Two of Switzerland’s finest festivals take place not on a mountain, but at 196 meters above sea level—in lovely Ascona, on Lago Maggiore. Settimane Musicali di Ascona, Classical Music Weeks, and Autunno Gastronomico, a celebration of regional cuisine, are both on in October. Two weekends each year, the little city puts on a fine chestnut show, as well.

With or without festivals, though, the town’s cobblestone streets are well worth an autumn ramble. Tom and I have been to Ticino many times and in every season. Here are my top reasons to travel to Ascona, Switzerland in autumn:

“Grottini”, Ticino’s rustic restaurants

Grottini, which translates to “small caves” in Italian, are traditional wine cellars and rustic eateries that are scattered throughout picturesque Ticino. Often carved into hillsides or tucked away in quaint villages, the atmospheric restaurants are perfect for a romantic dinner or a cozy gathering with friends. With a history dating back to Medieval times, they offer a chance to immerse yourself in the region’s long-standing food and wine traditions.

Offering a warm personal touch, grottini enable you to live the experience of Ticinese home cooking. They are great places to enjoy local meats and cheese, risotto and hearty stews. Autumn is the perfect time to try seasonal dishes such as oven-braised rabbit with polenta, or risotto ticinese. A grotto also offers a chance to sip your way through local wines, perfectly suited to the hearty Italian-influenced foods that are popular here. You will find grottini in town, as well as in outlying valleys not far away.

Ticinese culinary specialties

Ticino’s Slow Food protected brands from Ascona-Locarno include farna bona (good flour) from the Onsernone Valley and cicitt, long, thin goat sausages. Other specialties include locally grown-and-milled red and “black” polenta and risotto rice grown in the region. Local honeys made from forest, acacia, and chestnut flowers feature in weekly markets and gastronomy festivals. Tea from the Monte Verita plantation is a unique treat. Regional cheeses and vinegars, and excellent Merlot, round out an exceptional Italo-Swiss larder.

Small-town atmosphere

Ascona’s small-town atmosphere includes citified creature comforts, such as good hotels in all price ranges, and excellent restaurants with tables for people-watching along a Mediterranean-style promenade. Choose one of the benches by the water, or enjoy a delicious slice of chestnut cake and an espresso at a table under an umbrella. Take time to ramble Ascona’s narrow streets, where you will find art-filled shop galleries and restaurants filled with locals.

An end-of-summer feel that lingers

Summer in Ascona, Switzerland comes complete with boat rides and gelato, and lasts longer here than just about anywhere else in the country. In September and October, sunny days on the lake can help you hold onto summer as long as possible!

Frescoes at Chiesa Santa Maria della Misericordia

The church, built at the end of the 14th century, is adjacent to the Collegio Pontificio Papio, off via Cappelle. I spent a happy half hour there with my camera, admiring its impressive late Gothic frescoes. Performances of the Settimane Musicali are held in this evocative space, reason enough to mark the calendar for a return visit!

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