One More Swiss City and a Visit to Lake Como

Bellinzona, a small city on the southern tip of Switzerland was sadly to be our last destination in the country before moving on with our adventure. We left Liechtenstein heading due south to the Italian region of Switzerland where the city lies.

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On the way to Bellinzona, we spotted a minuscule bridge amongst the mountains that we decided no matter what happened, we would go down to see and take a picture of. We followed a little goat path along the river, passing by a group of confused-looking construction workers at an industrial construction site. We finally made it down to the bridge after walking along a muddy path made by the aforementioned construction workers and through a small rain-soaked field. I don’t know if our little detour was worth it, but I like to think the picture turned out good enough to at least make me feel like I didn’t waste my time!

The Alps-12The clouds that had rained down upon us in Lucerne stuck with us through most of the trip toward Bellinzona, increasing in size as we went. Little did we know, the clouds were getting closer, not because they were getting bigger, but because we were getting closer to them: without having any idea how far up we were going, we would actually find out later that we were a mile (5300 feet) above sea level which is actually 1000 feet higher than we were on top of the mountain in Harder Kulm a few days before!

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The building clouds eventually reached capacity as we put our car in neutral down the mountain we had steadily been driving up and poured down on our little Fiat. We couldn’t see much besides the road ten feet in front of us but soon after coasting the ridge that marked the top of the mountain we made it into the town of Bellinzona on the Italian region of Switzerland.

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Nestled into the beautiful scenery of Switzerland, Bellinzona is a slice of manmade beauty that is oft overlooked by travelers to Switzerland. Bellinzona’s main draws are the three castles that sit within the city’s boundaries.  While in town, we made sure to see each of these castles which make the city memorable and collectively have been honored as UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 2000. The first of the three castles we visited is called Castelgrande, the first castle to be constructed in Bellinzona on a site which has been fortified since at least the late 1st century BC. Up until the 13th century, Castelgrande was the only fortification in Bellinzona. Though historically important, Castelgrande was the least aesthetically pleasing of Bellinzona’s castles and we did not stay long before moving on.

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Next, we visited Sasso Corbaro Castle which sits at a commanding spot on a mountain above the city. The castle was built in only six months in 1479 as the highest fortification in Bellinzona at 462 meters. The castle’s spot on the hill provided us with an amazing view of the both the Castelgrande Castle and the Montebello Castle below, along with the Lepontine Alps to the east and west of the city and the Lugano Prealps to the south.

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We descended from the mountain to the third and last castle in Bellinzona, Montebello Castle, which lies between Bellinzona’s other two castles and is the most picturesque of the three. The castle was built in the 13th century but has since been restored several times and features old defensive walls that stretch almost the entire 90 meters down the hill from which it stands toward Castelgrande below.

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Sadly, from Bellinzona we had to leave Switzerland and the Swiss Alps, driving East back towards Italy, this time bypassing the Aosta Valley as we visited Italy for the fourth and final time on our trip. Our destination, Lake Como.

Though I wasn’t sure if Switzerland was going to be as beautiful as I had always heard, after visiting it, I can see no way that any country in the world can have a more gorgeous landscape, though I would love to be proven wrong! Visiting and being able to drive through the massive Swiss Alps was an incredible experience and absolutely a highlight of our European adventure.

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Besides its impeccably beautiful mountains which we had expected, what we didn’t realize beforehand is that Switzerland is a chameleon in that its regions take on the characteristics and language of whatever country is nearest to it. We were very lucky in that sense to have stayed in each of the French, German, and Italian regions of Switzerland on our visit where we got a comprehensive feel of the entire country and to see how each region is unique in its own way. Though ultimately extremely expensive, every penny spent exploring the fantastic country was completely worth it.

Bellagio, Italy

We left for Lake Como as the rain that had been haunting us for the past couple of days passed, leaving us with beautiful hot and sunny weather to enjoy Lake Como and Bellagio.

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Lake Como is a picturesque lake located in the foothills of the Alps in northern Italy, mere miles from the giant mountains of southern Switzerland. The lake is the second largest in Italy and is interestingly shaped like an upside-down “Y” which allows you to see the lush mountains on the far side of the river from any point along the opposite shoreline.

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Our destination on Lake Como was Bellagio which is located at the junction of the three legs of Lake Como. It is the main destination for celebrities visiting the lake, the most famous of which is George Clooney who is said to live there several months out of the year and owns a house in Bellagio only accessible by helicopter. The quaint town is the busiest of the tourist-oriented towns situated along the river and its beauty inspired and was imitated by the famous Bellagio resort in Las Vegas.

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The tranquility of the breathtaking lake is in stark contrast with the white-knuckle winding drive along the edge of the lake towards Bellagio. The roads are a flurry of constant activity as wannabe racecar drivers and scooter drivers pass sane and safe drivers like us at every possible turn, while other drivers on the other side of the road did the same – with mere inches to spare – all the while having to narrowly avoid the millions of bikers that visit the lake every year to ride their bikes up the mountains surrounding the glacial lake.

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We parked our car on the outskirts of the city and enjoyed a relaxing walk down the lake-side promenade toward town. There, we spent the afternoon exploring the town’s winding cobbled streets, dining on some luxurious hot dogs for lunch, and stopping to shop at some of the quaint little shops around Bellagio.

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Later, we braved the dangerous drive up the mountain toward our hotel near Bellagio. There, we enjoyed dinner at our hotel restaurant which sits at the apex of the mountain and overlooks the amazing lake below.

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We left the next day, stopping at the southern edge of the lake to get our feet wet in the clear blue waters of the lake before heading our way back to Milan.

Though our trip to Lake Como was short, our visit was a beautiful segway from the fairy-tale beauty of the Swiss Alps to the more familiar (though still beautiful!) parts of Europe. I can easily see why the gorgeous lake and its equally beautiful mountainous backdrop are such a major destination for European tourists. I would gladly go back to explore more of the beautiful towns which make Lake Como special.

 

 

 

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