Weekend in Lugano
Depart from Rome Termini at 7am sharp and your train will pull into Lugano station shortly after 11:30am, after a brief change in Milan. Leave on Friday if you can make it a three-day weekend, but even if you leave Rome on Saturday morning and return Sunday, it’s worth it just to breathe in the fresh mountain air flowing across Lake Lugano.
If you book the Hotel Splendide Royal Lugano (above), which I can’t recommend enough, Fernando will be waiting to collect you from the entrance to the train station in the hotel’s sleek black minivan. A quick drive through the town and everyone will be oohing and aahing along the edge of Lake Lugano and up the steep entrance driveway of the Splendide. It is even more glamorous in real life than the pictures – no small feat in this Instagram age!
Saturday morning should consist of a leisurely rich breakfast at the hotel, followed up by a ten-minute walk along the pretty promenade that hugs Lake Lugano. This brings you into the heart of town for a spot of shopping along the portico-lined Via Nassa. Expect to be pleasantly surprised at the mix of high-end designers (Gucci, LV – they’re all here) with sophisticated and elegant jewelry, watch, antique and food shops, not to mention some Swiss department stores and even a fresh vegetable market. It’s a very healthy shopping offering for a small town of 64,000 people. By the way, Lugano is the largest Italian-speaking city outside Italy.
When I think of Switzerland, it’s all about watches and chocolate, and Lugano certainly doesn’t disappoint. I spotted watch and jewelry giant Bucherer from out on the lake (my husband is a big fan of their own watch brand Carl F. Bucherer) and luckily my favorite Swiss chocolate brand Läderach has two shops in Lugano, one in the main street and one in the train station (which was even open on Sunday afternoon before our train left for Rome). Sweets are not my only vice. I also like to smoke the occasional Cuban cigar with my husband who sent me directly to Casa del Habano Cigar Must to stock up on some exclusive Swiss regionals. I was very well looked after by the owners in this beautiful and well-stocked cigar shop, with an elegant smoking lounge upstairs which I’ll gladly return to – perfect to counter those chilly Swiss days.
If you don’t get caught up by the shopping, I strongly agree with Rafael from the Splendide who not only recommended we take the leisurely two-hour boat trip around the lake, but he even gave us tickets (approx. CHF28 each) and foolproof directions on where to jump on and options for jumping off and enjoying the neighboring towns. We stayed onboard as the boat toured the entire lake, enjoying a champagne aperitif in the sunny but fresh conditions. We came for Swiss winter (in February) but we were treated to a spring weekend.
To continue our bubbly mood, we returned to the Splendide for their special Champagne Afternoon Tea with Perrier Jouët. In a word - splendid! We were then delighted with a tour of the palace by Sales & Marketing Manager, Emanuele Di Pasquale. Afterwards we were thinking a cheese platter would suffice for dinner and headed off to Sass Café in the heart of Lugano (as per Concierge Rafael’s recommendation). The potato and leek soup with raclette cheese melted on toast followed by a generous cheese board to share, hit the spot perfectly.
The dream Sunday in Lugano
This was actually our Sunday and it played out like clockwork! Swiss precision at its best.
10:00am Rich buffet breakfast in hotel after a lovely sleep-in of course!
11:30am Mass at Sant’Antonio with Don Emanuele (the former assistant chaplain to the Vatican Swiss Guard).
12:30pm Pick up pastries and coffee from Münger Tea Room (Via Giacomo Luvini 4) around the corner from St. Anthony’s Church and bask in the sunshine on one of the many benches overlooking Lake Lugano.
1:30pm 30 minute paddleboat ride on Lake Lugano (€9). No deposit required. Pay and go!
2:10pm Visit the stunning Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli to see frescoes from the 1500’s.
2:30pm Last chance glass of Perrier Jouët at the Splendide Royal.
3:00pm Concierge van to Lugano station. Pick up chocolate from Läderach and a giant pretzel from Brezelkönig for the train trip. I recommend the raclette cheese variety.
3:22pm Train departs (and arrives at 7.58pm Rome Termini)
Keep in mind that shops are closed on Sundays in the city center, allowing for a real family day. Locals go to church, enjoy the fabulous panoramic boardwalk and activities offered around and on Lake Lugano, and dine at one of the many cafes and restaurants with outdoor seating whenever there is sunshine. They also take advantage of the surrounding hiking opportunities presented by the mountains of the Lugano Prealps.
Before you go: see Lugano Turismo for a program of current local events.