Hidden Switzerland: Ticino

Mar 9, 2017 at 12:24
by Descent World  
Views: 5,061    Faves: 23    Comments: 0


When I got the call from my friends Tommy Wilkinson and Chris Burkard to go to the Ticino region in the southernmost region of Switzerland, I immediately said yes. I’d never heard of this place before but I had visions of high alpine trails, shepherds, cheese and landjäger amongst glorious mountains.

A quick Google search revealed some stunning imagery and some interesting information. Ticino is an area that is heavily tourist dependent and it has some economic challenges, and along with large parts of Europe, some interesting political quandaries at the moment—although Lugano is Switzerland's third largest financial centre and provides stability to the region in terms of fiscal activities. I also discovered that three of the world’s largest Gold refineries are in the region and the 2003 Downhill World Championships were held at Lugano. However, it was gold of the bike riding variety that I was seeking!

Hidden Switzerland Ticino

Hidden Switzerland Ticino


Riding in the area didn’t seem hugely publicized but my mind continued to conjure up images of high alpine meadows with cows, farmers in lederhosen, the Swiss flag flying high and the alps reaching up to the sky.

Firstly entering Switzerland at Geneva on my Swiss International Airlines flight well rested, and filled to the brim swiss cheese and some red wine, I took a nights rest before I then flew into the tiny airport in Lugano, Switzerland on another Swiss International Airlines early morning flight. Getting the early morning twin prop over the alps was quite something, and the views over the lake coming into land were incredible. I’m used to mountains but the alps at sunrise will never get old—truly mesmerizing.

Hidden Switzerland Ticino

Hidden Switzerland Ticino

With it being late September I was dressed in long pants and a sweatshirt ready for the crisp autumn air, yet as I made my way down onto the runway and walked past the 10 private jets parked, I was hit by the hot temperatures and palm trees which made me think, “Is this really Switzerland? Am I in the right place?”.

A little more research into the climate could have been good and probably would have helped the fact I was thoroughly overdressed and sweating profusely. But surprises are good, and the surprise of where I was, and what we were about to find completely changed my perception of Switzerland.

Hidden Switzerland Ticino

Hidden Switzerland Ticino

Sitting in the south along the Italian border and almost entirely surrounded by Italy on the west, east, and south sides the Ticino region one could say has a bit of identity crisis; Is it Italy or is it Switzerland?

It feels more Italian that it is Swiss, with Italian being the primary language of the region bringing with it the laid back “tranquilo” feel of being in Italy. You’ll be more likely to find Gelato stands and pizza restaurants than cheese and Landjäger which come to mind when I think of Switzerland.

Things move slower in the south of Switzerland creating a relaxed feel, unlike any place I’ve been in the rest of the country. While the climate remains alpine, it is notably warmer than the rest of Switzerland with a high number of sunshine hours giving it a tropical alpine feel complete with palm trees.

Hidden Switzerland Ticino

The Ticino region is most known more for water; The towns of Locarno, Ascona, and Tegna in the center of the Lake Maggiore basin. Waterways that flow through the area have made it synonymous with cliff jumping, canyoneering, and long walks by the lake more than mountain biking and skiing. The area’s landscape is that of vast extremes; with the lowest spot in Switzerland being the Maggia river delta between Ascona and Locarno, and also the highest location in Switzerland, Dufourspitze, located on the Monte Rosa massif. Deep gorges cut through the valleys and make it one of the most famous cliff jumping areas in the world where they hold the International Cliff Diving Championships.

Ticino, it seemed, has some truly amazing stuff going on for the outdoor enthusiast .

Hidden Switzerland Ticino

Hidden Switzerland Ticino
Paolo Zanga who owns Garni Barbate is helping to make the area more bike friendly with suitable accommodation.

Post coffee at the airport (you’ll see a theme here) we hit the road for an hour and headed over the pass to the town of Locarno where I had planned to meet up with photographer and dark humour king, Tommy. Whizzing past palm trees and the world famous Dimitri clown school we pulled into the town of Locarno bound for Garni Barbaté Hotel.

The maze of classic, tiny cobblestone streets quickly make you feel that you are in ancient Europe and as you weave in and out of one way streets barely wide enough for our car the romance and history starts to suck you in.

