Superbly placed on the sheltered curve of the northernmost tip of Lago Maggiore and surrounded on all sides by mountains, Locarno is Switzerland's sunniest town. Subtropical flora flourishes here, with date palms and fig trees, bougainvillea and rhododendron, and even aloe vera burgeoning on the waterfront. Don't forget your sunglasses—you don't show your face in Locarno without a stylish set of shades, especially during August, when the town makes worldwide news with its film festival, showcasing the latest cinema on an outdoor screen in the Piazza Grande. It also hosts international artists in concert.

Modern Locarno is actually made up of three tiny communities—Locarno, Muralto, and Minusio—that are so close together that you often don't notice moving from one to another. The town's raison d'être is its waterfront, which has a graceful promenade curving around the east flank of the bay and a beach and public pool complex along the west. Its clear lake is often as still as glass, reflecting the Ticinese Alps to the south. Locarno's Lombard-style arcades and historic landmarks continually draw visitors inland as well. There are a few pedestrian-only streets in the heart of the Old Town.

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