I will always remember my first trip to Switzerland but I absolutely can’t remember how many many trips I’ve made since then! For my first trip, I was working on an article on Swiss desserts for the then new magazine Chocolatier together with journalist Fred Ferretti. He was writing the text and I was recreating the recipes. But the budget was only enough for one writer to go to Switzerland for the research so I decided to pay my own way and go as well. I was already half in love with Switzerland having grown up with the tale of Heidi, her love for her grandfather and the alps. I also adored my grandfather whom I lived with for the first 4 years of my life and was bereft when my parents took me from my ‘alps’ (the Atlantic Ocean) to the big city of NY the way Heidi felt when she was taken to Frankfurt. But as I got older my thoughts turned less to Heidi than to chocolate and Switzerland was Mecca. I had to go. And then I had to return and explore every possible area of the country which is divided between French, German, Italian, and Romanche Cantons. Switzerland is a dream to travel through even for people who don’t speak any of these languages. The railroad networks through every major city with speed and reliability and interconnects with trams, cable cars, and buses. The most economical and stress free way to travel through the country is to purchase a Swiss pass www.myswitzlerland.comThis recent trip to Switzerland was a press trip focusing on the Ticino, the Italian most southern region, and the German northeastern region of St. Gallen, Appenzeller and Schaffhausen. It was so filled with experiences, great photos, and information I am compelled to divide them between several postings. But I must begin by saying that as on any trip, what made it most special was the group of extraordinary, fun, interesting, and warmly supportive participants not to mention the terrific new manager of media relations Michelle Kranz. We all so hit it off that even on optional events where we were free to do our own thing we still got together as a group! The Ticino, a triangle of land surrounded on two sides by Italy, is divided geographically by the Alps. It has 303,000 inhabitants, is half covered by forests, and is the only Canton where Italian is the official language . So it is not surprising that one finds there such a felicitous marriage of Swiss efficiency and Italian romance.
Lugano, an extraordinarily picturesque city on Lake Lugano, surrounded by snow covered alps, has 52,000 inhabitants. We stayed in the luxurious 5 star hotel and spa Principe Leopoldo high above the lake, which is an independent principality. It was built on a mountain rising high above the lake and necessitating a shuttle bus provided by the hotel as the steep winding road was designed for vehicles not pedestrians. Funiculars, however, go up several of the mountains for spectacular views. The town itself has beautiful architecture, shops, markets, and churches which utilize the local marble and stones in quite extraordinary ways. Our first night at Principe Leopoldo we were treated to a formal multi-course dinner by one of Switzerland’s top chefs Dario Ranza and despite jet-lag we all managed to stay awake enough to enjoy it starting with a stunningly delicious goose liver comfit with lightly spicy pear jam, perfectly prepared medallions of venison, and ending with a lovely chestnut parfait described as “semifreddo ai sapori d’utunno. The cuisine of the Ticino is as Italian as its language. Never a meal went by without either polenta, risotto, or pasta. One of our favorite dinners was at Grotto Morchino, where we had a prix fixe 20F dinner that included beef with polenta—the best brisket ever—flavorful and juicy, pork with perfectly creamy risotto, rabbit with potato (what! no pasta?) and chestnut torte for dessert. Speaking of dessert, Vanini, which is a local company I visited years ago with Albert Uster, that produces the best glacéed fruit, also has a boutique in Lugano featuring their wonderful desserts and gelato. Vallombrosa, one of the most appealing hotels in nearby Castelrotto, Malcantone Valley is situated in the vineyard Tenuta Tamborini where we enjoyed a wine tasting and learned that Merlot introduced at Tamborina 100 years ago with root stock from Bordeaux. Concord grapes are derived from the US. Most unusual was white wine that was 50% chardonnay/50% merlot—called bianco. Each room overlooks the vineyard and is decorated differently with lovely art work. It was so calm and cozy I could imagine writing a book there. The Old Stone Mill Used Only for Demonstrations The New Stone Mill Now in Use We also visited the Museo Etnografico of the Muggio Valle, and an ancient mill, Il Mulino di Bruzella, still in operation, that grinds corn into corn meal. One of the specialties, red corn meal, has a more intense flavor than the yellow variety with which we are more familiar. A short train ride from Lugano took us to the castles of Bellinzona, built in Medieval times, which are part of the Unesco World Heritage and were an optional side trip that would have been a pity to miss. So would have been the pasta with chanterelle mushrooms I had for lunch as a half portion, as we were returning to spend the afternoon at the annual Lugano food festival that lined the streets with stands such as this one which specialized in fresh porcini mushrooms in addition to the usual outdoor produce and salumeria markets. The highlight of the visit to the Ticino was a trip to the Chesnut Path—next posting!