Just a few minutes outside Locarno is the tiny town of Tegna where we found Hotel Garni Barbaté, a bike hotel which is one of 12 in the area.

These hotels are catering specifically to people coming to ride. With bike storage, bike stands and access to the trails nearby, they are a huge asset to the area. Paolo Zanga who owns Garni Barbaté hotel explains he and other hotel owners in the area want to make people coming in feel welcome. Often it seems you have to carefully pick and choose your accommodation when going on a bike trip as most hotels don’t allow bikes in the rooms, but Garni Barbate had a bike room complete with a bike stand and tools ready to keep us rolling throughout our trip.

Hidden Switzerland Ticino
Hidden Switzerland Ticino
Patric Kaslin - our guide and all round font of knowledge when it comes to Ticino

I was keen to find the crew since I was a day behind Tommy who already had a day to go meet up with Patric Käslin who runs an mtb guiding company based in the area named, “Ticino Freeride”. Coming to a new area it can be hard to find photos or information on the riding so having Patric guide us was a huge help. Being a local he has been involved with biking in the region for years and has a wicked sense of humour with a laid-back style. With a day of scouting under his belt, Tommy had an idea of what we were getting into and the first thing he said was, “You aren’t going to believe what we rode today!”.

The area really is a hidden gem being virtually unknown when it comes to mountain biking as it is overshadowed by areas nearby such as the Aosta Valley in Italy, and other places in Switzerland. The Lake Maggiore basin is covered in trails with everything from high alpine riding, to dense forests. And I was about to get my first taste of what riding in the area was like.

Hidden Switzerland Ticino

Our first ride we headed out on was one of the areas “Clasics”; Corona di Pinci at sunrise which gives you the option to climb, or get shuttled up to the top. You climb through massive houses and up into old farm land at the top of the ridge overlooking Lake Maggiore. Leaving the parking lot and passing hundreds of years old stone houses we quickly disappeared into the woods flying at high speeds on smooth, sublime single track. After a few kilometers of rip-snorting fun, we popped out into open flowing single track, snaking back and forth across the hillside high above Lake Maggiore. The trails are high speed and fun, but it was hard to keep my eyes on the trail as every turn seemed to bring on a new vista that I wanted to stop and take in.

Hidden Switzerland Ticino
Hidden Switzerland Ticino

The 1,000-meter descent dropped back into the trees and past huge homes that may have belonged to one of those private jets sitting on the Tarmac in Lugano, but they didn’t seem to mind and any and all people we ran into just wave and smile as we ripped by. Once at the bottom we leisurely made our way back to Tegna which is just 10 minutes outside of Locarno.

Hidden Switzerland Ticino
Hidden Switzerland Ticino

Hidden Switzerland Ticino

As Patric and I stopped for an espresso he explained to me that things are slowly picking up in the region for trail building, but the majority of the trails have been there for hundreds of years. Some started as footpaths or just sheep trails that turned to hiking trails over the years, but all can be biked, and there are endless miles of trails that can be easy or as technical as you want to find. Some of the sections of trail mirror the classic “euro corners” with ultra tight switchbacks, but you can start to see the influence of mountain biking with corners and sections being rebuilt making trails like Corona di Pinci flow effortlessly, making you want to pedal back up and ride it again.

Hidden Switzerland Ticino
Hidden Switzerland Ticino


After a few more espressos and some pasta at the hotel, we loaded up the Ticino Freeride rig and headed for the Cimetta gondola which is a tram that leaves right from the center of Locarno, and brings you 1,000 meters up above the Lake Maggiore basin and the ski hill of “Cardada”.

Hidden Switzerland Ticino

As we rose up over the valley it was quickly apparent why Cardada has been dubbed “The Pearl of Lake Maggiore”. The views from the base of the ski hill stretch well into Italy and out over the lake. If the trails weren’t so tempting we would have been happy to chill here, soaking in the vibe.

Hidden Switzerland Ticino

Once you reach the top of the Tram you have options of dropping back into town through the woods on an hour long technical descent through the trees—part of the bike park development that started in 2016. Our plan though was to head higher to Mount Trosa which sits just above and behind the ski hill.

We made it just in time to catch the last chair to the top of Cardada which for us lesser men was welcomed since there was still and hour ascent ahead of us! After an hour of hiking and pedaling we made our way higher to the summit, where we truly got a feel of our location.

