With its colourful Old Town of intricate lanes, a charm that has captivated artists of all kinds and its position on the shores of Lake Maggiore, Ascona is the ideal combination of cultural centre and holiday resort. Small and pretty, it is perfect for a relaxing day trip with a dash of history.
We start the day with breakfast at one of the town’s many little cafés. Between the narrow streets that criss-cross it or by the lake, the breeze of Dolce Vita is always blowing, especially when you have a cappuccino in hand and a pastry on your plate. Even if we only have 24 hours, let’s take it easy: isn’t that what you want from a holiday on the shores of Lake Maggiore?
We cross the Old Town to the stairs that lead up to Monte Verità. The climb isn’t for everyone, but from here you can take a stunning photo of the view that makes the perfect souvenir. Alternatively, you can take the bus from the Autosilo stop that reaches Monte Verità in just eight minutes. The hill overlooking Ascona is known for its cultural and historical importance. This green park plays host, among other things, to the most northerly tea plantation in Europe, a museum complex that explains the history of the mountain and a hotel. Between 1902 and 1920, Monte Verità was home to a naturist colony, traces of which can still be seen both in the park and at the Museo di Casa Anatta. Over time, it attracted revolutionaries, philosophers, writers and artists. It now plays host to the Monte Verità Literary Events, during which international literary personalities discuss a different theme every year. Let’s take our time to visit the park with a long walk, attend a tea ceremony and maybe even have lunch in the restaurant, which is blessed with beautiful views of the lake.
From Monte Verità a long staircase leads straight back to the heart of Ascona and its labyrinth of alleyways that offer a pleasant mix of major historic monuments, art galleries and sophisticated boutiques. Ascona’s roots go back a long way: it boasts plenty of evidence of medieval and Renaissance history, passed down by churches, museums and palaces. We can’t miss passing in front of Casa Serodine – where the sculptor Giovanni Battista and the painter Giovanni Serodine lived – to admire its late 16th-century Roman-style façade.
The Serodine brothers left their mark on art all over Ascona, as demonstrated by the altarpiece in the church of Saints Peter and Paul and the church of the Madonna della Fontana. Ascona is also home to the Fondazione Epper, which exhibits artworks by Ignaz and Mischa Epper, and the Fondazione Rolf Gérard, where its permanent display can be admired. The Museo Comunale d’Arte Moderna is also nearby: founded in 1922 on the initiative of a number of artists who, having come to Ascona between the two wars, decided to donate one of their works to the town for the opening of a museum. The collection now contains more than 500 works of art. Let’s treat ourselves to an ice cream between visits, not forgetting to browse the many art galleries in the Old Town. With a visit to the Castello di San Materno, it’s almost evening, but the day is not over: we’re looking for somewhere to be spoilt by some typical Ticino dishes given a new twist by talented young chefs. From traditional cooking to fish specialities and the most avant-garde cuisine, there is somewhere in Ascona to suit every palate. We end our evening with a walk along the lakeside, admiring the silhouette of the Brissago Islands in the distance.
A boat trip around the lake is always enjoyable, but it can take a long time and is better kept for a longer stay if you want to focus on the town’s artistic side. From April to October, however, you could take a detour to the Brissago Islands, which are only 15 minutes by boat from Ascona and home to the only botanic gardens in Switzerland on an island, with over 1,700 species of plants from all over the world.