After completing my three week French course at the University of Geneva, I hopped on a flight to the southern Swiss city of Lugano. Although I've spent a fair amount of time in Switzerland, I'd never visited the Italian region. Upon landing in Lugano, I made my way by mountain train (the Swiss love to tunnel through nearly impossible mountains) to meet up with my family. My father, step-mom and two brothers had arrived in Switzerland the week before and met me at our hotel with stunning photos, stories of adventures and a few scrapes and bruises from mountain biking excursions.
We spent three nights Lugano, a place known as the 'Sunny side of Switzerland' or 'Switzerland's Nice' with palm trees and sunshine to match. On our first day we took a trip up the funicular to San Salvidore to see the astounding panoramic views of Lake Lugano. Afterwards, we walked the old town of Lugano to discover the secret locations of Italian unification and WWII espionage. Of course, we stopped for gelato along the way, the first gelato my brothers had ever tried. Being the European gelato expert that I am, a title I claimed by eating gelato everywhere I go, I reassured them the cone would not disappoint. For dinner we stopped at a small, hidden Italian restaurant called La Tinèra. While most of the family got pasta and risotto, I opted to be a brave and experienced traveler and order the plate of the day, boiled meat. When the mysterious and unnamed meat was placed before me, my youngest brother exclaimed that at least one of the pieces was cow tongue and the other horse (an item that was in fact on the restaurant menu). Unconvinced, and undeterred, I enjoyed the plate of the day and accompanying condiments. After checking with the waiter we learned that in fact the meat was all cow, pork and chicken, and my brother was a bit disappointed. I will say though that the condiments however, are still a mystery.
For our second full day we headed out to Bellinzona, a town nearby Lugano known for its three castles. We spent the day walking up hills and through alleyways to explore the 14th century structures that stood out from the hillside. The three castles, Castello Sasso Corbaro, Castello de Montebello and Castelgrande, all had different architecture, history and highlights. It still amazes me that we are allowed to hike up stone towers and walk through tunnels that are over 500 years old; I certainly try not to think about it, or look down or up, as I hike the never-ending stairs.
Having thoroughly explored Lugano, we boarded a six hour train to Gstaad. We were headed to the Berner Oberland, home of Swiss chalets, mountain grazing cows and our Swiss family.