If western Switzerland retains a French touch and central and northern Switzerland maintain a German air, then Ticino exudes an Italian gusto that is infectious. If you’ve ever found yourself in love with Italy but exasperated by its dramas then Ticino can make your dream come true: Italian features, Swiss fixtures!
The landscape of Ticino, the southernmost canton of Switzerland, has plenty of forested peaks, deep valleys and sapphire lakes, but also the warmest climate in the country. This means that you’ll find palm trees, bougainvillea and other staples of Mediterranean scenery when touring.
Topographically the Monte Ceneri range divides the canton. The northern half of the canton is referred to as the Sopraceneri and the southern the Sottocenari.
Must-visits include towns on Lago Maggiore (which shares its eastern side with Italy) like Locarno and Ascona. Fans of scenic train journeys will love the Centovalli experience. The regional capital, Lugano, and Lake Lugano, plus the medieval castles of Bellinzona all merit a visit too. Röstigraben is nowhere better exemplified than in the southwestern canton of Valais, where one half of the county speaks French and the other half German. Keeping watch over it all is Switzerland’s most impressive mountain, the Matterhorn.
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Valais’s name comes from the fact that it includes the River Rhône’s valley as the river works its way from the Alps to Lake Geneva, separating the Pennine Alps from the Bernese Alps. Smaller valleys branch off sideways form this main Rhône valley. The canton finds itself bordered by Swiss cantons Vaud, Bern, Uri and Ticino, plus Italy and France in its south.
Locals enjoy (and play up to) a reputation for being fiercely proud of their home. Parochial loyalty runs high: you may well hear someone referring to a nearby village like it’s another country.
The linguistic dividing line occurs in the town of Sierre (known as Siders in German). If you find yourself here (you will if you’re heading to Crans-Montana), make a beeline for Château de Villa. Here they serve the best raclette in the canton and they boast hundreds of local wines in the cellar.
Valais’s capital is Sion, a busy hub with prehistoric, Celtic, Roman and medieval roots.
Skiing and snowboarding are the name of the game in Valais come wintertime. The famous resorts such as Zermatt, Crans-Montana, Saas-Fee and Verbier, as well as lesser-known ones like Ovronnaz, Les Portes du Soleil and the Val d’Anniviers region attract an avalanche of local and foreign powder hounds.
Despite its reputation for daredevil ski runs, there are also excellent (snow-guaranteed) cross-country opportunities, particularly in Obergoms (Upper Valais, from late Nov to early Apr), plus great snow-shoeing.
To book a suitable hotel or other accommodation in or around Sion, you can use the map below, which shows current prices for hotels and apartments. If you wish to book further afield, then just enlarge the map (+/-) to see more properties or, if you have somewhere particular in mind, enter your preferred resort/town/village in the ‘Where are you going?’ box.
Sun-lovers, you’ve come to the right place! Ticino and Valais are the sunniest spots in Switzerland, meaning that even in the colder months you should be able to catch a few rays.
Both cantons are good for year-round exploration, although Valais‘s ski/mountains resorts will be pretty dead in the low-season weeks that following the Easter school holidays and in November. In the Christmas holidays and up until Easter, the ski resorts will be pumping, and with good reason — nothing beats barreling down the pistes when you’re above the cloud-line and the weather is heavenly.
Ticino is easy to travel around no matter what the time of year, although it is particularly glorious in late spring and early summer and early fall. It gets full to bursting during the Easter holidays and the lung summer vacations (July-August).
Both cantons are great for summer hiking, although avoiding the peak summer months is a great idea — the weather’s still nice, but the accommodation options are greater and the trails less crowded.
Ticino, despite its seemingly endless valleys and velvety mountains is easy to get around in a short space of time. Her cities and towns are small and distances very manageable, especially if you’re traveling by car. You can cover a Ticinese city (eg, Lugano and Belinzona or Locarno) or two and get into one of the beautiful valleys in three days, easily, with your own transport. And maybe even without.
Valais is bigger, and boasts more boldfaced sights that you simply have to see (the Matterhorn etc), often at altitude or requiring more of an effort to get there. Give the canton at least four days if you plan to spens some time skiing or hiking.
With careful planning you could see almost everything worth visiting in both cantons in a week or just under, and if you’re really pressed for time, focus on the heavy hitters in Valais and make a one-day excursion into Ticino, either to see the castles at Bellinzona or bask in the Italian atmosphere of one of Ticino’s mirror-like lakes.
