rather than a specific time, which gives a little more flexibility especially when Italian trains are always notoriously late.
After running around Milano and Switzerland to catch trains and connections, the stay at Vals Thermal Bath and Spa was a well deserved respite. We arrived to the snowy mountain retreat with time to spare for my luxurious 2 hour spa date. We studied our beautifully designed room by Tadeo Ando, and then sat at the lobby with woody hill with snow still falling. I headed to my Restorative Body Ritual with Chloe King at the Spa. All the stress from planning the trip, and keeping up with our extremely ambitious itinerary melted away. My husband, who is very ticklish and therefore dreads massages, head right into the thermal bath, where I met him after my massage. My face the moment I reunited with him was blissful serenity and exceeding happiness.
The thermal bath is a series of rooms, each designed to stimulate a different sense.