I have to admit that I was surprised when friends in Canada or even here in Finland are familiar with Locarno. Not many know, in fact, that there is an Italian-speaking part in Switzerland. Locarno, my hometown, is situated in the region Ticino, in the South-Eastern part of the country, where Italian is the official language.
Locarno is a rather small place, with roughly 16,000 inhabitants, but its landscapes, mountains and the lake makes it a very popular destination among tourists in the neighbouring countries and beyond.
While the old castle Castello Visconteo and the Piazza Grande (“Big Square” in English) are probably the most famous man made attractions, there’s plenty of natural elements that makes the city kind of special. While a trip to the Cardada mountain is the perfect chance to enjoy a breath-taking view of the region (you can even see Italy from up there), the lake and rivers offers plenty of chances for water sports and fun in general.
As for entertainment-seekers, the international events Locarno Film Festival and Moon and Stars music festival are the happenings that gives life to the city during the summer season and bring thousands of tourists on the shores of Lake Maggiore (also known as Verbano).
Just a five-minutes drive from Locarno there is Ascona, a town on the lake with spectacular and romantic scenery, especially at night. Adding ten more minutes to the drive, one ends up in the Maggia Valley, the perfect place to go hiking, camping, swimming in the rivers or even try bungee-jumping at the Diga della Verzasca, the dam James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) jumps from in the opening scene of GoldenEye.
Switzerland may not be close to the sea, but a trip to Locarno, filled with mountains, spectacular landscapes, colourful houses, delicious food and the lake, will make you feel like you wouldn’t change your stay in Ticino for anything else in the world. In addition, everything is so close that, buy driving only a couple of hours, one can end up in the German and French-speaking regions of Switzerland, in Italy (the borders are less than 30 minutes away and Milan around two hours), France and Austria.
Last tip: if you happen to be in Locarno, make sure to go for a train trip or drive up north to see the German-speaking part (and more Alps!), it’s the same country but looks a lot different for some things. However, to get there, you have to go through the 16 kilometre-long Gotthard tunnel. It might sounds a bit challenging, but it’s definitely worth it.