Discover the Brissago Islands and the towns of Brissago and Ronco sopra Ascona, a stunning combination of lakes and mountains.
Brissago, Ronco sopra Ascona and the Brissago Islands all offer fantastic lake and mountain leisure opportunities. The huge geographical area they cover literally stretches from the lakeside – at less than 200m above sea level, Switzerland’s lowest point – to the mountains, culminating in the peak of the Ghiridone at 2,200m. This captivating area enjoys the influence of an unusual subtropical climate, making it possible to find incredibly varied vegetation, on the Brissago Islands in particular.
A town suspended between the shores of Lake Maggiore and the steep slopes of the mountains, Brissago is an oasis of tranquillity to retreat to for a relaxing holiday. The lower part of the town, its oldest, developed around the Renaissance church of San Pietro e Paolo; the narrow alleyways that descend towards the lake conceal plenty of fascinating corners and glimpses of gardens full of typically Mediterranean plants, such as lemons and oranges.
From Brissago you can climb up the Sacro Monte and to the Santuario di Santa Maria Addolorata, a once wild and dramatic place that now boasts an unusually picturesque charm thanks to its baroque style. Brissago is also famous for its cigars that bear the name of the town overlooking Lake Maggiore. Founded by a group of enterprising locals and Italians in 1847, the Fabbrica Tabacchi Brissago was the starting point for the evolution of the cigar industry in Ticino and specialised in the artisanal production of Virginia cigars. Thanks to the expertise of the Brissago factory, these cigars would later become known as Brissago cigars. The charming town of Ronco sopra Ascona boasts medieval origins. Built of tower houses that lean one against the other, it climbs up the promontory overlooking the lake and offers enchanting views of the landscape. As well as its intimate and welcoming atmosphere, plenty of famous people have also made this village their home. The birthplace of Antonio Ciseri, in its cemetery you will also see the graves of many artists who chose it as their adopted home, such as Eric Maria Remarque and his wife Paulette Goddard (formerly the wife of Charlie Chaplin), Richard Seewald, Rolf Lenne, Ernst Fischer, Ursula La Ruelle-Krebs, Gerhard Maasz and Kurt Hoffmann.
Surrounded by the waters of Lake Maggiore, which accumulate heat during the summer only to give it back during the winter, the Brissago Islands benefit from a climate that is completely subtropical. This plus the rare days of winter frost make it the ideal place to grow species not normally found in Switzerland. The Brissago Islands are home to the only botanical park on an island in Switzerland.
The islands of San Pancrazio (Isola Grande) and Sant’Apollinare (once known as Isola dei Conigli, or Rabbit Island) can be reached easily by boat from various ports around Lake Maggiore. The islands have undergone a number of changes of ownership and were left abandoned for years until 1885, when Baroness Antoinette de Saint Léger and her husband Richard Fleming bought them to make their home there. The young couple transformed Isola Grande into a park, and it is thanks to the Baroness that we owe the origins of the current Botanic Gardens, while the subsequent owner – the businessman Max Emden – was responsible for building the Villa Emden. In the Botanic Gardens on Isola Grande, open to the public since 1950, more than 2,000 plant species from the main Mediterranean climate areas thrive – including the Mediterranean basin, Chile, South Africa, Australia and California – as well as from areas with a humid subtropical climate, such as Asia, America and Oceania. Thanks to this biodiversity, the Botanic Gardens on the Brissago Islands are some of the most beautiful gardens in Switzerland and are particularly popular with tourists.