Ahead of the Tour de Suisse (9-17 June), we’ve teamed up with Switzerland Tourism to show you the best cycling locations the country has to offer. Our second visit is to Ticino, a haven for mountain biking lovers.
Ticino: last stop before Italy
Continuing our series teaming up with Switzerland Tourism, we’re shining a light on another hidden gem in the idyllic Swiss Alps. Ticino is an alpine destination with the rustic charm and authenticity to match even Gstaad. Sharing a border, language and culture with Italy, this canton of Switzerland boasts a wealth of routes, from gentle lakeside paths to alpine singletrack – it’s a region just screaming to be explored by mountain bike.
Here are just a few of the MTB experiences to discover in Ticino.
Climbing through Gottardo
The Gottardo-Bike route blends pristine, high alpine landscapes with a cultural tour through some of Switzerland’s most historic, landmark locations. The route conquers the main backbone of the Alps – from Andermatt to Biasca in the Ticino – ascending some of the most famous mountain passes along the way.
The Gotthardpass, or Passo San Gottardo to give it its Italian name, stands as a stalwart sentinel on the Gottardo-Bike route, ready to accept or refuse entry to the lonely Piora high plain and the sunny Val Blenio. The final stretch of the 106km route from St. Gotthard Hospice to Biasca has a vertiginous elevation drop of 1,718 meters – a thrilling end to a nomadic trek across the spine of the Swiss Alps.
With challenging climbs and exhilarating descents, not to mention a year-round cycling season, it comes as no surprise to learn that former Swiss professional road cyclist, Oliver Zaugg, has chosen to make Ticino his new home. The 2011 Giro di Lombardia winner now offers cycling tours off the beaten track, returning to his MTB roots to share and impart his wisdom with adventure-seeking holidaymakers.
The experts at Switzerland Tourism suggest you tackle the Gottardo route across three days, packing in as it does more than 100km of mixed singletrack, surfaced and unsurfaced roads.
Prime photo opps in Lugano
One of the most attractive single trails in the Ticino, the Lugano-Bike route winds its way around the Val Colla – a parapet municipality that gazes across glacial Lake Lugano. Trekking through the hilly forest of Malcantone and onto the imposing Monte Tamaro, the route never lets up with its idyllic scenery and infinitely Instagrammable vistas.
As well as magnificent city views of Lugano, horizons dominated by snow-capped Alpine peaks and valleys flooded with emerald lakes – the Lugano-Bike route also delivers a culinary experience, if not to die for, then definitely to pedal for. Some of the best fresh gnocchi in the world can be found served up by at the ultramodern Capanna Monte Bar and it’s just a few metres off the route. Just try not to overindulge at lunch or the afternoon’s climbing might get a little more difficult than it needs to be.
The Swiss guidebook suggests busting this difficult route into four stages. It runs 117km, with 81km of that unsurfaced (and 35km of that on single track).
Taking it easy in Alta Verzasca
Opting for a tamer trail through the Verzasca Valley, the Alta Verzaca-Bike Route hugs the valley flats as it winds itself through gentle tracks from Brione Verzasca to Sonogno – two traditional mountain villages with a rich history rooted in the abundant natural life nearby.
The route combines history with popular culture and actually passes the iconic dam used as the location for James Bond’s iconic jump in the film, Goldeneye. The trail also takes you through Corippo, one of Switzerland’s smallest villages and a popular lunch destination with many local ‘grotto’ restaurants.
At just eight kilometres, this is a short day route suitable for families, which gives its riders a lot of free time to lose themselves within the surrounding nature. There are several spots along the way for a refreshing dip in the famed emerald waters of the Ticino region too, making it a perfect place to unload both the mind and the legs after a tough day in the saddle.
Eat, drink, sleep repeat
Lugano is not the only part of Ticino that is a treat for the tastebuds. Almost everywhere that you cycle you’ll encounter grotto’s (local restaurants) to tempt and test your palette
The well-signposted cycle path into the Maggia valley travels from Locarno to Cavergno, rising only 257m, helping to minimise the effect of gravity on your overladen stomach. Panetteria Poncini, known for its sweet panettone, and Bignasco, with its iconic Ticino herb and white wine-infused pepper spice, are just two of the must-stop points along the Maggia Valley cycle route.
For the wine buffs among you, Valle Maggia in the Lake Maggiore region is a sweet, drunken dream – the Al Saliciolo vineyard and historic Matasci winery providing more than enough opportunities to sup the intoxicating nectar for which the region is famed.
In the small village of Miglieglia positioned in a sunny spot at the foot of the Monte Lema in the Lugano region is Albergo Casa Santo Stefano. Built within historic buildings, this B&B hotel impresses guests with panoramic views and stylish rooms. The area is a popular biking destination and hotel staff are happy to provide advice on the area.
With guides-a-plenty and shuttle buses to ferry you from one spot in Ticino to the next, this is a difficult area to get lost in. What is incredibly easy though, is to lose yourself in the multitude of sensory experiences that the region has to offer – from crisp emerald waters that ring with the sound of pure nature, to eye-poppingly crisp wines and the earthy smells of hearty and healthy sustenance. Truly, as a spot for an MTB holiday, the Ticino has it all.
Keep a look out for where we’re off to next on our journey around Switzerland, or have a look at our blog from a couple weeks ago cycling in Gstaad.– but in the meantime, it’s time to start planning a trip!