Ascona & Locarno Attractions and Activities
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The Ticino, and especially the Lago Maggiore region including the resort towns of Ascona and Locarno are blessed with an exceptional mild, mediterranean climate which provides for opportunities for pleasant summerlike activities as early as March. The area with its lake and the surrounding hills is among the best in Switzerland for leisure walking, hiking and (mountain) biking.
Excursions: >> Mountain ExcursionsCity Excursionsother Excursions
Cardada (1,340 m / 4,396 ft) and Cimetta Mountains (1,671 m / 5,482 ft):
Half- or Full-day excursion (approx. 30 minutes from Locarno to Cardada or Cimetta). From Locarno, you can either take the bus or the funicolare (near the train station) up to Orselina, and then from Orselina take the cable car (designed by Mario Botta) up to Cardada. The cable car has windows from bottom to top, therefore, also kids see a lot. At Cardada, there are various hiking paths, a small playground and two restaurants. There is also the possibility to take the chairlift up to Cimetta. From these two mountain tops, you have an excellent view and lots of walking trails. Ideal for everyone, including older travelers and/or kids.
Monte Comino (1,150 m / 3,772 ft): (open mid-March - mid-November)
Half- or Full-day excursion (approx. 40 minutes from Locarno to Verdasio by train). From Verdasio, a village located in the Centovalli, the cable car brings visitors in 7 minutes up to the Monte Comino. At the top there's a restaurant and the departing point for numerous hiking trails in any direction.
Rasa (900 m / 2,952 ft): (open March - mid-November)
Half- or Full-day excursion (approx. 40 minutes from Locarno to Verdasio by train). Drive or take the Centovalli train to Verdasio. There, take the very steep aerial cable-car up to Rasa, a car-free hamlet situated on a sunny terrace. Life up there is very hard and therefore, these days the stone houses are used mostly by vacationers. Rasa is very picturesque and offers a superb view onto the sunny side of the Centovalli Valley and the village of Intragna with its very high church spire (69 m / 226 ft). It also invites to some lovely hikes in the shady forests: e.g. hiking down to Corcapolo, crossing the Melezza River and back to Ascona/Locarno by train.
Monte Tamaro: (1,530 m / 5,018 ft at Alpe Foppa) Open April through November.
Half- or Full-day excursion (approx. 45 minutes from Locarno to Rivera by train). Mount Tamaro is one of the most appreciated spots of the Ticino. It offers a unique view of the pre-Alpine landscape, of lakes and the snowy peaks of the Alps. Mt. Tamaro is located in the Lugano-Bellinzona-Locarno triangle. From Rivera, a convenient cableway whisks you up to Alpe Foppa with its restaurant and the Church of S. Maria degli Angeli (designed by architect Mario Botta). Alpe Foppa also is the starting point for walks with panoramic views as well as being home to an innovative play park for kids, an Alpine-Coaster bobrun, Flying Fox and a new track for downhill fans. The Adventure Park, meeting point with snack bar, and the Bike Park are situated at the cableway’s middle station.
With the location on the south side of the Swiss Alps, Ascona and Locarno are not the ideal destinations for making day excursions to other cities in Switzerland - other than the cities of the Ticino and in northern Italy. Only a day-trip to Lucerne is feasible (through the Gotthard Tunnel).
Half- or Full-day excursion (20 minutes by train from Locarno). Bellinzona's Old Town is the perfect place to draw breath and a mellow introduction to the easy pace of the Ticino. A fortress since Roman times, the city occupies a prime valley-floor position, holding the keys to the great Alpine passes of the Novena (Nufenen), Gottardo (Gotthard), Lucomagno (Lukmanier) and San Bernadino. Bellinzona is blessed with medieval architecture and picturesque churches galore, and also serves as the main access point for excursions into the wild and little-known Alto Ticino (Soprageneri) region. Bellinzona, the capital of the Canton Ticino, is famous for its three well-preserved medieval castles (Castelgrande, Montebello, Sasso Corbaro), which are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Brissago / Brissago Islands:
Half- or Full-day excursions (30 minutes by bus from Locarno). Brissago is a small town on the Italian frontier, perched between the shores of Lake Maggiore and the steep mountains behind. Brissago is famous not only for its tobacco and cigar factory, but also for its islands known for the mildest climate in Switzerland and the more than 1,500 different species of plants that thrive there. The islands of Brissago which seen from above look like bright green spots in the blue of the lake, are easy to reach by boat.
