Lake Lugano (48 km2) has an unusual shape. Its five tangled branches create an aquatic network that means you always end up having to cross it whether you arrive from Chiasso or from Bellinzona, by rail or by the motorway.
One gets the same impression arriving from the Italian border and following the shore from Ponte Tresa to Agno towards Lugano and also when returning to Italy coming from Porlezza. In short when you travel along its banks (at an altitude of 271 metres) you feel like you are continually hopping from one lake to another, even though it is the same mirror of fresh water you are looking into.
A Cruise of sweet disorientation
Losing your bearings in this pleasant way gets even more intense when you travel on the water itself. La Società Navigazione del Lago di Lugano has eight boats which offer several different trips leaving from Lugano.
Apart from the private cruises which are available by reservation, there are daily organised tours that go towards Gandria or Porto Ceresio (which is at one of the two southern extremities of the lake. The other is Capolago in Switzerland.) This cruise takes you to the charming village of Morcote, situated on Swiss territory but directly opposite (less than a kilometre as the crow flies) is the Lombard shore.
The cruise departs from Paradiso. This landing stage owes its name to the village which has now become Lugano’s southern district at the foot of Mount San Salvatore which at 912 metres towers above the town: the summit is accessible by funicular.
Facing Paradiso one finds the little village of Caprino (which has a population of 400 in summer and 20 in the winter.) One can only reach it by boat or via a very long detour by foot. This hamlet which faces directly north, has long been a place where the Lugano traders housed their cellars. Food was stored here in ideal conditions due to the lack of winter sun - from St Martin’s day (11th November) until Candlemas (2nd February.)
The lake cruiser then reaches the landing station at Campione d’Italia, a little Italian enclave on the Swiss territory since 1861. A few metres from the shore the imposing municipal casino holds pride of place. This project was built to specifications of the famous architect Mario Botta and is a modern construction which some have criticised due to its cubic shape and its dimensions.
Further south at Melide the boat goes under the ponte-diga (the dam-bridge) built in 1847 by Pasquale Lucchini. It has since divided the Ceresio area into ‘two lakes.’ Next come the villages of Bissone (to the East), Melide (to the west), then Brusino just opposite the enchanting village of Morcote.
The Sunny Realm of Morcote
The old village of Morcote (700 inhabitants) could not be better placed. Situated on the southern headland of Mount Arbostora it faces directly south. So its inhabitants enjoy the sun all day long and it was not by chance that this village already existed in the 10th century.
The walk alongside the shores of the lake is charming whatever the season. In good weather one should climb the monumental stairway’s 404 steps to get a closer look at the churches of Sant’Antonio Abate, Santa Maria del Sasso and the small chapel of Sant’Antonio da Padova.
This village also conceals some other beauties: the monumental cemetery, the ‘Captain’s’ medieval tower and the Scherrer botanical gardens. Those who are brave enough can also climb up to the 12th century castle at an altitude of 475 metres. A wonderful panoramic viewpoint!