Ask a local: what should I do/see/eat in Locarno, Switzerland?

by gigigriffis
Locarno

Photo credit.


Welcome back to Ask a Local, a series of posts in which I interview locals all over the world about what to see, where to go, what to eat, and how to fit in in their city or town. The following interview was originally published in my Switzerland guide.

About Marco

I’m a bit complicated. My father is Italian and my mother is Polish, but I was born and have always lived in the Italian part of Switzerland, except for a year in New Zealand and two years in the French part of Switzerland.

I’m a mechanical technician, but I’m about to start a new adventure as a trip leader for a coach company that does trips around Europe.

In my free time, I used to enjoy skydiving, BASE jumping, free- diving, and hiking, but since May I’ve been dedicating most of my free time to physiotherapy due to a BASE accident. Right now, I’m mostly reading, cooking, and traveling.

Photo credit.

What to do in Locarno (the basics)

To start, leave your luggage at the train station in the blue lockers (they’re easy to find) or drop it at your hotel/hostel/ apartment and enjoy a walk by the lake, which is only three minutes from the station. The area is full of small bars and restaurants where you can enjoy a cold beer in summer or a lovely cappuccino in winter.

Hidden gems for seasoned travelers

An interesting place to see is the Verzasca Valley (Valle Verzasca), where you can follow a mountain road by car, motor- bike, or bus. At the beginning of the valley, there is a huge dam that was featured in the James Bond movie GoldenEye. Brave souls can book a bungee jump from it.

This region is a mix of Swiss mountains, Italian food, and tropical environment (palm trees!). The most important thing is to get out and enjoy it all.

Where to stay

A good way to enjoy this area is camping. There are plenty of campgrounds all around the region, from cheap to pretty expensive (depending on the number of stars). Another great option is rental apartments. Private people are renting rooms with kitchens and everything else you need.


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Day trips

Cardada-Cimetta is an amazing location that offers a breathtaking view of Lake Maggiore. It is reachable from Locarno by public transport. There’s a little funicular that goes up to Orselina, where a cable car will bring you up to Cardada. From there, you can hike for about an hour to Cimetta or take a chairlift. There are a few restaurants and nice spots at the top of the mountain and along the hike, as well as a panoramic platform and a horse farm. It’s also a famous location for paragliding (for both beginners and experts) and a tandem flight on a sunny day is a must.

In winter, this is a lovely ski resort for those who want to learn how to ski or snowboard.

Monte Tamaro is another great place, similar to Cardada-Cimetta but a bit farther south. There is a cable car from Rivera and at the top there are a few cool activities.

As mentioned before, in the Verzasca Valley you can enjoy a beautiful drive alongside the artificial lake (where people BASE jump from the dam) and then a river. Eventually, you’ll come to the amazing Roman bridge at Lavertezzo, where the beautiful green water will capture your heart.

Gordevio in the Maggia Valley (Vallemaggia) and the Verzasca Valley are well known for canyoning. And we’ve also got one of the world’s top skydiving centers at the Locarno Airport.

If you’re a fan of history and architecture, the windy city of Bellinzona is a must-visit. It is famous for its castles and the wall from the Middle Ages that still crosses part of the city.

Photo credit.

Where to hike

You can find hiking trails pretty much everywhere. For experienced hikers, there are two specific trails that will take you on a stunning week-long journey (though you can always stop by descending other trails into some amazing locations). The first is the Via Alta Vallemaggia (vialtavallemaggia.ch) and the second is Via Alta Valle Verzasca (look it up at verzasca.net).

Another beautiful hike is the route around the Basodino Glacier. Start from Robiei, which is reachable by cable car from San Carlo in the summer, or Piano Delle Creste, which is reachable from San Carlo on foot.

You can find lovely heated shelters with kitchens, beds, toilets, and showers on pretty much every mountaintop here in Switzerland. A friendly local is normally there to help.

Where to eat & drink (favorite restaurants & bars)

Start with Ristorante Pizzeria Bellariva (on Via Cantonale in Gordevio). This place has some of the best pizza you’ll eat in your life. They also serve every kind of pasta and other tasty seasonal dishes. Call ahead to book a table: +44 091 753 1965.

Another favorite is Ristorante Campanile (at Centro Intragna in Intragna). It’s a lovely place where you’ll find a different menu for every season. Try the fresh, homemade pasta with fish, vegetables, or meat. Wild game is also very typical. The sella di capriolo (a venison dish) is simply amazing.

My third pick would be Ristorante Pizzeria Gnesa (at Via San Gottardo 80 in Gordola). This place also offers seasonal dishes and good pizzas. If you like prawns, linguine alle code di gambero is what you want. That’s what I always eat there.

Budget tips

Avoid restaurants/bars in touristy places (near the lake, airports, train stations, etc.). The better prices are a little outside these areas.

In Switzerland, it is legal to drink alcohol in the street, so don’t worry if you want to buy a beer at a grocery store to save money; you can enjoy it sitting at the beach or another nice location around town. There are very few areas where you are not allowed to drink, and they are well marked.

How to fit in

If you’re Russian, don’t drink too much. If you’re American, don’t shout too much. If you’re Italian, don’t talk with your hands too much…But I jest…Respect the local rules and customs and don’t be too noisy or litter, especially in small villages.

How to meet locals & make friends

In the summer, there is a movie festival in Locarno, as well as an event called Moon & Stars, where stars like Pink, Santana, REM, Green Day, etc. perform. During these events, you can meet people from around the world.

In wintertime, there’s an event called Locarno on Ice where they set up a rink surrounded by bars with hot wine, local food stands, and a little Christmas market. There is live music.

Best places to take a photo

Lungolago di Ascona, Cardada-Cimetta, Piazza Grande Locarno, and everywhere in the mountains and nature.

Other tips

Maybe avoid November, which tends to be rainy, but do come in autumn. The fall colors in this area are something magical to behold.


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