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Alfa Romeo Swiss Grand Tour: Lugano, its Lake and its Mountains

The international charm of a city where contemporary architecture blends with the wonderful views of the lake and the surrounding peaks

Words Alessandro Giudice

Photography Alessandro Barteletti

Video Andrea Ruggeri

Swiss Grand Tour is a project to discover itineraries driving classic Alfa Romeo cars, in partnership with Astara, the distributor and importer of the Brand in Switzerland.




from Figino to Monte Bre


32 km

Travel time

1h 10min

Driving pleasure




Among all the Swiss cities, Lugano has a strong and special personality. Its proximity to Italy and the short distance that separates it from Milan have helped develop a lifestyle where a taste for beauty, particularly fashion and design, and cultural opportunities, expressed through a packed calendar of exhibitions and events, have made Lugano the most Mediterranean city in the Confederation, as well as a top financial centre.

[click to watch the video]

In the light of these considerations, we imagined an intense and “short but sweet” itinerary around Lugano and its lake to take in the scenery. Continuing our exploration of Ticino, which began in the hills of Malcantone, we set out from Figino, a small municipality on the banks of the Ceresio, the point of arrival of our first itinerary through the canton. And here we met Giovanni Poretti, Lugano-born legal expert and economist, who for the tour lent us one of the most valuable pieces in his Alfa Romeo collection: a shiny pastel grey 2600 Coupé Sprint with its long front, ideal for housing the straight-6 engine. All in all, a very classy car and sufficiently glamorous for visiting the sophisticated and picturesque locations along the route.

Starting from Morcote, an authentic lakeside gem, we pass through the village following the road keeping the lake on our right. Here the spectacle of the arcades adorning the luxury villas along the lakeside invites us to stop, even just for a refreshing drink while admiring the view across the water, with the Mottarello, Cascolo and Grumello mountains that draw the Italian coastline alongside the bay at Porto Ceresio. The village of Morcote stands on the bank. Strolling around the narrow streets, you take in some interesting architectural details and soak up the relaxing atmosphere; you really must climb the 400 steps at the back to reach the Renaissance church of Santa Maria del Sasso and the oratory next door, devoted to St Anthony of Padua. Right next to these two church buildings are the Scherrer Gardens, one of the amazing creations of Arthur Scherrer, from St Gallen, who in the early 1930s imaged a place that could contain all the wonders he collected on his travels around the world. Open from March to November and known as the “Garden of Wonders” (the naturalistic transposition of the “wunderkammer” that were so fashionable in the 19th century among aristocratic families), the park is home to numerous subtropical plants, bamboo forests and Mediterranean maquis, dotted with art works and reproductions of temples, villas and constructions styled to underline the eastern or western vegetation. Don’t miss it. 

Returning to the lakeside road, leaving Morcote, turn left up the slopes of Mount Arbostora towards Carona. This is a spectacular and really enjoyable road, even in the rather narrow stretches. The ideal place for making the most of the driving pleasure in a charming and very punchy car like the 2600 Sprint, as well as the technology that keeps the 520 HP of the red Giulia Quadrifoglio accompanying us at bay. It's quite hard to keep your eyes on the road without being distracted by the view, which in some points is absolutely breathtaking! Carona is a hamlet perched at an altitude of 600 metres above sea level, and is considered a neighbourhood of Lugano even though it lies 8 kilometres from the city. It is bursting with artistic expressions, with many houses decorated with sculpted friezes and fine details. The symbol of this pervasive refinery is the frescoed façade of the municipal Loggia and arcade: the building stands next to the church of San Giorgio (where you will also find a large 16th century painting inspired by Da Vinci’s Last Supper), with a bell tower in local pink stone and the sacristy above an arch over the road, all forming a beautiful square at the entrance to the village. Talking of religious buildings, the Madonna d’Onero sanctuary, with its porticoes and Via Crucis in front, occupies the top of the hill just outside the village.

