Italian Lakes – Lake Lugano

AFTER the broad and expansive beauties of Lakes Maggiore and Como, Lake Lugano’s merits strike one as of quite another order. This lake is the Cinderella among the sisters, untamed, unsophisticated, and unpremeditated, a wild little thing with savage, bizarre twists and turns.

Sir John Lubbock, in ” The Scenery of Switzerland,” tells us that it ” owes its complex form to the fact that it consists of two longitudinal and two transverse valleys dammed up by moraines.” John Addington Symonds, in his ” Sketches in Italy,” depicts its chief beauty when he writes of it as ” coloured with the tints of fluor-spar, or with the changeful green and azure of a pea-cock’s breast.” Indeed, seen from the heights, it may be fancifully likened, on a monster scale, to one of those brilliant lizards tinted in rich greens and blues, which may be seen at times in this subalpine region. If comparisons must needs be made, Lake Lugano may be said to bear some-what the same scenic relation to Lake Maggiore that Lake Luzern bears, for instance, to Lake Geneva.

The regular tourist approaches are numerous. There is first of all the international line of the St. Gothard, which skirts a portion of its eastern and western shores and crosses from side to side between Bissone and Melide on a viaduct half a mile long. Then there is the steam-train from Luino on Lake Maggiore to pretty, bustling little Ponte Tresa, where the transfer is made to a Lugano steamboat. There is also the delightful trip over from Menaggio on Lake Como to Porlezza by miniature railroad, and thence by steamboat to the city of Lugano. Besides these generally used lines of travel there is the railroad from Varese to Porto Ceresio; while from Argegno on Lake Como a splendid road leads through the high-placed Val d’Intelvi to Osteno or to Maroggia on Lake Lugano.

Coming over from Menaggio, fresh from the exuberant villa gardens of Lake Como, the traveller may at first find Lake Lugano trifle sad of appearance and neglected looking, and the eye needs to accustom itself to a complete change of characteristics.

Embarking at Porlezza, we stop at Osteno with its gorges, and then touch at a series of villages, all upon the northern bank, perched in the track of the sun like a row of swallows’ nests, beginning with Cima, Cressogno, and Loggio. At San Mamette there is. an immensely picturesque bit. The Oriental-looking, basin-like Val Solda opens at the back, and high above are the white houses of Castello. Then follow Albogasio, Oria, Bellarma, Gandria (a considerable place), then Castagnola at the foot of Monte Bré, and, finally, prosperous Lugano, the city, with its water-front of hotels and its environs full of grace and charm.

The author has already devoted some pages to Lugano in a previous work, ” Romance and Teutonic Switzerland,” but it is a pleasure to tell of the place’s growing attractiveness.

For all its Italian arcades and its Italian gardens, the city wears a substantial Swiss air. Thrift and progress are stamped upon it, and wealth and commerce flow into it, as befits a station on the main line between Germany and Italy. Lugano has now also a cable line running up from the quay to the high-placed station of the St. Gothard R. R., and another line mounting to the near-by view-point, Monte San Salvatore; likewise an electric line connecting the two cable roads and branching out into the surrounding country. There are no less than three steamboat piers ; the great number of hotels and pensions are designed to suit every purse; the shops are filled with the best of this world’s goods, even English groceries being procurable; and there are walks and drives by land and excursions by water in many directions. To the east lies green Monte Bré, with vineyards and olive-trees; opposite, bare Monte Caprino, and landward, villas of growing magnificence clothe the circling hills.

Especially have the Germans long since learned to avail themselves of Lugano as a spring and autumn resort, convenient of access. Hither came Moltke and Roon after the Franco-Prussian war, and the then Crown Prince of Germany. Georg Ebers, the Egyptologist, made annual visits to Lugano, and altogether the progress of the place has been advantageously affected by the presence of these enthusiastic, well-educated, and warm-hearted visitors from north of the Alps.

During the Italian struggle for independence, from 1848 to 1866, Lugano was frequently used by Mazzini as his headquarters. The little village of Capolago, at the head of the lake, whence the railroad starts for the summit of Monte Generoso, contained the Libreria Elvetica, the famous printing-press from which revolutionary appeals to the Italian people were issued and literature was distributed. The village lies just across the frontier from Italy. At Ligornetto, off to the west from the railroad station of Mendrisio, the sculptor Vincenzo Vela was born, to whom reference is made several times in this volume. He has left a great deal of work in statuary throughout the southern slope of the Alps. A little museum containing models of his works is maintained at Ligornetto. This sculptor was one of many artistic workmen and master builders who have gone out into the world from this region or from the high-lying Val d’Intelvi.

The boundary-line between Switzerland and the countries at the southern foot of the Alps performs many curious and apparently unaccountable tricks along its many miles of extent, but this is particularly the case on and about Lake Lugano. Here, for example, the Italian frontier takes the most astonishing tumble at the foot of Monte Generoso. The Italian village of Campione is entirely surrounded by Swiss territory, with the result that strange custom-house complications are constantly arising. Thus also, when you descend from the summit of Monte Generoso by the beautiful path which dips down in many zigzags and curves to the Val d’Intelvi, you pass from Switzerland to Italy, and an armed custom-house guard considers it necessary to search even the most harm-less and innocuous knapsack for contraband. It will be of interest to botanists, for whom, indeed, the region of Lake Lugano, and especially the mountain-form of Monte Generoso, contain many delights, to learn that on rocky Monte Salvatore a little red flower grows which is said to be found nowhere else, the Daphne Salvatoria.

Naturally the supply of water in all the Italian lakes is largely dependent upon the condition of the snow in the mountains. This is true also of Lake Lugano. But the variation in normal times is singularly slight, and year in and year out, decade by decade, the sweet blue mountain lake with its shallows of vivid green snuggles down between its steep banks, secure and caressed by the touch of sunshine. The spring flowers peep and blossom in the neighbouring valleys, primroses, violets, periwinkles, starry anemones, and lilies of the valley. The summer heat sweeps them aside and ripens grape, fig, and olive, and the autumn garners a full vintage from the vineyards and an amazing crop from the chestnut and walnut forests.