Perfectly placed on the shore of Lake Maggiore is the colorful and under-appreciated town of Locarno, Switzerland. In the Swiss-Italian canton of Tocino, this city combines the best of each of its neighboring countries from the food, the friendliness, and natural splendor. While Locarno definitely has “hidden-gem” status amongst tourists, this feeling is amplified in the winter when many crowds stay home or head to better-known ski resorts. With year-round activities and stunning scenery, here’s why Locarno, Switzerland should be your next destination.
Cold weather or not, wandering the cobblestone streets and the lakeside boulevards around Locarno is a lovely experience. With a city center that has a population of only about 17,000 residents, the town is easily traversed on foot. For those wanting a different perspective, hop on Locarno’s cable car. Known more so as a funicular, the railway whisks visitors up the mountainside to the Madonna del Sasso monastery. The monastery, which is rumored to have been visited by a vision of the Virgin Mary, offers stunning views of the lake valley.
In the winter, visitors can get a glimpse of the unusual sight of palm trees, which line Lago Maggiore’s shores, dusted with a fluffy layer of snow. Regardless of the season, the popular shopping areas and markets team with locals. During the colder months, the Piazza Grande, which in the summer hosts the esteemed Locarno International Film Festival and the largest open-air screen in Europe, transforms itself into the outdoor location for Locarno on Ice: an ice-skating rink which occupies much of the large square.
Nature-lovers will also enjoy the options of exploring the nearby Bolle di Magadino natural reserve and the areas around the Ticino River. As with everything in Locarno, these activities are made better with the views of the lake and surrounding mountains. If you fancy really roughing it, why not check out the Most Amazing Campsites in Switzerland?
Although Locarno might be better known as a summer destination, because of the easy access to water activities offered by the lake, visitors should not forget Locarno is still located in the Swiss Alps. One of the mountains that towers over the city is Cardada-Cimetta. Used as a jump site for paragliders in the summer, the slopes are quickly occupied by skiers and snowboarders at the first hint of snow. The chairlift, which is easily accessible from the aforementioned funicular railway, takes riders to the summit of the ski runs, which stands about 5,000 feet above the city. For those not wanting to throw themselves down a snowy hill, take the lift to the highest point at Cimetta for panoramic views of the entire region from the observatory.
As with a lot of European travel, choosing to stay in Locarno opens you up to the opportunity of exploring many nearby villages, towns, and cities.
For those wanting to get a feel for small provincial villages, take a day trip to nearby Ascona and Corippo, both of which are within a two-hour journey from Locarno. Ascona is a similar lakeside retreat known for its picturesque buildings and alleys, as well as for having a number of sophisticated boutique shops and art galleries. Meanwhile, the tiny, stone town of Corippo has been called “the gentlest village” in the region.
For more excitement, head to Lugano, a city with a similar façade and vibe to Locarno but on a larger scale. Lake Como and Bellagio, long known as an escape for the rich and the famous, is also within reach of Locarno.
In 2004, Locarno got a huge dose of historic fame when a famed Italian historian provided his speculation that Locarno’s castle, known as Visconteo, was actually designed by Leonardo da Vinci. The castle is open for visitors and now also houses a municipal and archeological museum. The city also has a number of inspiring contemporary art museums, notably The Casa Rusca Gallery, La Rada, and Il Rivellino.