If you search for “Gotthard” on the internet, the first suggestion to come up is “tunnel”, the second, “traffic jam”. There’s a reason for that – at weekends and in the summer months, northbound traffic regularly backs up at the south portal. For fans of statistics: in July 2022, the motorway tunnel had to be closed 36 times and traffic queued for a total of 350 hours – a record. An idea of what to expect in 2023 was experienced during the Whitsun weekend, when up to three-and-a-half hours was spent stuck in traffic.
Travelling to Ticino by train is much quicker and more convenient. It takes two relaxing hours to travel from Zurich to Locarno, where the Mobility vehicle you reserved in advance is waiting for your trip into one of the canton’s four side valleys. Which one you like best is down to you. To help you decide, here’s an outline of what you can expect.
The Maggia valley is the largest, best known and most visited valley in Ticino. The southern end, in particular, is often crowded on warm summer days. To escape the throng, you have to venture further up the valley – into the Val Bavona, for instance.
It’s a wonder that this valley was ever settled, as it’s the steepest and stoniest of the entire Alpine region. These days, the twelve hamlets scattered throughout the Bavona are only inhabited in summer. There’s no electricity from the grid here, so the summer residents resort to off-grid solar energy. One of the hamlets in the Val Bavona is Foroglio, which, in addition to the stone houses so typical of the region, boasts a waterfall that plunges 110 metres into the depths.
Also worth a visit is the Lago del Sambucco, which is a reservoir 1,461 metres above sea level ending in a 130-metre-high dam. It’s possible to walk around the reservoir, and you can go even further into the Maggia valley: some 800 kilometres of footpaths are waiting to be discovered. The Maggia valley is well endowed with grotti serving food, such as at the Grotto Pozzasc, situated next to a picturesque lagoon in which you can swim before or after your meal.
The Verzasca valley is the one to go for if you’re keen on aesthetics and colours. Twenty-five kilometres in length, it’s characterised by turquoise water, ancient stone villages, even older stone bridges, beautiful scenery and thundering waterfalls. At the end of the valley lies Sonogno, a typical Ticino village with a historic core that’s been preserved. The Museo di Val Verzasca is worth a visit to learn all about the valley’s farming past.
At the other end of the adrenalin spectrum is the exploit that made cinematic news for James Bond in the film “GoldenEye” (1995): the plunge (for non-agents, a bungee jump) from the 220-metre-high Verzasca dam.
The Onsernone valley is the quietest of the four side valleys, so no need to fear throngs of tourists here. Instead, it’s a haven of nature – the Valle Onsernone is considered the green lung of Ticino and features primeval-looking forests and deep gorges gouged by the Isorno river. The 22-kilometre-long Via Onsernone follows the twists and turns of the valley, passing through one delightful village after another.
Try to make time for a detour to the Alpe Salei, which is reached by aerial cableway. Footpaths abound here, and a round walk is possible. Alternatively, enjoy looking down into the valley, have a bite to eat at the Capanna Salei and let nature work its magic on you. It’s possible to stay the night here, but do book ahead as accommodation is limited.
The Centovalli is the most Italian of the side valleys, which is hardly surprising: you’ll actually end up in Italy if you drive far enough (not a problem with Mobility provided you’re resident in Switzerland). Although there aren’t exactly 100 (cento) valleys, not for nothing is the Centovalli so called: the main valley of the Melezza has countless side valleys featuring densely wooded slopes, rocky cliffs and impressive waterfalls.
Places worth visiting in the Centovalli include Palagnerda, the valley’s former main village, and Intragna, the current one, where the highest free-standing church tower in Ticino stands at 65 metres. Reached from Verdasi by aerial cableway, the car-free village of Rasa exudes a charm all its own. In addition to distant views of the Valais Alps, you’ll find a Swing of the World swing here, a project featuring handmade swings offering breathtaking views throughout the canton.
The Centovalli is sparsely populated and not so tourism oriented, so it’s quiet. The Italian end of the valley, the Valle Vigezzo, which reaches as far as Domodossola, is more lively.
To meet the increased demand, Mobility is adding 19 vehicles to its Ticino fleet during the summer months. A total of 63 vehicles of different types are available. The largest selection is stationed at the principal urban centres of Bellinzona, Locarno and Lugano, where electric cars are also available. We recommend booking as early as possible, particularly during the holiday season. This is especially the case if you want to get your hands on one of the Mini Cooper S convertibles, which were added to the fleet in 2022.
Ticino’s four side valleys can each be covered in one day by car. In theory, all four are doable in one day – but that’s not the point of a road trip. To give yourself time for spontaneous sightseeing, breaks, walks or afternoon naps in a meadow, you need at least two days. Accommodation at various price points is available in each of the four valleys. And to make your stay in Ticino perfect, provided you book ahead enough, you’re sure to find a secluded rustico.
Longer trips with Mobility are also financially attractive. If you’re using Mobility for more than a day, a day package automatically applies. Details of the packages can be found here.
Have a good trip and enjoy your traffic jam-free weekend in Ticino!