The Castles of Bellinzona.
Montebello and Sasso Corbaro from Torre Bianca, Castelgrande

From Gandria Marco and Soraia drove us north to the town of Bellinzona,  the  capital of the Canton of Ticino.  The city is at the head of the Lake Maggiore valley and boasts the well preserved and extensive remains of its original town walls which includes the three separate, but linked, castles of Castelgrande, Sasso Corbaro and Montebello.

Bellinzona is situated on one of the main north south Alpine trade routes and as such has been fortified for centuries with newer fortifications simply being built on top of the older ones.

Castelgrande towers from the West Bailey
Castelgrande towers from the West Bailey
Torre Bianca
Torre Bianca

In the 14th century the Milenese Visconti family actually built a wall across the entire 1 km width of the Tessin the valley to ensure control of the trade route over the St Gothard Pass and the current fortifications originate with the modernisations under taken by the Sforza, the last Milanese Dukes.   In 1499 the French took Bellinzona on their way to Milan, but only managed to hold the city until the following year when the townspeople revolted and kicked them out.   Seeking protection from the French the city joined the Swiss Confederation in 1500.

Bellinzona from Castelgrande

The old town below the fortifications and within the remains of the city wall is wonderfully traditional and is centred around the Cathedral and Town Hall in adjacent ‘squares’.

Piazza Collegiata
Palazzo Civico, Piazza Nosetto.

The Town Hall (Palazzo Civico) is built around an open quadrangle. It has a fabulously decorated wood panel ceiling and the walls are decorated with murals depicting changes to the city over the centuries

Wood panel ceiling in the Palazzo Civico.
Piazza Nosetto circa 1500
Piazza Nosetto circa 1500.
Piazza Indipendenza

The castles at Bellinzona are impressive, as they are supposed to be, and the old town is how I had envisaged Lugano might have looked; which is why Marco and Soraia brought us here!   It was a great day out and we enjoyed our visit immensely!

Brè and Gandria.

On Friday the weather was the complete opposite to Thursday, gloriously bright and warm.  Marco and Soraia took us for a drive around the Lugano area, starting with a trip part way up Mount Brè for some stunning views over Lugano and Lake Lugano and then down to lakeside Gandria.

Lake Lugano looking south.
Lake Lugano looking east

From Brè we drove down to the delightful lakeside village of Gandria on the north western shore of Lake Lugano.

Lake Lugano from Gandria’s ferry jetty

This quaint little place clings to the steep lake shore just inside the Swiss / Italian border.  The village was originally higher up the mountain side but apparently was moved to the lake shore in about the 14th century.  Always rather isolated the area was known for its olives.  In my ignorance I had never associated Alpine lakes with such a Mediterranean crop!    A harsh winter in 1709 killed off the trees but they have recently been replanted and the foot path between Lugano and Gandria is known as the Olive Path.

The lake from the Olive Path

Gandria also produced silk and was a centre for smuggling due to high Swiss customs dues.   Apparently there is a Customs Museum in Cantine  di Gandria on the lake shore opposite Gandria which, according to Wikipedia, exhibits a submarine which was used to smuggle salami.  Regrettably we never got to see the Salami Smuggling Submarine!

15th century Church of St Vigilio. (Baroque facade from the 19th century)
St Vigilio was stoned to death by pagan shepherds.

Gandria was a lovely suprise. Picture postcard quaint and the sort of place to enjoy lunch overlooking the lake, but we were off to spend the afternoon in Bellinzona.