Getting Oriented

The canton is geographically divided into two regions by the small mountain range (1,817 feet) called Monte Ceneri, which rises south of the valley below Bellinzona. Extending northeast and northwest of Monte Ceneri in the windswept Sopraceneri region are several mountainous valleys, including Valle di Blenio, Valle Maggia, Valle Verzasca, and Valle Leventina. Included in this region north of, or literally above, Monte Ceneri are Locarno and Ascona, which share a peninsula bulging into Lago Maggiore. The more developed southern region, Sottoceneri ("below Ceneri"), is home to business and resort towns, notably Lugano.

  • Sopraceneri. The capital of Ticino, Bellinzona has always been a famous crossroads thanks to three passes—the St. Gotthard, the Lukmanier, and the San Bernardino—from the north. The town's great castles—Castelgrande, Montebello, and Sasso Corbaro—prove that Bellinzona was always in the firing line. To the west along Lago Maggiore lies Locarno, Switzerland's sunniest town, with its bevy of baroque and Renaissance churches (including the cliff-top Santuario della Madonna del Sasso). Just beyond are the lakeside promenades of Ascona, so beloved by painters, and the Isole di Brissago (Brissage Islands), Switzerland's most beautiful botanical garden.
  • Sottoceneri. South of Monte Ceneri, Ticino changes. Whereas the countryside shelters many Italianate villages clustered around ancient bell towers, the bustling city of Lugano draws all eyes. There are really two Luganos. Sophisticated, modern Lugano is Switzerland's third-most-important financial center; Lugano of the old-world charm is another, its arcades and twisting streets reminiscent of a small Italian town. Fashionable boulevards and art-filled museums compete with the fabled waterside promenade, Il Lungolago, and lose out to its stupendous vistas of the blue lake and bluer peaks. On Lago di Lugano's shores lie a gaggle of gorgeous villages: Gandria, Campione, and Morcote.

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