Wednesday, November 10, 2021

10/8/21: Luzern-Lugano & Funicular up San Salvatore

As we made the two-hour journey by train from Luzern in the Berner Oberland to the southeast Swiss city of Ticino, the tiny community of Fluelen on Lake Luzern was one of the few spots to take a shot as almost the entire journey was through train tunnels!

We only had a four-minute connection in Arth to catch the train onto Lugano but made it fairly comfortably with one minute to spare! I'm sure many people are surprised to learn that one of the official languages of Switzerland is Italian spoken in the southeast canton of Ticino. Lugano, the largest city in the region, sprawls along the coastline of Lake Lugano and is just a short train ride through the Alps from its German-speaking neighbors.

As we were heading to Italy two days' hence for the next five weeks, Steven had been monitoring online the Covid-19 requirements for entering that country. Even though the information was a little unclear for Americans arriving by bus as we would be, we decided not to take any chances and were able to get rapid PCR tests on arrival at a clinic at the train station. The cost for peace of mind was about $100 so worth it. Spoiler: We ended up not being asked by the bus driver but again, we felt we did the right thing.

As it was a spectacularly gorgeous day with blue skies, sun shining, and unbelievably beautiful views, we switched around our schedule to take advantage of the weather. Even though we had just experienced first-hand the mightier Alps further north in the Berner Oberland, we still wanted to take advantage of being in Lugano and explore San Salvatore, one of Lugano's mountains that soar over the city. It was just a short walk to the base of the funicular and from there to the mountain's summit.

Most of Lugano's architecture with its stubby and unattractive apartment buildings failed to make a positive impression on us either immediately or even when we saw more of the city the following day. Its allure was its location, location, location along the lake.

A funicular passed us going back down to Lugano. 

As I said, location, location, location!

Yvonne: Ever since our short stay in Frankfurt, Steven and I had been seeing so many references to your countryman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe! At the summit, we read that in a letter he'd written in 1788 "One does not travel to arrive, but to travel." A photo exhibit depicted images of the road constructed up to, and then the tunnel through, Gotthard Mountain from 1827-1830, still considered one of the most prestigious works of high-country road engineering. 

The tunnel through Gotthard was completed in eight years and designed by Louis Favre in 1879.

Opening up the Gothard Pass tunnel united not only Italy and Switzerland but also the country's poorest region of Ticino with its neighbors in the German and French areas of the country. 

We'd hoped to stop in at the Salvatore Museum near the top to view its collection of religious art and exhibits on local geology but it was closed.

The characteristic shape of San Salvatore was a driving force to promote the city of Lugano in this 1932 poster and ...

this one from 1939.

Sorry for the shadow!

No matter where we walked at the summit of San Salvatore, the views were drop-dead gorgeous in my opinion, regardless of Lugano's more famous mountain cousins further north. 

From the funicular station, we climbed a few minutes to reach the actual summit of San Salvatore to see the church. There was a chapel dedicated to San Salvatore atop the mountain in 1213 which was later turned into a small church. Reference to the church's original appearance has been found on a piece of parchment in city archives describing "A white mountain against a shady blue backdrop. On the summit the church of San Salvatore with its steeple." When the old church was demolished in 1703, this new one was completed in 1719.

We could have taken the funicular back down the mountain but decided to hike down to Lugano even though we hadn't checked out the difficulty of the trail in advance. Nor did we have water, snacks, or any other hiking essentials. How I was soon to wish we had done our homework as I had bitten off more than I really felt comfortable with.

Hard not to be excited with views like this when hiking. However, it was but a fleeting view as we were back in the mountain brush in no time with limited 'views.'

For the first half of the trek, there were cute participation activities and hiking safety tips for children which I thought was quite brilliant. Why oh why don't other countries have something similar?

I guess I had been spoiled by the trails we'd just hiked on in the Berner Oberland that had been uniformly well-marked with both difficulty and distance, well-groomed, and also relatively flat. This trail, by contrast, was very rocky which I hated as my balance isn't what it was!

I thought this fellow must have had marbles instead of brain cells hoping he could ride his bike up the mountain. I tried to tell him the trail we had just descended would also be exceedingly tough terrain for him but he was determined to try and make it to the top. I ended up later finding his bike's flashlight that must have fallen off on a particularly bumpy stretch not surprisingly.

Can you imagine taking a bike up a trail like this?!!

I was never so happy to get off a trail as I was when I suggested to Steven we return to our hotel via real streets and not continue on the trail. You can see how far we'd hiked because there's San Salvatore at the top of the photo in the dead center. 

We still had a long way to go before making it to our hotel near the lake.

Our last view of the mountain top - I was so relieved to make it down in one piece as I had been unsure of that for parts of the trail!

Next post: Exploring Lugano and another long hike, surprise, surprise!

Posted on November 10th, 2021, just before saying, Arrivederci Roma, and taking the train to Naples for the next four nights. As much as Steven and I love, love seeing churches, temples, and mosques on our overseas adventures, I think even we have seen enough churches to do us for a while after a full week in remarkable Rome!


  1. Check your spam, darlinks. I emailed you the other night. (It's happening lately with everyone. I've asked my webmaster to check it out.) I'll be driving home from County Roscommon Nov 20 and will swing by your hotel. Let me know a good time. Can't wait to see ye's!!! Val

  2. Val,

    Can hardly wait to rekindle our friendship from eight long years ago when we met in Mongolia!