InterRail #3: Lovely lakeside Locarno
After an early morning breakfast in Freiburg, a stop-over and coffee break in Basel and a stunning train ride through the still snow covered Swiss Alps we arrived at our next destination. Located on the northern tip of Swiss lake Lago Maggiore is the pretty little town of Locarno. This was to be our second official stop on our InterRail journey and our new home for a couple of nights.
Emerging from the station with our luggage, we meandered down to the waterfront where we were greeted by this spectacular view. – sunshine, blue skies AND snow topped mountains.. I was one happy young lady!
It was only a short walk to our hotel and we were able to check in straight away, given access to our room which enabled us all to freshen up and decide on our next move. We came to the conclusion that we would hop on a local bus to visit nearby town Ascona (which you can read all about here)
The following day we were up reasonably early and ready for the excitement that awaited us. We made our way to the station and once there, boarded the strangely named panoramic FART train which would take us on a scenic ride into the mountains. The so called Centovalli Express connects Locarno with Italian town Domodossola and crosses 84 bridges, passes through 34 tunnels and as the name suggests, travels through the one hundred valleys.
Top Tip: Be aware that if you travel on the modern train with the larger windows, you will be charged and extra fee of 2 CHF on top of the ticket price.
The journey to the halfway point, Santa Maria Maggiore over the border in Italy, took us just over an hour and I tell you what, we had seen some beautiful things; river gorges, plenty of snow, waterfalls, rocky mountains and vast vineyards.
After arriving in Santa Maria Maggiore we headed from the small train station and down into the village.
In the main square we found a small cafe, Cafe Pagani where we stopped for a bite to eat. Each of us ordered a panini (when in Italy, right?) but were slightly overwhelmed when the humongous sandwich arrived! Needless to say, that despite being slightly taken aback by the sheer size, I managed to gobble up every last little piece!
Not only that though, these huge sandwiches were only 4 euros each and along with them came a small tray of charcuterie and a bowl of crisps. If you ever happen to stumble across this small mountainous village, pay Cafe Pagani a visit!
Anyway, enough of food for now (although I do like talking about delicious things) and back to culture, sights and mountain villages! Following on from our lunch we spent a little time wandering around the village, keeping check of the time, as despite the village being rather lovely, we didn’t want to miss our transport that which would hopefully return us to the relative civilisation of our lakeside resort.
At 13.24, on the dot, our little rickety train came up over the horizon and pulled into the station, and on we leapt, ready for the descent back down the valley back to Locarno. On the way back we got one last view of the marvellous and grand chapel in Re.
Back in Locarno and feeling energetic we made our way to the funicular railway which would take us up the steep hill to the Madonna del Sasso Monastery. Paying a reasonably steep 7.20 CHF each, we climbed on board and began the trip up the hill.
The trip took around ten minutes and soon we were at the top and greeted with this wonderful view.
For those with vertigo this is a pilgrimage which should perhaps be avoided as from where the funicular ends there is a rather narrow flight of steps leading down to the Monastery with a sudden drop on the one side of the path. Escorting my Mum down this path took some time but finally with a mixture of encouragement, distraction and persuasion we made it!
We explored the monastery, finding the chapel’s interior particularly impressive with its lavish decoration and my Dad and I warily investigated the various views out over the lake.
Back down in the town, we walked to Piazza Grande, and followed the colonnade, which provided some welcome shade, for its entire length before stopping for an ice-cream as a reward at the end of another adventurous and busy day.
To finish off the day we promenaded along the edge of the Lake as far as the pretty marina and marvelled at the myriad of lights dotting the hillsides around the town – just like the stars in the night sky.