Hidden Switzerland Ticino

With a 360 degree view, we could see deep into Switzerland, France, and Italy. Not far off in the north The Matterhorn and its magnificent grace could be seen, Mont Blanc sitting to the west and the Aosta Valley just south of Mont Blanc. I was blown away at being within eyeshot of these iconic places, on perfect single track, and with no one around. It was as if we had reserved the place for ourselves. Here we were, with all the world famous locations packed full of people riding just a few valleys away, yet we were all alone enjoying perfect trails and warm temperatures.

Hidden Switzerland Ticino

Hidden Switzerland Ticino

Hidden Switzerland Ticino

Reaching the ridgeline, we pedaled to the summit of Mount Trosa, looking out over the next valley with endless valleys striped with ribbons of single track stretching as far as we could see. Sipping on a Bock as the sun dipped behind Mont Blanc, we chatted about the options for the following morning. Which valley to drop into, what town we could ride to? The possibilities are pretty much endless.

Hidden Switzerland Ticino

Hidden Switzerland Ticino


The following morning we dipped away from Locarno towards Mergoscia and Diga di Verzasca at sunrise. Snaking through the alpine we looped around and back up to Mount Trosa before starting the technical descent back to Cardada. After dropping back into Locarno we rode to the Verscio district with food, fine coffee, and gelato on the mind after the days' ride. It was a perfect day where we covered singletrack, some high-speed sections, flowy trails and a warmth unexpected for late September in the Alps.

Hidden Switzerland Ticino

Hidden Switzerland Ticino

Sitting on the edge of the lake at Lungolago di Ascona, Patric talks about the potential and his ideas to keep the trails going in the region. It’s almost funny to hear Patric’s perspective on improving and pushing mountain biking in the area because after spending the past few days riding I find the trail system already on point. Such is the drive of Patric to get more people on bikes in the region is lucky enough to call home.

Hidden Switzerland Ticino
Hidden Switzerland Ticino


With more bikers on the way, the already unreal trail system is going to keep getting better and better. My mind drifted to packing my bike and catching my flight the following morning, but I was already wondering and wanting to go ride the trails that were on the next peak over from Mount Trosa. It’s hard to head home after trips like these because over every crest is another trail you could go ride, and the network is expanding rapidly. But with the trip coming to a close, I know I’ll be back; The blend of Italy and Switzerland is just too good.

Hidden Switzerland Ticino

I would like to thank Swiss International Air lines, Ticino Freeride, Tommy Wilkinson from Descent World and Capture Share Repeat for the awesome experience.

Hidden Switzerland Ticino

Hidden Switzerland Ticino


MENTIONS: @DescentWorld




59 Comments

  • + 23
 in Ticino we ride ten months per year... happy to see my region covered on pinkbike! the next time come to Lugano and Mendrisio area!!!
  • + 3
 @pauorigoni: that place looks epic and loaded with culture and green foliage that only places like that can express! Full of epicness!!!! By the way that espresso looks really good!!!!! Wink
  • + 1
 I live in Basel, Menderiso is a great place to ride.... and the pump track next to a school is very very fun... can't imagine I'd be getting much work done if I taught there! Smile
  • + 2
 @pauorigoni Uela Pau! Nice to see you here ;-)
Also nice to see that the fine minds at Ticino Turismo are beginning to realize the economic potential of MTB / Freeride / Touring (Finale docet...).
Gotta get my lazy ass up to Locarno ASAP...!!
  • + 2
 @patchesuk: More than Mendrisio the whole Valle di Muggio, Swiss and Italian sides too.
  • + 1
 I passed through Lugano last summer on the train. Now I wish I took a few days to stop there!
  • + 2
 @dbodoggle: Would have been worth your while, my friend (caveat: IF all-mountain style riding is your thing)
  • + 2
 Any ttrail recommendations for a tourist passing through ....we will only have a day or two as we are passing through from the Graubünden area on our way to finale ....I saw they meintion a trail called "Corona di Pinci" .... that can be shuttled ...us there a local shuttle company. Also was wondering if the trails from the cimetta gondola are reasonable well signed ???? Thanks in advance for any recommendation you would have a for a few lost Canadians ????...
  • + 4
 It looks like a place straight out of 'the night manager', very expensive.

