Second instalment of our 5 week trip in May/June follows:
Day 8 - 22/5/19 – Chur to Tirano to Poschiavo
Pretty cloudy today, but was still an amazing train trip. Took the Bernina Express route, but were glad we weren’t on the panorama train as it looked packed – with the panorama train seats had to be reserved so you couldn’t move seats from side to side to check out different views, nor open the windows. We had the carriage to ourselves mostly, and were jumping from side to side to take in the views and hang out the windows. Changed trains at Samedan for Pontresina, and changed again for Tirano. Once at Samedan the weather cleared, and there was snow everywhere. Spectacular scenery. Snow everywhere around Bernina Diavolezza, and Lago di Bianco (the White Lake) was mostly frozen. Coming down into Poschiavo the views were amazing, a green valley, snowy peaks, and Lake Poschiavo. Lots of people out gardening, and heaps of little farms and agricultural plots. Got off the train in Tirano in Italy, having crossed the border somewhere between Brusio and Tirano – no customs formalities. Now quite warm, and had a picnic in the square outside the railway station. Back on the train to Poschiavo and walked over the river to Hotel Suisse – had a cute little room with a little balcony on the top floor with gorgeous views over slate rooftops to snowy mountains, with complimentary water and a fridge. Saw a helicopter transporting timber down the mountain. Had a walk around town, again very old and quaint, with cobblestone streets. Had dinner at the Hotel Albrici – a lovely restaurant, lovely staff, a very nice meal, and prices quite reasonable.
Day 9 - 23/5/19 - Poschiavo to Berghaus Diavolezza
Woke during the night and the sky was as clear as, and full of stars with the moon out – beautiful. Hotel staff offered us bottles of water, muesli bars, and Mars bars as we left. On the train to Bernina Diavolezza, clearer day today and so better views of the gorgeous scenery, then the cable car up to Berghaus Diavolezza, our home for the night. The ride up was ~10mins, amazing scenery, saw a guy skiing down. At the berghaus there was fresh snow absolutely everywhere, including up against the building and covering some of the outside tables and benches. Had a look around, breathtaking place! Beautiful clear day with blue sky. Had a room picnic – left our yogurt and cheese on the windowsill outside to keep cold! Went downstairs for a coffee from the little shop and sat outside mesmerised with the view. Had a look through the high-powered telescopes on the terrace, checking out the definition in the mountains, rock, and snow, and watched a couple of skiers – they looked like tiny specks on the snow and quite hard to see them with the naked eye. Got chatting with a young glaciologist who skied in – he told us about the glaciers in front of us, and the permafrost rock. Morteratsch glacier is receding quite rapidly, 120m in the last 8 years – could see the glacial moraine really high at the edges. Both snow and rock avalanches are happening more frequently too with climate change. Had a play in the snow throwing snowballs, and built a snow cairn. Spent the rest of the afternoon sitting outside on the terrace gazing at the view, and updating my diary. Got really cold later in the afternoon. Went inside for dinner at 6.30pm, there is glass all along the restaurant area, so had great views. Outside, the glass windows all along the terrace are mirrored, so when looking at the building all you can see are the snowy mountains. Only 13 people staying tonight. Dinner was great. Can’t drink the tap water up here – drinking water comes up in the cable car. Went outside after dinner, it was super quiet. As the sun set, the peaks all around us had a pink hue.
Day 10 - 24/5/19 - Berghaus Diavolezza to Lugano
Stars everywhere during the night with the moon out over the mountains, looked amazing. Another clear day with blue skies. Took the cable car back down the mountain. Watched some skiers skiing down to the cable car and railway station car park. A big train day today, over 7 hours travelling with 7 train changes – train from Bernina Diavolezza to Pontresina, to Samedan, to Richenau-Tamins, to Disentis/Muster, to Andermatt, to Goshenen, to Bellinzona, to Lugano. The trains were all different – one had a photographer’s carriage with opening windows on both sides, windows in the roof, and a padded standup/leaning area down the middle – no one but me in it! We got to see the scenery from Samedan to Richenau-Tamins that was clouded in a few days ago on this same route. Beautiful green valleys, snowy peaks, narrow rock gorges with towering forests, and quite a few old castles and ruins. The scenery around the Oberalp Pass was amazing, snow everywhere, and a great view of the valley coming down into Andermatt. The descent into Goschenen is really steep, through massive vertical rock walls. Passed really old villages and lots of agriculture on the way to Lugano, and lots of forested and farmed mountains coming down to the valley liked interlocked fingers. Took the funicular down to the lakefront, and walked to our hotel, the International au Lac, located at the end of a street of high-end shops – Louis Vuitton, Rolex, Prada, Hermes etc. Nice room, and great breakfast. The bar/lounge area has a little balcony with a cushioned bench seat looking out to the lake. An ornate old hotel, with a lovely garden area and pool out the back. Walked along the waterfront for dinner at the Spaghetti Store restaurant - really large and lovely meals.
