Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree. (Emily Brontë)
Mild temperatures, golden woods, earthy fragrances: autumn is the best time to visit Locarno. While it’s getting chilly in other parts of Switzerland, here you can still have a coffee sitting outside while contemplating the smooth lake or the pointy leaves turning all shades of orange. But what else can you do once it’s getting too cold to swim in the Maggia river and eat gelato all day long? Here’s my top 10 of things to do in autumn:
- Hiking. This is the best time to explore the many valleys, mountains and alpine lakes of the area. Personally I’m not much of a hiker, but just look for one of the many websites suggesting interesting itineraries, pack a picnic, check the weather forecast and off you go! Or, grab a bike and go for a biking tour in the area!
- Wine tasting and winery tours. Ticino is very proud of its wine and many of the biggest cellars in the area offer wine tasting experiences, often with a visit to the winery. At the end of September, in Mendrisio (about 1 hour drive from Locarno), you can chek out the sagra dell’uva, a three days event all about wine! Bellinzona has a similar event called PerBacco.
- Mushroom hunting is a popular activity in this area in autumn. People get up early in the morning and drive or walk to their own secret place to find the biggest mushrooms. Don’t even bother asking them where that place is, they won’t tell you! So pick up a map, check the rules and go find your own secret mushrooming place and you’ll soon be eating your own homemade polenta e fung.
- Chestnuts roasting was very popular in the poor valleys of Ticino, it helped families go through the winter without starving. Every fifth tree in our woods is a chestnut tree so it was easy to find loads of them, they were often desiccated in a gra (in Moghegno you can still see a working one) and stored for the winter. Nowadays, because of some bug attacking the trees, chestnuts are a bit more difficult to find, but if you go for walks in the mountains you will likely find a few. The chestnut is still prominent in our diet, especially in autumn and winter. We have special events dedicated to this fruit, like the sagra delle castagne in Ascona, and many specialties featuring the chestnut, my personal favourite is the chestnut jam, that I like to spread on my bread for breakfast.
- Eat game, polenta or risotto (or something else as delicious) in one of the 58 restaurants participating in the gastronomy autumn of the region. Each of the 58 restaurants offers a “piatto della rassegna” or a 4 to 5 course menu for a special price. The ingredients used are mostly from this area and in season. Eat even more, drink and be merry in Locarno – città del gusto (Town of flavours), a 10 days event in the centre of Locarno. There’s an interesting program this year, with talks about food, loads of tastings and a few festivals dedicated to different food categories. I went to the risotto tasting last year, well, both of them, and I loved it! This year there is even more to discover and I’m really looking forward to it.
- See a performance at teatro Dimitri in Verscio. This is a small and picturesque theatre in the middle of a charming village about 15 minutes from Locarno. Next to the stage there is a theatre school with students from all over the world. During their performances you can often see actors, musician, jugglers and illusionists on the same stage, making their shows really unique and often magic. You can see guest performers as well, or just go and watch the founder of the school, Dimitri himself, in one of his poetic performances. This autumn the village will even host a big party as Dimitri himself is turning 80, the theatre 45, the school 40, and their comic museum 15 years old.
- Go shopping for a bargain at the Disfashion event in the old town of Locarno. One Sunday towards the end of September (this year it will be on the 20th) all the shops of the area sell their old collections for a fraction of their actual price. You know that bag you wanted to buy all year long but was simply too expensive? Well, that’s the moment to finally buy it! But if you want to see the really good stuff, go there early, as soon as it opens!
- Watch out for other events in the area as there is something interesting to do almost every weekend. During Le Corti in Canto you can hear some choirs or some bands making music and singing inside some of the most beautiful courtyards of the old town, at the sagra d’autunno in Ascona you can buy local handicraft and food, if you like motors you may prefer going to the Euro Sportcars Day.
- Visit a local market, the best one in Ticino is probably the Bellinzona market, about 20 minutes from Locarno. It’s taking place every Saturday morning. Go there to buy local food, like cheese, cured meat, or homemade jam. Or just cross the border and visit Cannobio’s market on Sunday morning, for nice bags and shoes, cheap clothes and amazing Italian produce. Each time I went there I found one or two nice bags (no, you can never have enough bags!) and I bought some tasty ravioli with very interesting filling, like amaretto or prosciutto and figs…yum! Locarno has a small market too, every Thursday in Piazza Grande.
- As soon as the temperatures drop visit Caffé al Porto to sip a hot chocolate, maybe even sitting outside snuggled up in a warm coat, hat and scarf.
And what are you up to this autumn?