Someone with local knowledge: how do regular people live there? Is it possible to live like a dirtbag? Camp or sleep in a van?
  • + 6
 Yeah you totally can! It's similar to say Whistler, BC. There are super expensive places you can live and stay, like 5 million dollar mansions on the water, but there are lots of other places as well that most people live in Ticino and it's not super expensive. There are also places to camp, amazing swimming holes, etc. I'd be so stoked to go back there and do a trip just driving around in a van.
  • + 2
 @KCDeane: Neat. I might be in the area this summer. How about language... would a travelled but monolingual American be able to make their way alright?
  • + 9
 @captaingrumpy: oh for sure. Only in the country will there be language issues. Just don't camp in some farmers fields and piss them off by not closing gates.

Are you with a van? Buy your food at Migros or Coop or some bigger stores and if you stick to cheese, bread etc you will save chf big time. Lots of camping around. Look at flowzone.ch or traildevils.ch for ideas.

If weather is crap and you need a day off to dry out and splurge hit up a bike hotel and splurge. They usually have laundry and places to fix bikes. Also get good Swiss maps for trails and investigate. I'll post a link that is old but you can google to update. After all if you're going to camp and diy i will reasonably assume you dont need too much hand holding
  • + 6
 @captaingrumpy: ok here it is

://m.pinkbike.com/news/Switzerland-for-Dummies-General-Hints-2012.html
  • + 1
 @leelau: thank you much guys. Some sort of European family vacation. Tension between me very 'tourist averse', wanting to go to the desert moonscape, wifers is curious about Europe. One or two teenagers, as zorba says, the whole catastrophe. Thinking of renting some sort of vehicle, tooling around. From this article I now quite want to bring my bike. Singlespeed? My family is hard wired to live off cheese, bread, cured meat and wine/beer.

As far as 'investigate' goes... what is the custom for 'no trace' tent camping? In the American west there are clear rules for public lands, but I hear Switzerland can be quite regulated, understandable for all the tourists.

Really appreciate the info here guys.
  • + 1
 @leelau: woo! Cool!
  • + 2
 @captaingrumpy: unfortunately every canton is different for camping. Some have rules some aren't so strict. I would rely on the official Ticino site for this www.ticino.ch/en/plan/accommodation/campings.html
  • + 1
 @leelau: Campgrounds?! Not what I had in mind. Is there off road camping? Away from people?
  • + 2
 @captaingrumpy: maybe i didn't make it clear. There is offroad camping but it won't be documented in websites especially official government websites. Look at the websites I posted and use Google translate. If you want the goods you're going to have to work for it. Not being coy as I don't know ticino well at all
  • + 3
 @captaingrumpy:
Singlespeed? Do you realize how steep roads and fireroads are?
Same goes for a "big" camper. I would say, maximum size for driving into the remote valleys or up the tiny roads to the top of the mountains is a VW-camper. With a car and a bigger tent (for the familiy), it is better to go to official campgrounds - and if you go there in May, June or September, there are not many tourists; I have been to a lot campgrounds in Ticino, and most of them are beautiful if it is not August. .

Europe is a crowded place compared to USA. Southern France, Scotland or Slovakia etc are quite lonely places, when you stay away from bigger towns.
But you will find lovely lonely places in Ticino in the remote valleys.
  • + 1
 @captaingrumpy: pay attention to cured meet, the version from Graubunden costs as much as caviar.
  • + 2
 Just spent 6 months last summer living nearby in Menaggio on Lake Como. The trials in the area and over the border into Switzerland are endless. More multi-use, rocky trails than groomed singletrack and you have to climb to earn every descent. Views are incredible with the rugged peaks climbing from the lake below. Amazing part of the world.
Also espressos isn't a word, espressi is Wink
  • + 5
 Cannot believe my geography knowledge is actually enhanced by Pinkbike.....palm trees in Switzerland
  • + 2
 palm trees are typical in Ticino (even if it sounds bizarre)! it's part of the ticinese aesthetics. even if it's geographically italian Alps, in fact Ticino is tropical Switzerland;-)
  • + 2
 I was on a solo trip there in 2006 and was amazed by the food, friendliness and beautiful trails that are easily accessed from town. Unfortunately, I didn't have a mountain bike but did do a very nice 26-mile loop running some of these same trails in the article. I've always wanted to go back and explore on a mountain bike as many of the trails I ran were pretty technical. Thanks for the great reminder about this area Descent World.
  • + 2
 This is one of the most expensive places on planet earth. The uplift to Cimetta is 36chf ! And there is no reduced price for multiple uplifts. I know it's beautiful, but Italy is 10km away and much cheaper.
  • + 23
 It's done on purpose to keep the hordes of (cheap) German riders away! Wink
  • - 3
 @santoman: I know Big Grin
But Locarno, Ascona and Lugano are places for the very rich and (very) old, as I remember.
Or did that change in the last 10 years and people under 60 are there also welcome?