Ticino is a great year-round destination, but is definitely at its best (and busiest) in the extra sunny months of May, June, July and August (although the last two months can be very hot and are the peak high season), plus September. Winters are a little milder here than in other part of the country, with more chance of sunshine, but still not optimal for active sightseeing. Spring and early autumn can be truly beautiful, with pleasant temperatures, blue skies and the changing foliage making for a stunning backdrop.
Valais, as a ski destination, par excellence has two peak seasons: high summer (ie, July and August) and snow time (ie, December to April). The shoulder season here is late spring and early summer, plus early autumn, and the low season occurs in mid-October to early December, when there’s very little doing at the ski resorts. Nevertheless, a high-profile place such as Zermatt is pretty busy year-round.
Ticino‘s weather is noticeably milder and sunnier than other parts of Switzerland, with (so it is said) some 300 sunny days annually. Its temperate climate means that temperatures rarely drop below freezing or climb higher than 30 degrees Celsius, but impressive thunder and lightning storms are a regular occurrence in summer.
Valais relies on a sunny and dry climate for its fertile vineyards and strong agricultural sector. The Alps are covered with reliable amounts of snow come winter, and autumn (fall) and spring are subject to the dry, warm foehn wind. As in many parts of Switzerland, there can be a marked difference in temperature between day and night, low altitude and high altitude. It pays to being a warm jacket and other gear with you if you’re going to be hiking until late in the day, or heading up the mountains.
Ticino observes the common Christian holidays of Easter and Christmas (including Boxing Day — known as St Stephen’s Day), and also New Year’s Day, the 6th of January, the 19th of March (St Joseph’s Day), May Day (the 1st of May), Ascension, Whit Monday, Corpus Christi, the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul (29th of June), Swiss National Day (1st of August), Assumption (15th of August), the third Sunday in September, All Saints’ Day (1st of November) and Immaculate Conception (8th of December) — phew!
Valais has public holidays on the usual days (New Year’s Day, Christmas, Swiss National Day) but also St Joseph’s Day (see above), Ascension, Corpus Christi, Assumption, the third Sunday in September, All Saints’ Day and Immaculate Conception.
One important Valaisan event that you won’t want to miss is cow fighting (‘combat de reines’), a proud tradition in Valais that dates back to the 1920s. The spectacle of hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of boisterous Valaisans cheering on the pride of their herds is a highlight, should you happen to be in the area on weekends from late March to late September or early October, with the biggest battles (the Finale Cantonale, or county finals) taking place in May in Aproz.
The first thing that strikes you is the noise — imagine hundreds of hefty black cows (the nuggety Herens breed), ready to rumble, udders fit to burst and all sporting monster-sized bells. The second thing that strikes you? Well, you don’t put hundreds of cows together and not get a whiff of olfactory overload…
For those with (understandable) concerns about animal welfare, take heart: the cows are from a naturally feisty breed that fight among themselves to determine the hierarchy of their herds, and they are treated like royalty (the name ‘reine’ is French for ‘queen’) by their owners. Their horns are filed down and any cow who baulks at competing is automatically out of the fight (meaning that fights are often won by bulk-based intimidation alone).
A word to the wise: wear solid (preferably waterproof) footwear!
Ticino and Valais cantons are both located in the CET (Central European Time) zone.
Daylight Saving Time (DST) happens in the Spring (last Sunday in March at 1AM) when clocks are advanced one hour. In the Autumn (last Sunday in October at 1AM), clocks shift back one hour to standard time to give more daylight in the morning.
With its shared language and proximity to the fashion capital that is Milano, it’s not surprising to find that the locals in Ticino dress a little sharper and smarter than the majority of Swiss. A little extra effort is made, and a little more notice taken of the what others may think of your sartorial efforts. That said, the region’s fantastic hiking trails reward those who’ve packed practical gear: think waterproof, windproof, sturdy and comfortable.
Like much of the country, Valaisan locals dress in comfortable, weather-specific clothing: this region is definitely not a major fashion hub, although you will find stores dedicated to outdoor gear and sensible footwear. Unless you fancy paying for these things in Swiss francs, you’re best off bringing gear from home.
In all but the fanciest restaurants (in either canton) you’ll be welcome in your regular sightseeing or outdoor gear, although it’s always good form to leave wet or snow-covered clothing at the cloakroom or clothing rail.
