Vicky is in Switzerland for the weekend and the weather is not looking too great for Basel. I have always wanted to visit the Italian corner of the country and spot that the forecast for Lugano is brilliant sunshine. A good chance to give the car a run and check out la dolce vita South of the Alps.
We are only about 15km out of Basel when we see the first sign warning of bad traffic at the St Gotthard tunnel. What's this all about? We are heading that way - in fact the same route that I took to Andermatt when I was hiking in the summer. About 5km from the tunnel we find out. A long, almost stationary queue of traffic snaking up the hill. It turns out that the authorities control the flow of traffic in the tunnel with traffic lights before the entrance. This keeps the flow moving in the tunnel but creates big tailbacks on the approach. Not a bad idea - I'd rather be stuck looking at fantastic mountain views than 10km underground!
Once we are through the tunnel we have no further upsets, despite some rather long roadworks, and are soon sweeping along past Lake Magiori and then on to Lugano. As a treat I have booked us into the Hotel Splendide for the night. This must be the top hotel in town. The welcome and service is fantastic and our room amazing. We even have a balcony the size of a tennis court looking over the lake (above). Outside on the lake yachts with spinnakers race while avoiding little Toppers also out having fun. Steamers cruise up and down and people of all ages promenade along under the trees. It reminds us rather of the promenaders along the lake in Hanoi 18 months previously although no ice creams here in October.
We join the promenaders and head along the lake for 10 minutes or so, passing the striking contemporary art museum to reach the Via Nassa - Lugano main shopping street, a pedestrian only route with pretty, iron balconied buildings that runs along behind the lake front. The shops are full of smart Italian fashion - after all we are only a few km from Italy and less than an hour from Milan. I persuade Vicky to keep walking as we are quite late for lunch. We reach Piazza della Riforma and pick out an attractive and popular restaurant. After a grumpy start, being asked to wait and then watching other couples snatching tables, we settle down and the service is charming. And once we are full of salads, pasta, beer and wine we are feeling much more mellow.
As we leave the centre of town we stop by the Church of Santa Maria degli Angioli. This late Romanesque church, built in 1499, is one of the greatest treasures of Lugano and contains several frescos by Bernadino Luini, a pupil of Leonardo da Vinci. Dominating the mail aisle is his "Passion and Crucifixion of Christ. To me the colours look almost too bright following restoration but it is a spectacular work. Other fine frescos in the church make this a 'must see' in Lugano.
From the hotel we have seen two peaks towering over the town. Monte Brè looks impressive but is at the far end of town. Instead we head back along the lake, past the hotel, to Paradiso where we find the little station for the Monte San Salvatore funicular. We cram in with all the other tourists and are soon being hoisted up the steep slope. To our surprise it come to a stop after about 7 or 8 minutes. "All Change" comes the instruction and we cross to the other train that has come down from the top - the two are counterbalanced and cover the top and bottom of the hill. Means they don't have to build a passing spot. At the top we follow a footpath to the top of the hill for fabulous views (see header and below) of the surrounding lakes and mountains.
Back in town we relax in our beautiful hotel before drinks in the bar and a very fine dinner. Next morning we enjoy sunning on the balcony, watching the local fishermen and keen joggers. Breakfast is packed - where did all these guests come from? We didn't see them last night. "Buono Giornata" the friendly waiters wish us as we start thinking about crossing back to the clouds and rain waiting on the other side of Switzerland.