Lugano - the Swiss Mediterranean City:
Half- or Full-day excursion (55 minutes by train from Locarno). Lugano is an international city and the crossroads and melting pot of European culture. It is not only the Ticino's most important city, and Switzerland's third most important financial center, but also a town of parks and flowers, villas and sacred buildings, and it has been a holiday destination for many Swiss since the end of the 1800's. Lugano offers a traffic-free historic town center with buildings in Italianate Lombardy style, a beautiful lake, uncountable hills and mountains, and numerous options for outdoor activities and excursions to sights in the surrounding area. Along Lake Lugano are lots of Venetian-type villages showing the closeness of neighboring Italy.
Lucerne - City of Lights:
Full-day excursion (approx. 2.5 hours by train from Locarno). Lucerne is ideally situated in the historic and scenic heart of what many believe to be the "true" Switzerland - picture mountains, lakes, cowbells, alpine villages and meadows full of Edelweiss. Lucerne is renowned for its attractive townscape, historic Chapel Bridge and shopping facilities. When traveling to Lucerne from the Ticino, consider the scenic train "William Tell Express" which also includes a steamboat cruise on Lake Lucerne from Fluelen to Lucerne (travel time Locarno-Lucerne 5 hours).
other Excursions / Sights:
Guided City Tours:
From April through October, the Locarno Tourist Office offers a guided walking tour starting from the tourist office. The tour includes the churches of the Old Town and the Castello Visconteo. The Ascona-Locarno "Trenino" (little train) is a convenient way of getting to see both cities' attractions and highlights (from March through October; several departures daily). And finally, the Lago Maggiore Tourist Office offers a program with different guided tours on Segways. These future oriented, electric and self balancing vehicles on two wheels allow the user to be mobile in a pleasant and modern style. The guides will accompany you on different routes, following some of the most beautiful and characteristic places in the region.
Ronco sopra Ascona:
Ronco is one of the most delightful places overlooking Lake Maggiore, with an enchanting panorama of the lake and mountains, and a picturesque footpath with over 800 steps leading down to the lakeside. The village extends from Porto Ronco at about 200 m (660 ft) to the height of 1,300 m (4,260 ft) in the mountains. The picturesque, quaint-looking center rests on a prominence in the mountain side at a height of 350 m (1,150 ft). Three main horizontal roads connect the tortuous, vertical paths. Ronco sopra Ascona has always been an artists' village; Antonio Ciseri painted the altar picture in S. Martino church in 1870 where 15th-century frescoes depicting the four seasons can be admired.
Centovalli ("100 valleys"):
The Centovalli extends from the Maggia river delta to the Italian border. The valley offers a variety of landscapes which are best seen from the scenic blue and white narrow gauge Centovalli Train. This nostalgic trip leads past breath-taking gorges with sparkling waterfalls, over spectacular bridges and through colorful fields, vineyards, chestnut groves and sleepy little villages. The ride from Locarno to Domodossola (Italy) through the Centovalli and the Valle Vigezzo is one hour and 50 minutes.
The hub of this region is Intragna: it overlooks the fertile Pedemonte countryside and stands guard over the entrance to the Centovalli. Intragna's famous, majestic, 17th-century bell-tower is a prototype of the architecture favoured by the region's rustic gentry. Necessity forced many people to emigrate: they worked as chimney sweeps, grill-cooks, knife-vendors and above all as dockworkers in the port of Livorno, Italy. Today one can still catch a pleasant hint of Tuscan Italian in the speech of the elderly; set into the iron of a balcony in Palagnedra, one can see the emblem of the Medici family - just to mention two reminders of that adventurous past. The splendid ornamentation of Palagnedra church also has its story to tell.
One of the most beautiful valleys in Switzerland has to be the Valle Verzasca. This valley offers a wild and fascinating landscape, with the Alps on one side and a lake on the other. The emerald green glacier water and incredible rock formations are stunning on a sunny day, and thanks to its good visibility, it is famous as a river diving destination. The Verzasca River forms the artificial Lago di Vogorno near the entrance of the valley, formed by the Verzasca Dam which is the 25th tallest dam in the world. The Verzasca Dam also is well known for its 220 m (722 ft) height jump - one of the most famous bungy jumps, as it was used in the James Bond movie "Golden Eye".
The villages in the Onsernone Valley lie on high terraces which allow a view of the wild, rugged valley floor, an ideal place for those seeking authenticity and antiquity. The rustic buildings, reminders of hardship and poverty in times past, merge with the impressive, refined houses, some from the 1500's, which were built by émigrés who made their fortunes in France or Italy.