I used this website for trails when I was there (Cannobio) last time: www.extrememtb.ch/en/index.php
  • - 16
flag mudmandhbrazil (Mar 11, 2017 at 4:44) (Below Threshold)
 @santoman: It's amazing how all Swiss people are arrogant like you. For shure Switzerland is one of the most beautiful people in the world but swiss people are so ridiculous. They all have the same atitude like yours of saying you are a better breed. For me you are a breed of people very sad and angry. People that don't know what is love and gentle.
  • + 8
 @mudmandhbrazil: Chill down man, we can laugh about ourself Wink
  • + 1
 That is 35usd for everyone's information. A lot actually when you think about it.
  • + 8
 You can also just cycle up there. There is a road that goes all the way to the top and it's free of charge...
  • + 6
 @mudmandhbrazil: relax. There are lots of ways to save money in CH. Ask nicely and I will repost the Pinkbike story
  • + 7
 @mudmandhbrazil: dude, chill I was joking, as @xcfahrer obviously noticed. Go out for a ride an blow off some steam! The places mentioned in the article are indeed very expensive, the supply-demand thing. I do long weekends in Switzerland, but for longer holidays I also shoot to Italy (or France or Austria) because I cannot afford it here. It beats me how you jumped to this anti-Swiss rant out of me giving some well-intentioned shit to a fellow rider. For the record, I am not Swiss (though I do love it here).
  • + 1
 @cvoc: that will hold true for most mountains
  • + 2
 I ride a bit more north in Ticino. It's nice and quiet there, and also a bit cheaper.
  • + 1
 @vhdh666: Where is that you ride? Monte Tamaro? They do offer a day pass but there are not that many singletrails around the area. Bikepark is all blown out and has not been maintained since IXS race there few years ago. There is though a trail which starts at the bunker. It's quite a hike (+400m if I recall correctly) to the Mount Tamaro but the ride down is worth it. Oh, and then there is a trail left from middle station. You would need to pedal through the adventure park to reach it. That's all I have discovered in that area so far.

Cardada is a great place. They do not offer a day pass as it is not meant to be a bikers destination per se. But it does come cheaper if you have a half-fare card. Been there once last autumn but need to get back and do some more exploration.
  • + 2
 @leelau: I know some of these places/sponsors may not want articles written with prices listed, rather they just want great pictures to show and a good article written but leaving out the rough part ($$). But I was wondering, any chance these write-ups could come with associated costs? I know the point is to highlight these areas but then it becomes a game of crazy research to even begin to understand what it might cost to make it happen. I would expect it to be really expensive and I know that the trips were sponsored, but it would still be nice to get a general ballpark of what something like this might run.
  • + 5
 @ianswilson815: Yup its a tough one. I think what KCDeane wrote was excellent and did not seem like an advertorial and I'm sure you're NOT saying that. It's no secret that CH isn't cheap. But its also true that the BikeHotels are a relatively good deal insofar as anything is a deal.

