Lazy lunches in Ticino - Switzerland

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Ticino is one of the lesser known areas of Switzerland, with its balmy climate, pristine lakes and fertile lands it's a great destination to travel to if you're into food. There are three main cities in the region. With more than its fair share of medieval castles Bellinzona is the capital. But for the two flavour experiences I want to tell you about I traveled to a small lakeside village called Gandria close to Lugano and then up the mountain above Locarno.

Gandria - fish from the lake

Gandria looks like a place where fairytales happen. As you arrive at the village by lake cruiser the pretty village has a welcoming feel. Set in the middle of the village in narrow traffic free streets is the church. On the lakeside most of the hickledy-pickledy buildings have their own rowing boat launches with bright flower clad verandas with people enjoying relaxing lakeside lunches. One of these small restaurants was our destination for lunch. Sadly the group I was in was just too big for the veranda, though luckily my seat was right next to the open view of the lake through the forest of flowers adorning the balcony. Sitting so close to the lake there could only be one choice a fillet of lake caught fish.

Served with buttery boiled potatoes the fish had a light fresh flavour and was the ideal lunch for a hot day. Our tour guide suggested we should try a merlot with our lunch. A confusing choice you may think, in the Ticino region they make their merlot white. I’m told it is the same grape as the red, the winemakers of Ticino crush their grapes and take the skins away almost immediately.

After a long lazy lunch we strolled along the lakeside slightly dehydrated from the lunchtime wine, luckily we found gelato to cool down on the walk back to Lugano.

Cardada - rabbit from the hills

The next day we made our way over to Locarno, the plan for the day was to go up into the mountains to get spectacular views over Lake Maggiorre and across over to the snow capped peaks of the Swiss Alps. We took the Cardada cable car and the Cimetta chairlift to the highest point we could travel up to and we then used the footpath with gravity in our favour to start walking back down the hill. The views were even better than we imagined they could be. Using the Centovalli as our sight our view shot over to some of the highest peaks in Switzerland in the Valais region.

As we set off on our walk we figured we'd find a place to grab a bite to eat on the way. Walking along a truly spectacular footpath we took in the lush countryside and watched long horned cattle grazing. As we turned a corner, halfway between the top lift station and the mid way point we found a restaurant called Lo Stallone. The first thing we saw was a log fire with large copper pans suspending above. These copper pans were cooking one of the region’s traditional specialties, polenta. Originally peasant food, polenta is a corn based starch that takes on the flavours it's cooked with.

As I read through the menu I couldn’t help but choose the wild rabbit with polenta dish. As I enjoyed the tender chunks of rabbit I tried to picture people surviving on this dish rather than swanning around on holiday as we were. It tasted good to me in my blissful setting, I can't imagine how much better this would have tasted during this region's harder times. Without a doubt peasant food at its best, although I have to say I was mildly jealous of the chopping board full of cured meats my fellow diner was tucking into. Again we washed our lunch down with a bottle of white merlot, this time we indulged in some water to keep ourselves hydrated for our walk back down to the top of the Cardada cable car.

As I sat in a jet pool in the lido of Locarno I reminisced over two lunches that would be hard to forget. Simple food, that the Ticino region had at one stage depended on framed in unforgettable settings.

I imagine this region of Switzerland is probably not that high up on your places to list. It's Italian lakes done the Swiss way and it's well worth the trip. The easiest way to get to Ticino is to fly into Zurich and jump on the train. Passing Lake Zurich, Lake Lucerne and dropping down into the Ticino valley makes for a pretty spectacular train journey.