Two of Switzerland’s finest autumn 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, runs until 17 October, and Autunno Gastronomico, a celebration of regional cuisine, is on through 21 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.
Here are my top five reasons to head over the Alps to Ascona:
1. 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 next autumn!
2. Ticinese culinary specialties
Ticinese specialties include locally grown-and-milled red and “black” polenta and risotto rice grown in the region. There are local honeys such as forest, acacia and especially prized, chestnut flower. Sausages from Ticinese butchers, regional cheeses and vinegars, and of course, excellent Merlot, round out an exceptional Italo-Swiss larder.
3. “Grottini”, Ticino’s rustic restaurants
“Grottini”, atmospheric rustic restaurants enable you to live the experience of the “cucina della mamma”. They can be found in town (ask at your hotel), and in outlying valleys not far away.
4. A small-town atmosphere with creature comforts
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 moist slice of chestnut cake and an espresso at a table under an umbrella.
5. An end-of-summer feel that lingers
The end of summer in Ascona, Switzerland comes complete with boat rides and gelato, and lasts longer here than just about anywhere else in the country. Sunny days on the lake can help you hold onto summer as long as possible!
Here are a few more snaps from my recent visit to Ascona: