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Bellinzona – with the new railway connection, the capital becomes a gateway to Ticino

By Jutta Ulrich

The official handover of the new Gotthard base tunnel from the developers AlpTransit Gotthard AG to the Schweizerischen Bundesbahnen (abbreviated as SBB), took place on June 1st, 2016. Scheduled services through the longest railway tunnel in the world with its 57km will commence punctually on December 11th, 2016. The faster train connection's first stop to Switzerland's sunny basin will be Bellinzona. The capital city of the Canton with its awe-inspiring legacy of castles, towers, defensive walls and palaces therefore becomes a gateway to Ticino. Ten reasons why it's really worthwhile to visit Bellinzona.


Bellinzona railway station awaits its guests in a new look

Scheduled services through the new Gotthard base tunnel will commence punctually on December 11th, 2016. In this context, the SBB is not only concerned with expanding the infrastructure but also uses this opportunity to invest in the extension and reconstruction of Bellinzona railway station which will welcome travellers with a broadened shopping and gastronomic selection as a symbolic "gateway to Ticino" after the opening of the newly clad Gotthard base tunnel. The newly designed railway station will be officially inaugurated with a ceremony and a varied programme between 9am and 5pm on October 15th, 2016. A Europcar rental station has been located in the freshly renovated railway station building since June 2016. Moreover, a tourist information centre will be a contact point here in the future. The new railway station City Bistro, already opened in April 2016, is a special highlight. It was designed by Ticino interior designer Carlo Rampazzi. He interpreted the topic of railway travel imaginatively with a striking cloud hanging from the ceiling, whilst the grey elements in the floor and at the counter evoke thoughts of the railway tracks. The bistro offers fifty seating places and a further twenty outdoor seats on the station square. The range of cold and hot food in the bistro is based on the use of regional and seasonal products, right in line with the "Zero kilometres philosophy". Wine and specialities from the region are on offer in the showcases, as a present idea or something to take back home.

The three Bellinzona medieval fortresses

The Bellinzona fortresses, erected in the Middle Ages, were intended to block expansion to the south for the Swiss confederates. However, Bellinzona voluntarily exchanged the Milanese authority against that of the original Swiss canton in 1503, resulting in the defence system being turned against the south and Milan. Today, the antique ruins of the three fortresses (Castelgrande, Castello di Montebello and Castello Sasso Corbaro) belong to the most significant masterpieces of fortification art of the Middle Ages in the Alpine region. In 2000, the fortress Castlegrande and its two sisters, ingeniously renovated by the Ticino architect Aurelio Galfetti, were declared world cultural heritage sites by UNESCO. You can inhale history here, every step you walk! An approximately five kilometres, well signposted round tour through Bellinzona provides the perfect opportunity to explore the three medieval fortresses as well as the Canton's capital. It's worthwhile to take a culinary break within the walls of the Castelgrande in Grotto San Michele, which offers both typical Ticino cuisine and a magnificent view over the city, whilst couples wishing to get married give their words of consent in Castello Sasso Corbaro and can celebrate within historical surroundings.

Crib exhibition and Christmas market at the fortress

For those interested in culture, permanent and temporary exhibitions are held in all three fortresses' museums. Within the course of the opening of the Gotthard base tunnel, they will extend their opening period and be open for the first time in winter until January 8th, 2017. KrippenWelt Stein am Rhein additionally enhances the Advent season with a crib exhibition in the Castelgrande where, as of November 12th, several hundred cribs will be presented within a space of some 300 m². Under the motto "Natale a Castelgrande" [Castelgrande Christmas], the fortress in the heart of the city will also come up trumps with a Christmas market for the first time ever on December 15th, 2016.

Bissoli – chocolate Bellinzona city coins

If you enjoy something sweet, you should try Bellinzona's famous "Bissoli" - scrumptious chocolates made of chocolate cream with chestnut filling and shaped similarly to a 300-year-old coin. A picture of a snake (Italian biscia), the city's emblem, is placed on the coin in white chocolate as was already punched on the coins back in 1503. The sweet biscuits resulted from a competition "Un dolce per Bellinzona" ("Something sweet for Bellinzona") several years ago. Combined with a coffee or an espresso, the Bissoli nowadays offer the perfect sweet break in Bellinzona's old town, e.g. at the pastry shop Peverelli on Piazza Collegiata, which sells the chocolate coins.

A taste of the south at the Bellinzona Saturday market

Every Saturday, the inner city of Bellinzona is transformed into colourful and joyful hustle and bustle when the market booths spread out their treasures beneath the blue and red striped rooves. The Bellinzona Saturday market, where some 120 local producers offer their goods from 8am to 1pm, has long since become the meeting place for the locals and tourists: Sun-ripened fruit and vegetables of the season from the Magadino plain, cheese specialities from Leventina and the Muggio valley, sausages manufactured using traditional recipes and crispy Ticino bread and honey, but also flowers, arts and craft, antiques and clothing are offered. Following this, the restaurants in the old town offer market visitors to lunch at affordable prices with their "Piatto del mercato" [Market platter] offer. By the way, the Bellinzona market has its own bi-lingual cookery book "Le ricette del mercato di Bellinzona" (in German and English), which you can purchase in the bookshops in the city. It contains more than 60 recipes for the products available at the market.

20 years' Locanda Orico – the flagship of Bellinzona's gastronomy

The Locanda Orico is a small restaurant with top cuisine, located in the middle of the old town beneath the Castelgrande. With one Michelin star and 16 Gault Millau points, it is deemed the culinary flagship of the city. Chef Lorenzo Albrici's passion for cooking was awoken during his childhood when he scouted out his grandmother's hotel during the holidays. The year 2017 will already be the 20th in which he manages his restaurant Locanda Orico successfully. An anniversary year, also concurrent with his 50th birthday. His recipe for success is the delicate connection of Italian influence and French ideas which he creates with surprising dishes which are artistically presented on the plates. The guests are seated in two small, elegant rooms where they can enjoy the culinary delicacies and competent service under subdued lighting and sober décor. If you wish to give the star cook carte blanche, we recommend the tasting menu, consisting of five or six courses, which costs 109 or 120 Swiss francs. At lunchtime, you can also enjoy Lorenzo Albrici's cuisine with a business lunch for as little as 48 Swiss francs.

In King Rabadan's realm

During Shrovetide, Bellinzona mutates into a carnival stronghold. On Shrove Tuesday, called "Rabadan" here or "noise" in Piedmont dialect, more than 150,000 people boisterously celebrate on the streets and in the festival marquees. Bellinzona therefore has one of the most extensive carnival celebrations in Switzerland, alongside Basle and Lucerne. The zany activities commence on "Schmutziger Donnerstag" (February 23rd, 2017) [Maundy Thursday] when Bellinzona's City President hands over the city gate keys to His Majesty King Rabadan. Following this, the jesters call the shots in Ticino's Canton's capital for five days. The climax to the Rabadan is the Sunday procession. More than fifty floats and groups participate in the so-called Corteo mascherato. The fundamental components of the Rabadan also include mask competitions, rope pulling tournaments, Guggen concerts and a risotto meal. There's plenty to eat and drink in the numerous festival marquees, which offer space for more than 40,000 persons. High-spirited parties take place in the "Festhütte Bellinzona" [Festival Hall] well into the early hours.

bLockaTI: the first escape room in Ticino – solving puzzles in 60 minutes

Puzzlers can find a new attraction in Ticino: thanks to the initiative of four young persons from Bellinzona, it has been possible to play the Live Room Escape Game originating in Japan and the USA in Italian-speaking Switzerland since September 1st, 2016. The new escape room "bLockaTI" is located in Giubiasco, close to Bellinzona. Logical thinking, powers of deduction and creativity are required here. Because exciting puzzles must be solved to find the route to freedom. The countdown is running because the time is restricted to 60 minutes. If the team of two to a maximum of six persons isn't progressing, the game master contacts them via loudspeaker and gives them a tip. However, teamwork is compulsory because mastering the tasks posed in the predefined hour is virtually impossible. To achieve success, the players must work hand-in-hand, complement each other and form a unit from their strengths or weaknesses. So it is perfect for team building events and for everybody who likes to be a detective. The group finds the way outside bit by bit if it masters the way through the trail provided with its brain twisters and games of skill successfully.

The new boutique hotel La Tureta in Giubiasco opened in April 2016

Since April 2016, the new boutique hotel La Tureta has been a new meeting point for visitors wishing to visit the Canton's capital. The hosts Bettina and Renato Doninelli have fulfilled their dream with this hotel. After purchasing the historic building on the village square of Giubiasco, they both jointly implemented their concept, within which they each contributed their love of their vocation - she her many years' work experience in the hotel business and he his capacity as an architect. The result is impressive. The building from the 17th century was carefully renovated and augmented with a modern annex, whereby during the course of its implementation an ecological construction style was of the utmost importance. A total of 31 bright and quiet rooms with exquisite furnishing and charming design are available for the visitors. With its location close to bicycle and mountain bike routes, the four-star hotel also offers bicycle rental and has a lockable bicycle room, a workshop for spare parts, a washing service and arranges tours with examined mountain bike guides. This explains why Hotelleriesuisse has awarded it the certificate of a Bike Hotel. Free Wi-Fi is available to the visitors in the entire building. Single room prices with breakfast start at 130 Swiss francs (approx. 120 euros) and double rooms start at 180 Swiss francs (approx. 166 euros).

Hike and adrenaline rush for the entire family

Thanks to its mild climate, Ticino is a hiking paradise for all seasons. The family-friendly hike to the Ponte Tibetano, the longest Tibetan suspended bridge in Switzerland with its 270 metres, newly inaugurated in 2015, starts in Monte Carasso, just a few kilometres from Bellinzona. The four-hour tour - past wine estates inviting visitors to taste the excellent Ticino Merlot - leads up to the picturesque village of Curzútt, which has already been awarded the Wakker Prize by the Swiss Heritage Society. In the village centre with typical Ticino stone houses, a small guest house welcomes you for a well-earned break. The small church of San Barnard, where you can marvel at precious frescoes from the 14th and 15th centuries, is just a short walk away. Crossing the new Tibetan suspension bridge over the 100-metre-deep canyon promises an adrenaline rush and magnificent view.