Villages such as Auressio, Loco and Russo nestle in picturesque scenery which has fascinated and attracted artists, writers, and lovers of nature in every period. In Loco, the impressive baroque church dedicated to Saint Remigius is well-documented since the 11th century, and the Museo Vallerano provides for interesting information about the history, art and culture of the valley. Part of the museum is the old but recently restored mill which continues to grind corn, just as it once did.
A rugged, enclosed valley some thirty kilometres (18 miles) long, from where it meets Centovalli to the border with Italy, it offers the walker an abundance of routes: from the nearby pleasant mountain hamlets to the most secluded alps and peaks ranging from 1,500 to 2,500 m (4,900 - 8,200 ft a.s.l.), rivers and streams with the clearest of waters to fish in or simply relax alongside, not to mention the ruins of Bagni di Craveggia with their spring and thermal baths which were known about as early as the year 1200.
Boat trips on Lake Maggiore:
Visitors to Ascona and Locarno can spend a pleasant afternoon relaxing on a boat and gliding along the water's surface. There are several boat trips available, ranging from a simple crossing ending at the pontoon on the opposite shore (Magadino), to a proper excursion including a visit to Stresa (Italy)and the Iles Borromes.
Madonna del Sasso, Orselina:
The sanctuary of Madonna del Sasso in Orselina above Locarno is the principal sight and goal of pilgrimage in the city. The founding of the sanctuary goes back to a vision of the Virgin Mary that the Franciscan brother Bartolomeo d'Ivrea experienced in the night of 14/15 August 1480. The interior is highly decorated, and a platform gives a magnificent view of the city and the lake.
Castello Visconteo, Locarno:
The Castello Visconteo, on the edge of Locarno's Old Town, was built in the 12th century. In 1342 the Visconti-Family of Milan, for whom it is now named, attacked the castle from both the land and the lake side and took it. It first came into the hands of the Swiss in 1503. Today, only a fifth of the original structure remains; most of that dates from the 15th and 16th centuries, and only the foundation remains from the original structure.
The Astrovia Locarno is a 1 : 1,000,000,000 scale model of the Solar System. The Sun can be found at the end of Via Gioacchino Respini where the cycle path, which runs alongside the river Maggia, starts. Pluto, the final planet in the model, can be found 6 km (3.7 miles) away from this starting point in the village of Tegna.
Experience a close encounter with majestic birds of prey at the Falconry in Locarno, where you will be able to observe and photograph eagles, hawks, owls and vultures. These beautiful birds, flying free, will lead you into a dimension where man and nature meet, in a natural and animal friendly place. Open from mid-March through the end of October.
Sports: >> Summer SportsWinter Sports
Swimming, Sailing, Surfing, Diving, Water-Skiing - Ascona and Locarno with its Lago Maggiore are a paradise for watersports enthusiasts. The shores are dotted with a number of places to swim, sandy beaches, fun water slides and great green meadows. The most important beaches of the region are: Lido Ascona, Lido Locarno, Lido Brissago and Lido Tenero. Also the emerald green rivers which run in the valleys are very tempting; however, be careful not to underestimate the danger of their currents! Get detailed information and ideas about all water activities at the local tourist offices.
The Lake Maggiore region offers some 200 km (125 miles) of footpaths. The Locarno Tourist Bureau distributes a map indicating every trail; this map also outlines various itineraries with the time that it takes to cover them.
Breathtaking landscapes, a soft and temperate climate, even routes or ascents, the Lake Maggiore region offers a vast and diverse bike territory. There are 20 official Bike Routes: ride along the shores of Lago Maggiore and the banks, or you will toil to climb the region's valleys. Get the leaflet with the suggested routes and other useful information at the local tourist offices in Ascona, Locarno, Ronco sopra Ascona and Brissago. Further, you find some interesting routes on the ProCentovalli Hiking and Biking Trails Map.
In recent years the Lake Maggiore region has also become an important destination for golf offering golf courses in:
Ascona: Golf Club Patriziale; 18 holes - only players member of a Golf Union with a playing handicap not over 30.
Locarno: Golf Club and Scuola Pubblica Golf Target; 6-hole course + 9-hole course + driving range.
Losone: Golf Gerre; 18 holes - only players with a playing handicap not over 36.
Losone: Sake Golf Pitch & Putt
Several more golf courses are located in the Italian resorts around Lake Maggiore.
Other Summer Sports:
Ascona - Locarno and the Lake Maggiore region offer all kind of sports activities for sports enthusiasts of all interests and levels, including adventure sports such as parachuting and paragliding, bungy jumping, canyoning and river rafting, or more relaxed outdoor activities such as horseback riding, inline skating and nordic walking, beach volley, tennis and mini-golf, or indoor sports such as squash and bowling.
The Lago Maggiore region with its low altitude and milde climate certainly is not a prime destination for winter sports! However, some of the surrounding mountains and valleys not only offer winter walking, but also skiing and snowboarding, as well as cross-country skiing and snow-shoe trekking trails. Within the Ascona - Locarno city limits, winter sports mainly is restricted to indoor sports such as swimming, tennis, squash, bowling and fitness, and ice-skating and curling at the "Siberia" ice-rink in Ascona, and of course, walking along the shores of Lago Maggiore.
Skiing / Snowboarding:
The major ski resorts of the Ticino are located in the Upper Ticino, mainly Airolo (approx. 80 minutes by train from Locarno) and Bosco Gurin (approx. 100 minutes by bus from Locarno), both with 6 lifts and approx. 30 km of groomed pistes each. However, skiers and snowboarders can enjoy their sports just a few minutes from Locarno at Cardada-Cimetta with a couple of ski lifts and approx. 6 km of groomed slopes.
Cross-Country Skiing / Snow-Shoe Trekking:
There's a 5 km cross-country trail from Sonogno to Val Redorta in the Verzasca Valley, where also snow-shoeing is possible. A great place for snow-shoeing is the Cardada-Cimetta above Locarno offering several interesting trails and a fantastic panorama of Lake Maggiore and its surroundings.
Go Out: (Dining / Entertainment / Nightlife)
Very popular are the “Grottoes” - nothing is more typical for life in Ticino than the grotto! A Grotto is a rustic eatery, offering tasty Ticino recipes - traditional food ranging from pasta to home made meat specialties. Popular dishes are Luganighe and Luganighetta, a type of artisan sausages, the Minestrone vegetable soup, Risotto or Polenta, to mention just a few. Authentic grottoes are old wine caves re-functioned into restaurants. Due to their nature they are mostly found in or around forests and built against a rocky background. Typically, the facade is built from granite blocks and the outside tables and benches are made of the same stone as well. Grottoes are popular with locals and tourists alike, especially during the hot summer months.
As one probably expects, the restaurants in the Ticino mainly offer mediterranean and Italian as well as local cuisine - from home-cooked comfort foods to upscale gourmet meals to serve all tastes and budgets. Of course, there also are international dishes from around the world being offered at the approx. 100 restaurants in the Ascona-Locarno region. After dinner, nightlife in the Ascona-Locarno region is varied and interesting: there are approx. 50 small clubs, lounges, pubs and bars with deejays and music for all tastes.
The Casino Locarno is located in an historic building right in the center, a short walk from the Piazza Grande. The casino offers 150 slot-machines, 4 American Roulette tables (single zero) and 3 card tables (Black Jack, Ticino Stud Poker and Ultimate Texas Hold’em). In addition, the property also has two bars, the restaurant “Le Bistrò” as well as a theatre.
There is a cluster of fashionable boutiques along the arcades of Locarno's Piazza Grande, the centerpiece of the town's shopping district, and in Ascona most of the shopping is done in the streets of the Old Town. In addition, shoppers also do well by wandering through the resort towns' three department stores.
"Normal" business hours are 8 AM - 6 PM on weekdays (5 PM on Saturdays), however, except for the very low season months January and February, the shops in Ascona - Locarno are even opened on Sundays, and during high season (June through August) as well as on special events, the shops are open every day from 10 AM - 10:30 PM.
If you are looking for the perfect holiday souvenir or genuine local products, just delve into the colorful market scene where you can find the object of your desires. The Ascona Market takes place from April to October on every Tuesday along the lake promenade. The Locarno Market is located on the Piazza Grande which every Thursday (every 2nd week during winter months) is filled with stalls selling all kinds of products.
In addition, there are several interesting markets in the nearby Italian villages - Mercato di Luino or Mercato di Intra to mention just two of them. Ask at the local tourist offices for further details.
SlowUp Ticino: (in April)
SlowUp Ticino is meant to be a day of celebration, featuring movement in the open air. A track of approximately 50 km (30 miles), which runs between the two poles of Locarno and Bellinzona, will be entirely closed to motorized traffic. You are invited to cover the distance, or part of it, as you prefer (on foot, running, by bike, skating, ...).
