It took a few moments to realize that the crenelated medieval tower behind the palm trees was our lodging: the Romantik Hotel Castello Seeschloss. Its Italian-German name loosely translates as ‘castle at the end of the lake’ -- and that’s where we found it. If Ascona is a picture book village, the Castello is its bookmark.
We arrive to see the last vestiges of the produce market at the end of Piazza Giuseppe Motta quay packing up for the season as the sun goes down. It’s the third week of October and just 4 days shy of the official end to the tourist season. Soon the boat tours, restaurants and hotels will be shuttered until spring.
But the fine weather insists we enjoy the northern end of Lake Maggiore in Switzerland’s Ticino region. This is not entirely a burdensome task. Although the region once experienced historic disparity, it has progressed from skilled stone cutting to tourism based on sun and health, thanks to a microclimate protected from the Alps to the north.
The tourist season lasts for 8 months, although it is possible to enjoy a lunchtime pizza outdoors in February. But it’s the warm months that people come for. April-May opens with a chamber music festival, while June-July is hopping with the 10-day jazz festival and some 200 orchestras. The jazz connection twins Ascona with New Orleans.
To gain further insight into Ascona’s history my wife Lis and I arrange to meet guide Regula Siegrist, a woman with a poetic passion about this locale. She takes us through narrow streets and alleys, spotlessly Swiss clean, as we observe the rituals of relaxation: a quayside coffee, thumbing through a stand of used books, strolling past a fountain to window shop for luxury items arranged just so.
While the art museum church of San Pietro e Paolo in the Old Town is well known, hidden from view within the exclusive boarding school of Collegio Papio is the chapel Santa Maria Della Misericordia, dating from 1442, with its frescoed walls and ceiling by Italian painters.
Some of the frescoes were covered with plaster in the 16th century, perhaps due to the chapel’s use as a sanatorium during the plague. It took 2 years for an Italian specialist to remove the plaster, although the frescoes have since been damaged by humidity and dampness.
Our walking tour eventually takes us to a chapel overlooking the village, from which a mild breeze refreshes the panoramic view of the bay. A yacht glides past palm trees below us.
Back at the hotel we are shown the elegant honeymoon suite in the tower -- a true touch of European romance. The view outlines the south delta of the River Maggia, with the town of Locarno just a short distance away on the north shore.
A quick drive to Locarno shows it to be quite different from Ascona. Locarno is a town with a city office center, lengthy piazza (Piazza Grande) and considerable hillside residences. Narrow cobblestone streets, a lakeside park and an air of ease characterize the town, although we still favour little Ascona.
Returning there, we finish a dinner of traditional fare in Seeschloss by 9 PM and while Lis retires to our room by the pool, I stroll the quay with its cafes and restaurants still full of animated conversation.
Sunshine favours us again next day, and after a typically hearty Swiss breakfast of meats, cheeses, freshly baked breads plus fruits and home made jams we set off toward Belinzona to see its fortress walls while en route to Lucerne.
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Please note: Story and photos copyright © Gary Crallé 2012. Not for commercial reproduction without written consent.
Romantik Hotel Castello Seeschloss
6612 Ascona, Switzerland
Tel +41 (0)91/7 91 01 61
Fax +41 (0)91/7 91 18 04
Ascona / Switzerland Tourism http://www.myswitzerland.com/en/destinations/resorts/holiday-destinations-in-switzerland/ascona.html
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Gary Crallé is a seriously sociable travel photographer who appreciates wherever he is. With almost 70 countries under his travel belt it’s surprising he hasn’t put on weight. He likes to concentrate on what is good for the body and soul (history & culture, gastronomy, health & leisure) and the spirit within us (geography, self-discovery/adventure). Image-based stories are his passion.
Located: Georgetown Canada
Likes: photography, adventure, gastronomy, history, events, health & leisure