Driving downhill from Carona towards Lugano, we come across small hamlets and ancient villas looking over the lake to our left along the route. A large sign stating “Benvenuti al Paradiso” (“Welcome to Paradise”) should not be misconstrued: nothing supernatural, just the boundary with what is considered the most prestigious residential district of Lugano, but which in fact is a municipality in its own right. With its elegant and exclusive contemporary architecture, it is also the departure point of the funicular railway that runs 1660 metres to the top of Mount San Salvatore, a very popular scenic spot with breathtaking views over the lake and the peaks of the highest mountains in Switzerland and Italy.

Lugano’s urban development, overseen by some of the greatest names in world architecture, is one of the most inspiring reasons for visiting the city. Starting from the buildings by Mario Botta, internationally renowned Ticino-born archistar which can be admired entering Lugano from Paradiso: the cylindrical Cinque Continenti centre, topped by a metallic structure, or, just outside the city centre in Via Pretorio, the red-brick Palazzo Ransilia, this time topped by a tree. The works of another Ticino-born architect, Ivano Gianola, include the spectacular LAC culture centre, which hosts exhibitions and artistic performances, as well as the MASI - Italian-Swiss Art Museum - , surprisingly built on pillars so as to not hinder the view of the lake. A suggestion: the centre of Lugano is quite compact with a large pedestrian area. It is worth visiting it on foot, maybe starting from the lakeside promenade. Visit the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, next to the LAC, with its wonderful Renaissance fresco by Bernardino Luini “Passion and Crucifixion of Christ”, and enjoy a stroll along Via Nassa, which under the 270-metre-long arcade once used by fishermen to dry their nets, today offers classy shops and boutiques, up to the historical Villa Ciani and its gardens.


Back in the car, the itinerary sets off once more from Villa Ciani towards Castagnola, leaving the lake for a few kilometres before finding it again on the right, at Ruvigliana, and on to Aldesago, on the slopes of Mount Brè, which with its 933 metres dominates the eastern part of the city. From here, along 6 kilometres of straight roads and wide sweeping bends, we reach Brè Sopra Lugano (its full name), a small hamlet with stone houses and streets, dotted with frescoes left by numerous artists – from Aligi Sassu to Wilhelm Schmid and Josef Birò – on the houses during their stays there both in summer and winter. From the village, a partially unpaved road leads to the top of the Brè in just a few minutes. In this charming panoramic spot, a terrace looks over Mount San Salvatore and the gulf of Lugano below. Then, looking up across the Alps and Monte Rosa, it springs to mind that perhaps it would really be worth putting up a sign “Welcome to Paradise”.


THE COLLECTOR: Giovanni Poretti

The "2600 Sprint"

Not a particularly famous car, many have never driven it, but this has fuelled its reputation as a car with heavy steering, which is not true, especially when seen with the eyes of today and in relation to the cars of its time. I find it very pleasant to drive, it’s not a light car as it was intended for a certain type of use, a large touring coupé, although some people did try to race it on the track. The 2600 is quite agile, but don't be afraid of its weight (1370 kg) and size (4.58 m long, 2.58 m wheelbase): the engine is sufficiently powerful and has enough torque to be entertaining. I agree with the tests conducted by Road&Track at the time: they said don't worry about entering a bend at high speed, as once it gets in there the 2600 Sprint is stable and safe, and holds the road well, despite the tyres of the time not being what they are today.

The Modern Alfas

I have always been a car enthusiast, and an Alfa Romeo fan in particular. While I loved all the cars of the 1960s and most of those of the 70s, from then onwards I have noted some kind of increasing banalisation, in the sense that the characteristics of each brand have been lost, in favour of uniform performance. The ties with Alfa Romeo make me like its models more than others. I recovered this respect after all the events that have marked and rather watered down Alfa’s history, but which today place the company in the centre of a development programme that, I hope, will help it to regain those unique features that made it a worldwide driving legend.


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