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Why you should visit Switzerland’s Italian-speaking region of Ticino this year

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Why you should visit Switzerland’s Italian-speaking region of Ticino this year
The view from Monte Bre in Ticino. Photo: Andreas Gerth/Swiss Tourism
11:05 CET+01:00
2017 is the time to visit the southern Swiss canton of Ticino. Here’s why.
It’s quicker to get there now 
 
Photo: Maurus Huwyler/Swiss Tourism
 
Last December the Gotthard Base Tunnel – the world’s longest and deepest rail tunnel – opened for scheduled services. The new rail line through the Alps bypasses some of the old high alpine line and therefore cuts the journey time from Zurich to Ticino by around 40 minutes.
 
Contrast your high-tech zip through the tunnel on the way there with a return trip on a new panoramic train over the old alpine railway line, followed by boat to Lucerne, available from April.  
 
Public transport is free in 2017
 
Photo: Remy Steinegger/Swiss Tourism
 
To celebrate the new rail link through the Gotthard base tunnel Ticino Tourism is offering visitors free travel on public transport throughout the entire canton during 2017. The Ticino Ticket is given to anyone staying in a hotel, youth hostel or campsite and also offers reductions on entry tickets to popular attractions. 
 
There are plenty of parties lined up 
 
Photo: Remy Steinegger/Swiss Tourism
 
Kicking off carnival season from February 23rd-28th is Bellinzona’s annual bash, Rabadan, which means ‘noise’. Claiming to be the second largest festival in Switzerland (Basel’s Fasnacht takes the top spot), Rabadan attracts 150,000 people to the streets for parades, music, street theatre and much eating of Ticino’s famous dish, risotto. The highlight is the Sunday parade featuring 50 carnival bands and floats.
 
Another highlight is the annual strawberry festival on Ascension Day in May, when people gather in Locarno’s main square to celebrate this locally-grown fruit in all its guises – in cake, with cream, with aceto balsamico (balsamic vinegar) – and watch local girls compete for the much-coveted title of Miss Fragola (Miss Strawberry).
 
Autumn brings the week-long grape festival in Mendrisio (last week of September) and the annual chestnut festival in Ascona (October 7th).
 
The Locarno Film Festival turns 70
 
Photo: Remy Steinegger/Swiss Tourism
 
Speaking of parties, the internationally-renowned Locarno Film Festival will be even bigger and better in 2017 as it celebrates its 70th birthday from August 2nd-12th. The highlights are shown on a huge open-air cinema screen in the city’s main square, Piazza Grande.
 
The food 
 
Photo: Christof Sonderegge/Swiss Tourism
 
If you haven't yet explored Ticino's gastro scene you're missing out. Influenced by the rest of Switzerland and neighbouring Italy, the food in Ticino draws on the canton’s abundant natural resources to create a character of all its own. Sample Zincarlin cheese from the Muggio valley, salami matured in Bellinzona’s castles, Ticinese risotto made from rice grown in Europe’s most northerly rice field, and merlot wine from grapes grown in the Mendrisiotto region. Not to mention all the wonderful pasta dishes.
 
The area’s fabulous restaurants cover all budgets, from il grotto – simple taverns with a garden for outdoor, communal eating – to Michelin starred restaurants including Locanda Orico in Bellinzona, whose chef Lorenzo Albrici celebrates 20 years of success in 2017.
 
Visit on the weekend of May 26th-28th for the annual Open Cellars (Cantine Aperte) event, when vineyards throughout the region open their doors to visitors for tastings. For cheese lovers, earlier in the month the canton stages an Open Cheese Dairies (Caseifici Aperti)  weekend, a chance to sample the produce of 19 cheese producers. 
 
The history 
 
The castles of Bellinzona. Photo: Roland Gerth/Swiss Tourism
 
Of strategic importance in the Middle Ages due to its position on the route through the Alps to Italy, Ticino has a rich history that’s most evident in Bellinzona’s beautiful trio of Unesco-protected castles. The oldest, Castelgrande, dates from the 4th century though archaeological evidence says the site was inhabited as far back as 5,500BC. Together with the castles of Montebello and Sasso Corbaro it makes up one of the canton’s most treasured tourist attractions and is a must-visit.
 
The views
 
Photo: Enrico Boggia/Swiss Tourism
 
With its lakes and mountains Ticino is typically Swiss – but with added sunshine and Mediterranean flair. Among its many beauty spots is the summit of Monte Bre, considered the sunniest mountain in Switzerland. Take the old funicular up to see the formidable view over Lake Lugano and the Bernese Alps. 
 
Or head to Monte Carasso to walk along the 270m Tibetan bridge, opened in 2015, that links two villages near Bellinzona and opens up a four-hour walking trail. The bridge rises 130m above the ground and offers thrilling views across the forest below.
 
But this year’s panoramic place to be is much-loved hiking spot Monte Generoso close to Mendrisio, which will see the opening of a new architectural landmark on April 8th. The Fiore di Pietra (stone flower) by Swiss star architect Mario Botta, who was born in Ticino, will contain restaurants and conference spaces.
 
It’s officially warmer than the rest of Switzerland
 
Sunny Lake Locarno. Photo: Ivo Scholz/Swiss Tourism
 
If you’re looking to bask in the sun’s warmth this summer, Ticino is the place to be. According to Swiss weather office MeteoSuisse Locarno-Monti has the warmest average annual temperature in Switzerland. No wonder the area has so many palm trees. However the record for all time highest temperature is held by Grono just over the cantonal border in Graubünden, which hit 41.5C back in 2003 -- a bit too hot, perhaps. 
 
It has some of the best beaches in the country
 
Photo: Luca Mascaro 
 
Ticino’s beautiful lakes give the canton 160km of shoreline  and create many fantastic bathing spots, not least because they are some of the cleanest in the country. The European Environment Agency’s bathing quality report 2015 said 109 Swiss beaches had ‘excellent’ water quality, many of them around the lakes of Lugano and Locarno. Choose your favourite here.
 
It has one of the prettiest villages in Switzerland
 
Photo: Roland Gerth/Swiss Tourism
 
Shortlisted for the title of ‘prettiest village in Switzerland 2016’, Lavertezzo is known throughout the country for its beautiful double-arched bridge over the Verasca river, the Ponte dei Salti. In summer it’s a stunning spot for a dip in the clear water, hiking, canyoning and kayaking. 
 
 
 

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