As in many parts of Switzerland, Halloween is not a traditional widespread festivity in the Lake Maggiore region. However, children never miss the chance to do what they love most: dressing up as best they can to go from house to house trick-or-treating. It’s a bit like dressing up for carnival and collecting alms. Nevertheless, those looking for thrills and strong emotions won’t be disappointed in Ascona-Locarno. We’ve ghost stories, abandoned buildings and escape room adventures.
1. Escape Rooms
Let’s face it, what could be more adrenaline-charged than being trapped in a room trying to crack difficult challenges to save yourself and the planet in just 60 minutes? Help save Planet Solaris from destruction, discover the secrets of the mysterious Sasso Society, escape from Marcacci Castle, or unravel the mystery of Enzo Mastrolorenzo’s box. Okay, so not exactly pumpkins and ghosts, but the thrill of a mystery and a race against time are guaranteed.
2. The Visconti Castle
The Visconti Castle in Locarno is not far from the famous Piazza Grande square. Now housing the Civic and Archaeological Museum of the city, it features in many legends. From the myth of the Rivellino wall, designed by none other than Leonardo Da Vinci himself, to the story of the ghost of the marquis who once lived there. It is said that the marquis rudely chased away a beggar woman whom his wife had previously welcomed into their house. The woman injured herself and died. Years later the family, fallen from grace, tried to sell the castle to a visiting Florentine knight, who stayed in the very room where the beggar woman died. The next morning he said that he had heard footsteps during the night and consequently refused to buy the castle. The owners decided to investigate: they too heard the strange sound. While the marquis tried to fight the ghost, his wife ran out of the castle to seek help from the townsfolk. As soon as she passed through the gates, the castle behind her went up in flames. When help arrived, they found the marquis already dead, in that infamous room. And, it is said, his bones still rest there.
3. The cell door in the Valmaggia Museum
The Valmaggia Museum in Cevio is a wonderful testimony to what everyday life used to be like in the valley. It also hosts interesting temporary exhibitions (currently, Emilio Balli’s A Locarno’s gaze on the world). The museum is housed in two town houses dating back to the 17th century. In the basement of the Palazzo Franzoni palace, the main seat, there is a disturbing reconstruction of the door of a prison cell of the House of the Landfogti (“Casa dei Landfogti”) in Cevio, immersed in a dark and gloomy atmosphere. Does it guard the ghosts of the poor wretches who were once imprisoned there by the local magistrates (the “Landfogti”)? After all, legend has it that there was once an underground tunnel connecting the museum to the House of the Landfogti. Yeah, just an old legend... Eek, did you hear something creak?
4. The Ponte Oscuro bridge in Crana
In Crana, in Onsernone Valley, there’s a bridge under which, according to legend, the old Misery waits for people to pay a fee to cross it. Children in the valley were very frightened by the recurring narration of this story. The story has it that the old and extremely poor Misery, a straw weaver by profession, one day offered hospitality to an old beggar. Her guest later revealed himself to be Saint Remigius and granted her a reward. She asked that anyone who attempted to steal her straw while it lay soaking in the river beneath the so-called “dark” bridge in Crana would become trapped in the water. One day Death, the grim reaper, knocked on her door. Misery asked if she could first finish the brim of a hat she was working on at the time and sent him to fetch her some straw from the river. Unaware of the risks, Death went and was trapped. Many years later, however, people began to miss Death and asked the old Misery to release him. Misery agreed, but only on the condition that she would never die. And that’s the reason why Misery is still with us today. There is now a statue of the characters of the story near the Ponte Oscuro bridge to keep this legend alive.
5. La Val Bavona
The Bavona Valley is just as mysterious as it is beautiful. Not only are all the villages off-grid (apart from San Carlo), but the entire valley seems to attract natural catastrophes. One of the villages, Prèsa, has been abandoned for centuries due to the threat of a creeping landslide. There is a huge boulder in Foroglio, engraved with the story of a poor man who was crushed by it, but didn’t die outright, and people would go and talk to him. And that’s not all! There are underground cellars in Gerra, eight metres deep, where the chilly temperature is proverbially unnatural. As soon as you pass one, you feel the cold rising and penetrating your bones. If you then dare to enter, it is said that any candles lighting your way would mysteriously go out... Brrr!
6. The Castle of Tenero
This eighteenth-century rustic villa in Tenero once belonged to Baron Giovanni Antonio Marcacci, before passing to Guglielmo Maria Pedrazzini. As you pass nearby, you are struck by its majesty and bright colours. But if you look a bit closer, you will see signs of decadence and abandonment. Today, Pedrazzini Castle is known as a real house of ghosts, also thanks to the play entitled “Lo spettro del castello di Tenero” (“The spectre of the castle of Tenero”) by Alberto Pedrazzini, 1912. In fact, it is said that the villa is haunted and that at night a strange shadow can be seen wandering around.
7. The “Crüsc ”of Verzasca Valley
The Crüsc, ugly evil elves, are reputed to live in the caves in the Mergoscia mountains. At night they enjoy stealing anything they can find in the houses of the local inhabitants, even their children. So, if you’re really brave, you might well meet them while walking along the Trail of Legends (“Sentiero delle leggende”) in Gerra Verzasca, along with devils, witches and all manner of talking animals. Along the trail, hidden among the trees or clearly visible, you will also come across several decidedly evil wooden sculptures and even a witch’s hovel... Best not to go on your own!
8. The Centocampi in Gambarogno
It would appear that the Centocampi (literally, the hundred fields) on the Caviano Mountains are the work of the Devil. A village sacristan, who had a very high opinion of himself, was particularly courted by the Devil. One day, he let it slip that he would sell his soul to the Devil in order to see the land in question – completely infertile and infested with wild animals – become fields. The Devil accepted the pact and promised him one hundred fields ready for sowing before the morning Angelus. However, the sacristan would have to sell him his soul in exchange. The sacristan accepted, but, when he saw that the Devil was about to finish his work, he rushed off to ring the Angelus bell earlier than usual in order to save his soul. And so there were only ever ninety-nine fields. The sacristan was saved, but his actual name has been lost in the mists of time.
9. The witches of Brissago
In Brissago it is well known that when it rains, it really rains! This makes everything green and lush, allowing certain plants not found elsewhere in Switzerland to thrive, as can be clearly seen on the Brissago Islands. However, it is said that there is a sinister reason for such heavy rains: the witches have a grudge against the townsfolk of Brissago as they had been threatened with being burned at the stake if they dared to show their faces there. Even today, when the sun shines while it is raining, people say that the witches are doing their laundry.
10. The ghost of Muralto
According to legend, the ghost of a dead man from Muralto appeared in the town near the Parco della Croce Bianca park during the night of Christmas Eve, 1940. There were other sightings near the Cemetery. Everyone reported the same thing: a very striking ghost appeared, all in white, saying that he lived in the 1500s and wanted to tell his story. But the people were terrified and ran away. Mysteriously, many chickens disappeared during the same period...