Day 11 - 25/5/19 - Lugano
It had rained during the night. The morning was OK, but looked like the weather might come in. Decided to go to Mt San Salvatore. It started raining, took the boat to Paradiso and walked to the funicular. Tickets are 50% off with the STP – only got one-way as we planned to walk down to Morcote at the end of the peninsular – cost 23 CHF for the two of us. The funicular is in two parts, have to change to another half way up. Walked up to the church at the top and had a look inside. Great views of the lake, even though it’s cloudy and wet. Off we went through the forest, raining steadily. The track was really steep in most parts, and rocky and rubbly in parts. My hiking poles and knees took a flogging, and I was scared of slipping and doing an ankle or knee, not fun! No lake views, though the forest was nice. Decided to bail at the first sign of civilisation. No-one else was on the trail – no-one was silly enough to be out hiking in the rain! Got to Ciona, cute little cobblestone lanes with old houses and beautiful gardens, and the biggest roses I’ve ever seen! Found the bus stop, 50 mins ‘til the next bus, so sat in the bus shelter and had some cheese and crackers. A little red car went past, stopped, reversed, and a lovely lady offered us a lift back into town, she wouldn’t take no for an answer, even though we were soaking wet! It was a wild ride down to Lugano - raining, a really foggy windscreen, and hairpin turns! The roads were blocked off due to a 10km run this evening, and a 20km run tomorrow. Went back to our room to dry out, even things in our backpacks were wet! Walked along the lakefront for dinner – burgers and chips at Burger King, it was packed. Lots of people out and about for the run, even though it is still raining. Watched some of the race and cheered the runners on while walking home.
Day 12 - 26/5/19 – Lugano
Weather clearer today. Picked up our Ticino tickets at reception, given out by hotels if staying 3 nights or more - these cover local transport and some tourist attractions, but generally not as wide a scope as the STP. Took the funicular up to the train station, and then the train to Bellinzona. Walked down to the Piazza Collegiata to check out the timetable for a little novelty road train that goes to Sasso Corbaro and Montebello castles. Walked over to Castelgrande, and went to the museum there and watched a film on the castle – the first human settlement dates back to 5000BC in the Neolithic period. The first fortification of the settlement was established in the 4th century, with the current complex dating from the 13th century. Walked around the walls and back into the square and got the little train at 3pm. It cost us 9 CHF each, no discount with our STP, but 30% off with our Ticino tickets. The first stop was the higher of the 3 castles, Sasso Corbaro at 750ft above the town, built in 1479. I heard, then saw, two guys playing the alpenhorn in the surrounds, so went over to listen and take a photo of them. Instead, they gave me a go of the alpenhorn and took a photo of me. Really hard to get a noise out of it – I only got out one hoot, all other attempts failed! Back on the little train to Montebello castle at 300ft above town, dating from the 13th century. It had two drawbridges. There was a medieval day going on with people dressed up in period costume, jousts, music, a blacksmith demo, and stalls selling medieval items. Took the train back to Lugano, and the funicular back down to the lake. Decided to go to Morcote on the lake down the end of the peninsular, caught the bus – went via Paradiso, inland to Grancia, back to the other side of the lake to Figino, then down to Morcote. Really pretty village, looked gorgeous in the evening light, and some beautiful old homes. Walked around the waterfront and got the bus back to Paradiso. Bought a really nice takeaway pizza to share for dinner at Like Food, 10 CHF. The guys serving were lovely, and one of the customers was helping to translate between us and the staff. Sat down on the lakefront near the fountain for our pizza picnic, then walked home along the lake, stopping for a gelato on the way.
Day 13 - 27/5/19 – Lugano
Raining and cloudy. Caught the boat to Gandria, the last Swiss village before entering Italy, established in the 1300’s. The border runs across the lake between Paradiso and San Rocco, then on top of the mountains across the lake. Gandria was a major olive oil production village, and an old stone press is displayed in front of the municipal building. Due to lots of cloud and light rain, we decided against going up to Mt Bre, so walked back to Lugano along the lake. Home to dry out as it was raining all the way. Dinner at the Spaghetti Store restaurant again.
Day 14 - 28/5/19 – Lugano to Locarno
Took the funicular to the station and the train to Locarno, changing at Giubiasco, took ~1 hour. Decided not to go up to Cardada and Cimetta as it was really, really cloudy. Took the funicular up to Madonna del Sasso, a lovely church with lovely grounds. Got good views of the lake, Lake Maggiore, but really cloudy and started raining as soon as we left the hotel. Then took the boat to Brissago, staying on the boat for the return trip - ~2 hours in total. Still raining, windy, with a bit of lightning. Had our picnic lunch on the boat. Stayed at the Hotel Millennium, a gorgeous little light blue place opposite the lake and boat terminal. It has window boxes with colourful flowers, and wicker lounges to sit on out the front on the street. The two guys in reception were really friendly. Each room was named after a famous jazz musician. Nice room, looked like it was recently renovated, with a kettle, bar fridge, and complimentary apples and bottled water. Looked like the weather was clearing, so walked up to the Old Town and wandered around – lovely winding cobblestone streets. Had a look inside Sant’ Antonio church, beautifully ornate, built in 1664. Can now see the peaks around the lake with some snow on them. Went to the Saray Kebab shop near the hotel, got takeaway and sat down on the lake for dinner. Walked along the waterfront, and had a small tub of gelato from Bar Gelateria Verbano.
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