This post will take you South to the “most Italian town of Switzerland”: Bellinzona.
The day I went to visit Bellinzona, it was rainy and cold on the Northern side of the Gotthard. As soon as the train had passed the Gotthard tunnel, however, the rain had entirely stopped and the sky began to brighten up.
From Zurich you can take a direct train (direction Milan) which takes you to the capital of the Canton Ticino in less than 2 hours.
Above all, the city is famous for its fortification. There are three castles (Castel Grande, Montebello and Sasso Corbaro) that are connected by a wall which is called Murata. The wall leads from the castle on the hillside (Sasso Corbaro) down to Montebello and through the city to Castel Grande that lies on a small hill in the middle of the valley.
These castles are indeed the most impressive sight the city has to offer. But apart from that there are also a few other cultural landmarks. What I liked most about Bellinzona though was the Italian vibe that goes back to the rule of Milan over the area, and the beautiful mountain panorama that surrounds the valley.
Below I am going to show you what I did in Bellinzona and how I experienced the place.
The castle that is situated in the middle of the valley on a hill is accessible by an elevator that has been built in the rocks the castle stands on. It is open to visitors all year and hosts a museum as well as a restaurant and conference rooms (though I must say the museum did not have much to offer besides a movie about the history of Bellinzona and a few old coins). The construction itself is quite spacious and interesting to explore. Also the view over the city is great. You can see very well how the Murata and the castles are not separated from the city but integrated in it. Definitely a must-do!
Villa dei Cedri
The villa dei Cedri doesn’t lie in the very centre of Bellinzona, but you can easily reach it on foot. The villa belongs to a parc planted with huge cedars and a lot of palm trees. The villa hosts a museum and can be visited. Unfortunately, it was closed when I was in Bellinzona, but if you want to have a look at the exhibition, click here.
Walking to the villa I also had the most amazing view over the valley and all three of the castles.
Piazza Indipendenza – Chiesa dei SS. Pietro e Stefano – Palazzo del comune
If you go to Bellinzona by train, you will have to walk a while until you get from the train station to the centre of the town. The major part of the old town is a pedestrian zone. After walking down the main street, you will reach a square with quite a big church, the Chiesa dei SS. Pietro e Stefano. It is a Renaissance church and was built during the 16th and 17th century by the same man who designed the Cathedral in Como. I loved the beautiful rose window above the entrance and also the inside is richly ornamented and very impressive to look at.
Walking further you will reach the Piazza Indipendenza which marks the end of the pedestrian area. The obelisk in the middle of the square goes back to 1903 to mark the fact that Napoleon had secured the independence of the Canton Ticino from the Swiss German Cantons. On the left hand side of the obelisk in the picture below you can also see a part of the Murata that runs through the medieval town.
Another extradordinary sight is the Palazzo del comune (town hall) of Bellinzona with its clock tower: the seat of Local Government. When Bellinzona belonged to the State of Milan (which is by the way the reason why its architecture is so ‘Italian’), the Palazzo del comune was the home of chief magistrates and police commissioners acting on behalf of Milanese Dukes. Besides the tower, the arcades surrounding the courtyard of the building are truly awe-inspiring.
The Montebello castle is the one seated a bit lower on the hill than the Sasso Corbaro. I would have loved to visit it; however, I was running out of time, so I just took some pictures from far. The sight was really magnificent – medieval walls with those majestic mountains in the background and the sunlight shining on the whole scene.
The next time I am going to visit Bellinzona though, I am certainly going to visit the other two castles as well.
I hope you enjoyed this trip to Ticino’s capital. Arrivederci e ci vediamo! (Bye and see you soon!)