You just made me think of something though because i just wrote about a trip to Guatemala and included price. I thought about including prices for DIY trips but it was hard to that as there was so much range in what people would do. Eg high end would be more than a week of guided riding. Low end would be 50% of the cost of the guided week. What's your suggestion on that or an article like this one for Ticino?
  • + 3
 @leelau: Mostly just whatever you guys did for this with guides, hotels, general food cost etc. just including a ball park price range. That would give people an idea of what a trip like this would run. From there they could do their own planning to drop costs or take things out or whatever suited their wishes. I would never expect you guys to try and outline different trip plans at price levels, but if you are already on this trip and writing up about it, might as well include some idea as to what it could cost in addition to all the great pictures and descriptions. I think it adds a valuable piece of information especially for folks that are looking at planning mtb trips.
  • + 5
 @ianswilson815: ian - that's a really good idea. I just saw my Guatemala piece is in queue for publication so I can't modify but I'll include that info as a comment. That's a pretty useful idea -thanks for that. Always good to get ways to improve

Let me start with Ticino. I'm told its more expensive than say Wallis or Graubuenden so others can correct me but these are just guesses altho I hope educated guesses

- Food in CH is expensive. Budget 100 CHF a day if you eat breakfast, lunch and dinner and that's just normal food and I suspect I'm underpricing. If you cook for yourself (its easy) then maybe 30CHF a day and you can eat pretty well)

- Bikehotel usually comes with breakfast. Accoms at bikehotel can be anywhere from 60 - 120 CHF/day. I think there was a womans trip in Engadin where there was an awesome deal of 45CHF but I'm going from memory here. Camping is about 30 - 40 CHF. in fields or roadsides is cheapest of course

- Transport. I've always gotten the Swisspass but I'd think about 30-50CHF depending on how many uplifts, buses, etc. Does not include lifttix

- Lift tix. Most gondolas, luftseilbahn, railcars etc will run yo approx 20 - 30 CHF. Some less but some more - Zermatt for eg will be quite a bit more

Now I'm not even including treats like beer etc.

Thinking about it biking in CH is probably at least as expensive biking to Vancouver or Whistler. I guess that's a reason the guided ride prices maybe don't look so bad. Of course there are ways to do everything cheaper but that's outside the scope of a PB comment
  • + 1
 Ticino is definitely worth riding a bike... really nice and warm region of Switzerland (I like south region's mentality more then northern)... I'v been riding there few times and want to go back again...
  • + 1
 on real estate site: studio flat for sale , Ticino Lugano, CHF 6,100,000....1 chf to .99 usd.....so it only 6,039,000 us dollars....but you get 300 square meters of living space.....so it is a bargain....
  • + 2
 Haha, YES - YEP droppers are best ;o) AND made in Ticino, Switzerland *thumbs up*
And great coverage too!!!
  • + 2
 as far as I remember Ticino is the home of Yep Components brand. best adjustable seatposts in the world!!
  • + 6
 You'r my man!! Smile
  • + 1
 Home sweet home... I miss those trailer so much! Great Review and great work from my Ticinesi
  • + 2
 This area looks stellar...kinda an undeveloped NZ. Great stuff
  • + 1
 Southerside alps are stellar but its full of people. Gets less once you cross the tree line. If you don't need audience its thousands of miles of single track and all mapped and signed with yellow hike signs. About as good as it gets.
  • + 2
 Please, gps files or map with tracks?? Thank you for attention. Ride On!
  • + 1
 This is a really good resource I used while living on Lake Como www.itinerari-mtb.it
Also this has a lot of detail and a good interactive map of the trails in the Lugano area www.luganoturismo.ch/en/what-to-see-and-do/mountain-bike
  • + 2
 AWESOME
  • + 0
 2:22 is wild camping in switzerland allowed ???? I think its still forbidden and it sucks
  • + 5
 There is no nationwide ban on camping. There are different rules from region to region. Theoretically you can get a fine in some regions but there won't be police patrolling the mountains. Basically if you don't cause any trouble and clean up before leaving then you should be fine. If you want to camp on private property ask the land owner first.
  • + 5
 @nbkr: There are some crazy farmers in Wallis and they have guns and not so concerned about whether its legal or not/ But I suppose that's hard to document. So just keep your heads up in some cantons
  • + 0
 @leelau: what would you otherwise do? It can get boring sometimes up there. After few wine bottles you might grab your riffle from Swiss army days and get a bit wild.
  • + 2
 @leelau: Not likely. They might swear. Gunmortality is extremely low.
  • + 1
 @wakaba: are you still in Hawaii?? Very decadent. I was scarred by the crazy farmer near St Luc chandolin. Definitely not very inviting
  • + 2
 @leelau: Big Island, slopes of Mauna Kea. Crazy Farmer: All talk.

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