Palm trees, polenta and a water tower.

Me and my companion ticket  Add to that a line network totalling 3,000 km – that’s what freedom feels like! So, shall we go to the Jura region, Arosa or simply head south? On a cold morning, our destination is quickly decided: Switzerland’s sun trap – Ticino.

With the first few rays of sunshine, my travel companion Patrick and I are at Zurich main station, getting on the train to Bellinzona. Thanks to the companion ticket, which costs CHF 38, Patrick can travel with me in first class.

A day trip with the companion ticket.

Here’s how to save money when travelling together: the companion ticket is available from 27 February to 21 May 2017. If you have a GA travelcard or 1-day travelpass, for example, you can take a companion with you on a train trip for just 38 Swiss francs. Visit sbb.ch/companion  for more ideas for leisure activities.

 

We aren’t even tempted to have a little nap on the train because the view outside is far too beautiful to miss. A mystical veil of mist stretches out over Lake Zurich while Lake Zug mirrors the clear sky. The area around Arth-Goldau is straight out of a fairy tale with its haphazard scattering of moss-covered boulders.

Stroking the deer at the Goldau Nature Reserve and Animal Park.

Goldau Nature Reserve and Animal Park is worth a detour, especially since you’ll get 30% off the admission price until 9 April 2017. But do allow for a whole day because once you get down to feeding the baby deer, you won’t want to leave in a hurry!

 

The Rigi keeps us company all the way to Lake Lauerz, where our attention is drawn by the towering Mythen mountains. With the scenery around us, I imagine how wonderful it would be to spend a whole day travelling around Switzerland.

An announcement wakes me from my reverie: “Ladies and gentlemen, we will soon be travelling through the world’s longest tunnel.”

Get to Locarno 30 minutes faster.
You can shave no less than 30 minutes off your journey time thanks to the Gotthard Base Tunnel, which opened on 11 December 2016. That means you can get to Ticino or Italy even more quickly. A journey from Zurich main station to Milan’s central station now only takes three and a half hours.

 

It’s staggering how much the landscape changes in the time between going into the tunnel and coming out again. We get off in Bellinzona and take the S-Bahn across the countryside to Locarno. The little town greets us with palm trees, sun and early flowering shrubs.

 

Polenta, cheese and amaretti.

We waste no time and head for our first destination – the “Mercato di Locarno” on the Piazza Grande. Almost every town in Ticino has a weekly market. Although over the years markets have seen an influx of plenty of stalls selling cheap goods from Asia, you can still find the finest specialities from Ticino, and even Italy so they’re well worth a visit. Tip: visit the market in Spring because there are even more traders selling their goods then.

We buy all the possible flavours of cantuccini biscuits from a trader from Lugano at the market and take them with us to the lake, where we are greeted by screeching gulls.

The search for the best porcini risotto.

The cantuccini have whetted our appetite, not surprising since it’s already 11.30 a.m. “Verscio is reputed to have the best porcini risotto,” Patrick tells me – a tip given to him by a colleague from Ticino. Now ravenous, we head back towards the station.

The Ferrovie Autolinee Regionali Ticinesi (FART) connects the surrounding valleys north of Lake Maggiore. The good thing is that the route is within the area of validity for the GA travelcard and the 1-day travelpass. A nostalgic little train takes us along the Melezza river, each bend bringing us closer to the Verscio stone-built church.

 

Heading for the grotto, we decide to take a little detour around Verscio’s charming alleys, and soon come across the Museo Comico.

A place for theatre.

There are lots of artists living in Verscio since the famous Swiss clown Dimitri and his wife founded the acting school now known as the Academia Teatro Dimitri. During a visit to the Museo Comico, which is also in Verscio, you’ll see many props, masks and sculptures – these were Dimitri’s life work.

 

A few minutes later we arrive at the Osteria Croce Federale. Pushing open the heavy door we are confronted with a  packed restaurant. We sit down at a stone table outside; after all we want to enjoy the nice weather. The porcini risotto with a good glug of red wine smells divine and warms you up from inside.  A fizzy drink goes down a treat – how lovely it is to be in Ticino!

