Lugano, in the southern reaches of Switzerland, is a real gem. Right on the border of Italy, you’re met with Mediterranean breezes, the sounds of swaying palms, floral notes in the air, lots of sunny days and poolside relaxation. The geography of the area is fascinating with long fingerlike lakes surrounded by tall mountains that rise from the shoreline. Popular Lake Como is a nearby neighbor accessible by a quick 30 minute train ride. The city of Lugano stretches north from the edge of Lago di Lugano. Looking over the city is Monte San Salvatore, born from an ancient sea.
In 1870 a project started to create a funicular train to the top of Monte San Salvatore, where sweeping 360 degree views stretch out before you. Historically the mountain was a famous pilgrimage site. People would climb the Monte to pay homage to the Son of God who is said to have rested here on his way to heaven. With the creation of a 5,445 foot railway traveling between a 37% – 61% gradient, pilgrims and tourists alike can now reach the top with less physical effort. Two carriages, which can each hold up to 68 people, travel in opposite directions. Amazingly, the track is not electrified and the two carriages power each other, linked by a single steel towing cable.
In operation for 127 years, the funicular just celebrated their 18 millionth passenger this past August. I narrowly missed being crowned with this privilege, visiting Lugano a couple weeks too late. If you are traveling from Switzerland into Italy, Lugano makes for a perfect stop. The city center, located down by the lake, has numerous plazas where you can enjoy a meal while people watching. Throughout the summer the city hosts open air concerts, setting up stages throughout the street. On this visit I was lucky enough to have this timed correctly and enjoyed jazz, funk and blues into the evening.
The following morning I made my way to the bottom station of the Monte San Salvatore funicular. It was a bit tricky to find in the winding streets, but a lovely local offered to walk me to the station and went a couple minutes out of her way to make sure I arrived without further confusion. There’s a great bus system in Lugano. You’ll want to make sure to keep a keen eye out for the fluttering flags signifying the funicular station where you’ll want to get off.
The ride up costs 23 francs per person and takes 12 minutes to reach the top. I opted to get a one-way ticket and explore the hiking trails on my way back down to town. If you’d prefer to travel both ways on the funicular it’ll cost you 30 francs per person. They accept the Swiss Half Fare Card and other rail passes, which will discount your ticket. For the next year, which is the 128th anniversary of the Monte San Salvatore funicular the prices will be slightly discounted so everyone can celebrate!