Ascona, Brissago Islands: Pictures and Travel Guide


Lake Maggiore (literally ‘Greater Lake’) is at the same time the largest lake in Southern Switzerland, and the second largest in Italy, the lake and its shore being divided between the Italian region called Piedmont and the Swiss Canton of Ticino. This is an area with a mild Mediterranean climate all year round, with the result that it benefits from a lot of tourism, and can grow plants from the Mediterranean, Asia, Africa, the Americas and Oceania.

Let us start our picture tour of this special region in the beautiful, historic and popular tourist town of Ascona (see pictures below). For this is a little bit of the Mediterranean in Switzerland, with its Old Town architecture in the style of that part of the world, and its lake promenade lined with cafes (see pictures below). We know that this area of Switzerland has been inhabited at least since the Bronze Age, and was later part of the Roman Empire; after a mixed history in medieval times, Ascona became part of the Helvetic Republic around 1800, and for the next century it made its living mainly from farming and fishing. In the 20th century tourism really took off, and now the town receives many thousands of visitors a year.

Getting to Ascona
The nearest airport to Ascona is at Malpensa near Milan in Italy, 36 miles (58 km) from the town. This is Italy’s second busiest airport, and receives flights from all parts of the world. You can get a train from the airport to Luino, where a ferry will take you to Ascona in three hours. From Zurich Airport to Ascona by train takes about three and a half hours (change at Bellinzona and Locarno for the short bus ride to Ascona). From Geneva Airport the train to Locarno takes about 5 to 6 hours, then it’s a short bus ride.

Ascona is Switzerland’s lowest lying town, and you can reach it in winter and summer by car on the A2 motorway to the Bellinzona South exit; or from northern Italy you can drive along the shore of Lake Maggiore. But in either case be aware that you don’t really need a car in this tiny lakeside town, parts of which are pedestrianised, including the famous lakeside promenade.

What to see in Ascona
The Piazza Giuseppe Motta, named after a Swiss political leader of the first half of the 20th century, is the centre of the town and an area of hotels, cafes and restaurants with a view of the lake (see pictures). The square is lined with plane trees, and you can catch ferries here to various destinations. As you can see in the photos, the nearby Old Town area is a picturesque place of narrow cobbled streets, with every kind of shop, built around the 16th century church of Saints Peter and Paul, which itself is well worth a visit. If you fancy a swim in the lake, head for the Lido Ascona, where you can spend a day dividing your time between the restaurant, relaxing on the lawn and cooling off in the water, where they also have a diving board. For fans of art, the Museo Comunale d’Arte Moderna displays modern pictures on two floors of a 16th century palace, and there is also the Museo Castello San Materno showing German art from the early 20th century, inside the castle.
Ascona is a festival town; here are some of the annual events in chronological order: January: Ascona on Ice; April: Silvetta Schüler Cup skiing event; May: Locarno Strawberry Festival; July: Locarno Boat Show; Jazz Ascona; Polo Cup; Longines CSI horse jumping event; International Cliff Diving event; August: Fireworks Ascona; September: Locarno Triathlon; Ascona Music Festival; October: Ascona Chestnut Festival; December: Christmas Running Races.

Where to Stay in Ascona
There are at least three 5-star hotels in this high class Swiss resort; one of the most luxurious is the Castello del Sole with a private lake shore with bar and terrace, as well as an outdoor pool, gym, private golf course and fitness centre. This hotel welcomes children, with a baby-sitting service in summer. The 4-star Hotel Ascona, on the Monte Verità above the town, with a stunning view of the lake and mountains, also welcomes children and has an outdoor pool. This is a modern hotel and it puts on cultural events in the evenings. In the 3-star category, the Albergo Carcani, with a lakeside position and a view of the mountains is popular. This hotel is right in town, and their restaurant serves Italian cuisine.
For those wanting hostel-type accommodation, the Osteria Ticino (2-star) is just a five minute walk from the Old Town. Rooms here have a balcony with mountain or garden view. They take families and pets, and there is a restaurant and buffet breakfast. WiFi is free.

The Brissago Islands
You can reach the Brissago Islands by boat from Ascona; they (see pictures and tourism information below) consist of two beautiful small islands lying in the Swiss part of Lake Maggiore, on the south side of the Alps. Only the larger island, Isola Grande, is open to the public (late March to mid-October). The smaller is called Isola di Sant’Apolloinare, and is also known as ‘Rabbits Island’ (Isola dei Conigli). The Brissago Islands have a particularly mild climate in winter and summer, and are world famous for their unusual vegetation, being covered in rare trees, shrubs and flowers; in effect a botanical park.

As well as from from Ascona, you can take a ferry from Locarno, Porto Ronco or Brissago Village (not in the pictures), to experience a ‘round the world’ botanical trip on a single island, featuring some rare plants and flowers.
There is one ten-room hotel and restaurant on the island, in a palace-like building of the 1920s (in the pictures). It must be magical to be one of a few people still there when the tourists have gone ashore…

Note: to avoid confusion, there is also a village called Brissago on the western shore of Lake Maggiore, but it is not featured in our pictures.

Tourism Information
There are tourism offices in Ascona (Viale Bartolomeo Papio, opens 09.30) Locarno (Piazza Stazione, opens 09.30) and Brissago Village (Via Leoncavallo). They will arrange sightseeing tours for you, and help you book accommodation.

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