Ticino

We absolutely could not leave Switzerland without visiting TICINO! Ticino is the Italian speaking canton of Switzerland, in the southern region bordering with Italy. We finally made it on our last vacation weekend before we end our jobs on the 30th of June. It was a public holiday this past Monday 5 June for Pentecost, and so we were able to have a 3 day weekend for the trip, which was helpful since it takes some time to travel there.

Transportation: We travelled by train, which takes 4.5-6 hours. The train was the best option as you have to cross the Alps to reach Ticino, and traffic is known to be awful on the weekends with people traveling south for vacation and the cheaper shopping in Italy. There are only two options: Drive over the mountains or train/drive through a tunnel. On our way down to Ticino we took the train route that goes through the Gotthard Base tunnel. Opened in 2016, this is the world’s longest and deepest traffic tunnel, is over 35 miles long and cuts straight through the Alps! An incredible engineering feat!

Accommodation: 

We stayed in the Ticino capital of Bellinzona at the Hotel Gamper on Friday night. We  stayed there merely for convenience as we were arriving late on Friday night (nearly 11 pm) and it was a convenient 15 minute bus ride to the village of Cresciano for our canyoning trip on Saturday morning. For one of the cheaper hotels next to the train station, we were pleasantly surprised. The hotel room was big and had a balcony with a view of the village and the local castle.

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View of the castle of Bellinzona from our hotel balcony.

We stayed in a one bedroom apartment rental with Cassa Rossa in Brione in the beautiful Valle Verzasca for Saturday and Sunday night. This place was a fantastic rental and I wish we could have stayed longer. Seriously, I recommend visiting and you will not be disappointed! The apartment was very newly renovated, with 100% Ikea furnishings but it looked like one of their store rooms. The apartment was fully equipped, the grounds were well manicured with a hot tub and 3 BBQ areas with outdoor seating, overlooking the river and mountains. This valley is well-known for its steep walls with granite peaks, that have created crystal-clear, aqua blue streams cutting through water-carved granite canyons. There were waterfalls everywhere gushing with water from the spring snow-melt. So beautiful!

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The Cassa Rossa in the center of the valley Verzasca. That’s me sitting in the area by the grill. A perfect spot for our BBQ!
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Another view of the Cassa Rossa. It had three apartments, one on each floor. We were in the center. It had views from all the windows – I wish I was still there now!

Activities: 

After doing some research on the Ticino region we discovered it has some of the best available canyoning in the world. We signed up with Ticino Adventures to take us out on Saturday 3 June for a guided trip. Given that we never had done this before, we chose a Level 2 route called the Boggera (see link for description) in Valle di Cresciano. The trip was about 4 hours round trip, with approximately 2 hours in the canyon. Canyoning involves walking to a high elevation above a canyon and then taking a series of jumps into pools, walking through the stream bed, sliding down natural slides (my favorite!) and also rappelling down cliffs through the waterfalls. Overall, while it was cool and the slides were so fun, I am not so sure I care to do it again as the jumps scared me a liiiiittle too much. But still really awesome to have tried out canyoning!

just us canyoning
Andrew and I at the beginning of the trip
canyoning 2
A section where we had  just jumped into the pool of water on the bottom right corner. Afterwards we walked through a section of the canyon through the water.
canyoning
Me and three of the other Swiss people on the trip. We were in a section after we’d just rappelled down through a waterfall!
slide canyoning
A natural slide feature as part of the canyon trip.  You wear a harness with a tough rubber flap over your bum, it helps protect your skin and makes it easier to slide. We slid down feature here, as you can see the people at the top getting ready. You hold onto a rope and once you reach the end you let go and slide on down. It was so cool!

After the canyoning trip, it took us some time on public transit to our next destination – the village of Brione in Valle Verzasca. We stopped in the lakeside city of Locarno for a convenient layover. We walked along the lakefront, watched some beach volleyball at a tournament, and bought groceries for the next couple days. By 6pm we were at our apartment in Brione and by 7:30 we were grilling and enjoying the view. Doesn’t get any better!

On Sunday, we woke up and hit the trail – which was a convenient 2 minute walk from our doorstep! We headed up to Lake Starlarèsc.

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Passing through a meadow at the beginning of our hike
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Hiking up and up
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So.many.waterfalls. We hiked along this one for at least an hour. It was continuous and gorgeous as it cascaded down the mountainside over these steps of granite.

This was a challenging hike that took us on what turned out to be 6.5 hour trek with a 5,100 foot elevation gain (this is a lot for us!). We reached an open meadow area with a shelter for people to spend the night next to the lake. You can see the stone house on the right side of the photo below. I would not have minded staying a night there!

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We had our lunch sitting on benches on the pass at the center of this photo. It was such a sweet spot and awesome view!

It would have been an 1.5 hours shorter but we tried to take the trail on a loop and got blocked by an un-passable field of snow on a steep slope. We had to double-back and go back down the way we came. Unfortunate, but it happens this time of year while we’re waiting for snow to melt.

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A chamois looking back to watch us after he was galloping through the snow. He was above the big snow patch that we were unable to cross. Really gave us perspective at how skilled these animals are at traversing the mountains when we weren’t sure we could safely cross the snow!
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View from the hike into the next valley over, Valle Maggia

As we hiked and traveled through the Valle Verzasca, we were reminded so much of the California Sierra Nevada mountains and how different the climate was in Ticino versus our local mountains in the Suisse Romande. The peaks were granite and lower elevation, leading to far more green vegetation on the peaks. It was so much more lush, which makes sense given we were on the warmer, wetter, sunnier, southern side of the Alps.

On Monday, as it was a holiday, there were limited buses to get out of Brione and we had to leave early. Luckily, it was pouring down rain, making it a bit easier to leave as we would not have been able to enjoy the day. We left shortly after 9am and got home around 3:30pm. It was such a nice trip and I can’t say enough how much I’d recommend a trip to this region!

So, that was it! Our last weekend trip while living in Switzerland. Holy cow it has been an amazing two years of living in Switzerland and having the opportunity to travel to such amazing places in Europe – and all so close to our Swiss home!

For the rest of the month up until our last day of work we’re both very busy. Andrew is working on a proposal and I am on an audit with a short deadline. Both of us are trying to close out open jobs or transition our work to our successors and it’s finally our turn to have our apéro de départ (work going away party) next Friday 16 June! We’re sharing the event with a few other people who are leaving the firm or transferring to other offices, so it should be a big gathering.

We have now put nearly all our furniture up for sale online and have managed to sell quite a few things so far. The apartment is starting to empty out (no more dining room table or night stands – where do I put my water glass???) and we’re nearing the transition period when we will live out of suitcases and storage units for 2.5+ months.

I am so happy and RELIEVED that we received a letter in the mail this week that someone has rented our apartment starting 1 August!!!!!!!! This was becoming a huge concern to find a replacement on our lease. We will have to pay one month’s rent to cover July, but we’re officially released from our lease contract and we have it in writing. Such good news and one less thing to worry about on a long list of international moving tasks. Other than moving and starting to pack up our things, we’ll be trying to get up into the mountains every Sunday to prepare our legs for our multi-day trek in the Dolomites next month. It’s all starting to come to a close, which is a bittersweet time for us. Either way, we’re going to continue to enjoy our last days in Switzerland and I’ll keep sharing them with you!

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