Day 2: Bellinzona – Lugano – Bormio
The highlight for this day would be the trip into Italy itself but first, a little about the Swiss Italian canton of Ticino. This canton became part of the Swiss Confederation in 1803 – talk about a long time ago and today, its capital city is Bellinzona (people often assume it’s Lugano though)! Being the only Italian canton in Switzerland, Ticino sits around the border of, yes, Italy with the Ticino river, Lake Lugano and Lake Maggiore as its key water landmarks. Because of the moutaineous landscape, one of the canton’s main economy comes from hydroelectricity and as you drive through the canton, you can see evidence of this in the form of power stations and electricity towers/cables. The canton also produces wine, namely merlot, together with cheese, and milk.
The city of Bellinzona is well-known for one thing – its castles or rather The Three Castles of Bellinzona. Officially listed as the Three Castles, Defensive Wall and Ramparts of the Market-Town of Bellinzone, it has been an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000. The site is composed of Castelgrande, castle Montebello, castle Sasso Corbaro plus fortified walls. The Castelgrande is located on a rocky peak overlooking the valley, with a series of fortified walls that protect the old city and connect to the Montebello. The third castle (Sasso Corbaro) is located on a isolated rocky promontory south-east of the other two. Till today, you can still see all these three encircling the old quarter of the city. It is also a quaint city with colourful apartment blocks and palm tree gardens; definitely more charming compared to the more metropolitan Lugano.
Nicknamed “The Monte-Carlo of Switzerland”, it is hard not to agree when you see brands such as LV, Bvlgari, Giorgio Armani, Hermes and others lining its streets. It’s a shopper paradise here, if you have the cash to spare. But otherwise, console and occupy yourself with the many tourist spots such as the St. Lawrence Cathedral (from the 9th and 15th century) and the St. Mary of the Angels Church (from the 16th century). Alternatively, just get lost in the narrow streets of the city. We didn’t spend much time in this city; the traffic, hustle & bustle plus stylish Swiss-Italian folks in their suits just made us feel rather awkward so we decided to follow the lake and head off into Italy.
After about 10 to 15 minutes, we were in Italy; all we did was just drive through which is amazing considering that you probably won’t be able to do the same when you’re crossing from Malaysia into Thailand/Singapore and vice-versa. We did encounter one stop and it was enroute to Bormio where the local carabenieri (Italian for local police) stopped us out of the many Italian drivers. I think we were picked out because we had a Swiss plate. It was a typical check – funny considering that Nil couldn’t understand a word he was saying but I knew what the carabenieri was going to ask for – driver’s license and insurance. HAH! Anyway, we were sent off without much boohah after that. We spent the night near Passo Stelvio/Bormio and were glad to spot some wild deer busy having dinner.
To be continued…