International Street Artists' Festival, Ascona: (4 days end of May)
The Street Artists' Festival features entertainers from different countries, performing for the joy of adults and youngsters in the streets of Ascona's Old Town. Mime artists, actors, dancers, jugglers, balancing artists, fire-breathers, musicians, clowns and many more create a magical atmosphere and therefore, this young event has become one of the most widely anticipated. Four days with hundreds of free exhibitions, which brings a lot of fun to the Ascona streets and Piazza. All the artists, in fact, perform for free and at the end of their show they just offer their hats to a generous audience.
JazzAscona: (10 days in June / July)
The biggest European Jazz Festival dedicated to the Hot Jazz. For ten days in early Summer, the pretty town of Ascona and the US city of New Orleans are united by their music. For more than two decades, Ascona has featured legends of New Orleans Jazz and the main European and American artists of the hot-jazz scene. Each year, the event's program contains over 200 concerts and more than 400 hours of live music, from New Orleans Traditional Jazz to Chicago, from swing to mainstream, from ragtime to gospel, not forgetting excursions into blues, R&B, soul and latin, and funk rhythms. Artists and bands are set to perform in bars, restaurants and hotels during the day, and on the stages on the lakeside in the evenings, transforming Ascona into a maze of small 'jazz clubs', producing a wonderful atmosphere between musicians and the diverse audience of fans and aficionados.
Moon and Stars, Locarno: (10 days in July)
To welcome Moon and Stars, Locarno changes its look and becomes a stage for great international pop-rock performers. A truly international festival offering ten concerts featuring the biggest international stars, with the Piazza Grande as the stunning backdrop, filled with thousands. While still young, this Locarno event is already a must for the tours of musicians and singers, many now calling it the "Montreux of the Southern Alps". For fans, Moon and Stars Locarno is a unique chance to listen to and admire international artists, where quality music becomes the soundtrack for the entire city.
International Horse-Riding Competitions: (4 days in July)
Every year in July, an unmissable date in Ascona for fans of equestrian action: the "Concorso Ippico Internazionale" with some of the finest mens and ladies riders in the world. The vast fields of Ascona's former airstrip are set to be completely transformed for the occasion, which will feature spectacular show jumping and dressage competitions alternating over four days entirely dedicated to horse riding, offering a sporting program of the very highest order. Along with the amazing exhibitions from the splendid thoroughbreds and their riders, there are lots of events to keep everyone entertained.
Locarno International Film Festival: (10 days early August)
The Locarno International Film Festival is aworld top cinematic all-feature event where experimentation and entertainment, the cultural and spectacular, meet and mix successfully. The Locarno Festival has established itself in recent years as an important industry showcase for auteur filmmaking, a perfect networking opportunity for distributors, buyers and producers from around the world. Featuring evening projections under the stars, on one of the biggest screens in the world, Piazza Grande deserves its title of "the most beautiful open-air cinema lounge". The rich programme for the event offers a wide range of possibilities: from art house and innovative cinema, to the movies for larger audiences; from well established, to young and promising film-makers from different countries and very different cinema traditions.
Musical Weeks Ascona: (7 weeks in September / October)
The "Settimane Musicali di Ascona", with its rich program of symphony concerts, chamber music evenings and single instrument recitals, has come to represent, over the last sixty years, the most important classical music festival in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. This Ascona event plays host to the most famous musicians in the world, covering the full gamut of what the classical oeuvre can offer today.
Link to other current Locarno events
Archaeological Museum at the Locarno Castle:
The Castello Visconteo is housing Locarnese artefacts from the late Bronze Age to the High Middle Ages. The show-piece is the collection of Roman glasses excavated in the Ticino region comprising approximately 200 items placed in chronological order and assembled following the context of the finds. Further exhibits document the prehistoric Locarno times (8th - 1st centuries BC), the Roman art (11th & 12th centuries AD) and also a collection of Apulian vases (7th - 5th centuries BC). Documents on the Locarno Peace Treaty in 1925 are to be found in the municipal section of the museum as well as costumes from the 18th century and Nymphenburg Porcelain.
Casa Rusca Museum and Gallery, Locarno:
The Pinacoteca Casa Rusca is located at Locarno's Piazza Grande in a restored building from the 18th century - one of Locarno`s most beautiful palaces. It is home to Locarno's art collections including a huge collection of works by celebrated Dadaists which are displayed in temporary exhibitions.
Museum of Modern Art, Ascona:
The museum was initiated by the painters Marianne Werefkin (1860 - 1938) and Ernst Kempter (1891 - 1958) who's families are extending the collection with their own exhibitions and thanks to contacts with other painters. In fact, today the museum is the ideal place to review 20th century art and contemporary works with links to the Ticino.
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