Eager to discover more, we travel back to Locarno. After all, we want to use our companion ticket to see as much as possible but unfortunately we haven’t taken the weather into account because  it’s turning cloudy. There’s still so much to explore around Locarno and Ascona but we decide to go in search of the sun – no problem as we can do almost anything with the companion ticket.

My weather app forecasts 15 degrees and sun in Lucerne so we make it our new destination! We are heading back to German-speaking Switzerland. Check out my list of must-do activities in Ascona and Locarno, weather permitting.

Tips for Locarno:

  • Take the nostalgic funicular railway up to Maria del Sasso (fare payable), where you can enjoy a breathtaking view of Locarno and Lake Maggiore.
  • The view is even more beautiful – but also more expensive – if you travel further up.For example, you can take the gondola lift from Orselina to Cardada or the chair-lift from Cardada to the summit of Cimetta (fare payable).
  • La Trattoria The restaurant is tucked away from the hustle and bustle and serves authentic Ticino cuisine, which you can enjoy in its secluded garden on warmer days.
  • Visit the Camellia Park with over 300 different varieties which is at its best during the Camellia Festival.

 

Tips for Ascona:

  • Pinotti’s chocolate amaretti really are the best in Ticino, you have to try them!
  • The Osteria Nostrana serves a delicious porcini risotto or “risotto verde con funghi porcini” and their garlic porcini polenta or “polenta nostrana con funghi porcini trifolati” is a delight!
  • Mercato di Ascona Tuesdays only, right on the shores of the lake.
  • The Isole di Brissago An island in the middle of Lake Maggiore with plants from all five continents (subject to a fee).
  • In Ronco sopra Ascona, the balcony over Lake Maggiore opens onto picturesque scenes and is certainly worth a visit – you can get there on the postbus.

 

Off to Lucerne for coffee.

The tunnel exits in Erstfeld, which actually greets us with a bright blue sky and we go back the way we came to Arth-Goldau, where we change trains and take the Voralpen-Express to Lucerne. This is a route to rival this morning’s as we enjoy another train journey with exclusive views of the surrounding scenery, this time along the other side of Lake Zug and past the arms of Lake Lucerne until we finally reach Lucerne.

We walk to the LUZ Seebistro and sit down on the terrace outside, which is directly above the lake. From here you have the best view of the city, the mountains and the lake. Tip: enjoy the sunset on the terrace.

 

Sightseeing the Japanese way.

It’s already 5 p.m. by the time we finish our coffee and tea. High time to explore Lucerne before it gets dark. Patrick says: “We can’t miss out on a stroll over the Kappelbrücke and past the water tower.” He’s right – the Lucerne landmark is the oldest bridge in Europe, after all.

 

Having reached the old town, we walk along the Reuss, past the Rathaus Brewery, which serves the best beer in Lucerne according to my colleague Kevin, who is from the area. A climb up to the “Museggmauer” was also recommended to us. We go along Eisengasse and Mariahilfgasse to get to the 870 m long wall with its nine towers.

Ahead of time.

One of the towers is called the Zytturm. Built in 1535, it has the city’s oldest clock and that’s why it has the privilege of striking a minute before all of the other clocks in Lucerne.

 

The “Museggmauer” is open to the public as well as four of its towers. But the walls are only open during the summer months, which is why we make do with enjoying the spectacular view of the mountain range from the foot of the wall.

If you ever visit Lucerne, you might find the following recommendations useful.

Tips for Lucerne:

  • The Alte Suidtersche Apotheke. The oldest chemists in Lucerne, dating back to 1833, is well worth a visit for its historical fixtures and fittings alone
  • The Nadelwehr, or The Weir of Lucerne was built in 1852 and still regulates Lake Lucerne’s water level to this day.
  • The Swiss Museum of Transport is a mine of information on mobility and transport in Switzerland.
  • The Neubad is a bistro in a converted swimming pool serving delicious vegetarian and vegan treats.

With our bellies still full of Ticino’s delicacies, our feet are beginning to ache. Who would’ve thought that it could be warmer and sunnier for once in German-speaking Switzerland than in Ticino. We had enjoyed an eventful, varied and sunny day – all thanks to the companion ticket. Contented, we begin our journey home.

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