Ticino is in line ?with much of the rest of Switzerland (ie, expensive), although dining out may seem a little cheaper (mind you, if you’ve just come from Italy, you may want to weep at the restaurant prices).
Valais is by no means a ?budget destination, especially in its famous ski resorts of Zermatt, Verbier, Saas-Fee and Crans-Montana. Activities can really burn a hole in your pocket (lift tickets in particular), as can iconic cable car/funicular/train rides.
One good bit of news? Wine is plentiful, and well priced in both cantons — go with locals drops as much as you can.
Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in Swiss francs (CHF).
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
€ => Tickets less than CHF10 per person
€€ => Tickets CHF10-CHF25 per person
€€€ => Tickets CHF25 per person
€ => Rooms less than CHF250 for a double
€€ => Rooms CHF250-CHF400 for a double
€€€ => Rooms CHF400 for a double
€=> Less than CHF30 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
€€ => CHF30-CHF75 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
€€€ => CHF75 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
N/A => Not applicable
€ => Tickets less than CHF10 per person
€€ => Tickets CHF10-CHF25 per person
€€€ => Tickets CHF25 per person
Transportation infrastructure in both cantons is good, although Valais‘s Alps can make for slow-going if you’re relying solely on public transport. Roads are mostly in very good working order, and some are worth driving for the sheer thrill of it (the Nufenen and Grand St Bernard passes, for example). Ticino‘s narrow southern tip is easy enough to manage with public transport (train, bus or boat), but its mountainous north poses more of a problem (in terms of timetables, rather than access), with buses doing much of the work.
Some excellent scenic routes are well worth adding to your itinerary: the famous Glacier Express (which link St Moritz and Zermatt, home of the Matterhorn) and the splendid Centovalli Express, which take you from Locarno (Ticino) to Domodossola (in Italy), from where you can head to Valais. The William Tell Express also connects Ticino with Central Switzerland.
It’s unlikely you’ll arrive in either Ticino or Valais by air, but Lugano (Ticino) has Switzerland’s fourth-busiest airport, which is also the base for Darwin Airlines. The airport is a mere 5km (3mi) from the center of Lugano. Sion (Valais) has a small airport that does plenty of business with charter flights during the ski season.
With the Gotthard Base Tunnel completed in June 2016 (commercial train trips from December and the train journey between Zürich and Lugano cut to less than two hours, with the journey between Lucerne and Bellinzona under 90 minutes) the easiest way to travel to Ticino is by rail. It is expected that by 2020, the journeys between Zürich, Basel and Lucerne to Ticino will be reduced by one hour, and that the trip between Zürich (in Northern Switzerland) and Milano will take less than three hours’ total.
If you prefer something scenic, the very comfortable William Tell Express from Lucerne to Ticino is a special experience, combining an old steamer across the lake, then a jaunt in a panoramic train though superb countryside.
Another excellent way to arrive from central Switzerland is to take the famous Gotthard Pass, via Andermatt in Uri Canton.
As things stand now, Lugano and Bellinzona are easily reachable by train from Milano Centrale in Italy (Italy; under 90 minutes and two hours, respectively).
Another way of arriving in Ticino from Valais or vice versa is the unforgettable Centovalli Express, which wends its way to/from Domodossola (Italy) through lush valleys and past rustic stone villages.
Valais is well connected to cities throughout Switzerland, such as Lausanne (and, by extension, Geneva). ***
Ticino‘s main road is the busy A2 motorway, which connects Basel (in the country’s north) with southern Ticino (Bellinzona, Lugano etc).
Valais, with the Rhone Valley cutting a swathe through much of it, is easily navigable for the most part, especially if you’re traveling along the autoroute between Martigny and Brig, or vice versa. The road (Route 19) between Brig and Obergoms is a more tortuous affair and not as fast. It’s worth noting that with its numerous peaks and other valleys, there can be challenges in reaching destinations quickly away from the main Rhone Valley without your own transport, although the network itself is good.
Bear in mind that scenic and stunning mountain passes (such as the Nufenen and St Gotthard) will be closed during winter, so you’ll have to use the tunnel instead.
Public transport within the regions is uniformly good: zip between towns on whisper-quiet trains, take a bright yellow Post Bus to remote spots reached via hairpin bends and whoosh up to a mountain top via cable car, funicular or, ahem, your own feet.
Price pain might be eased with discounts and passes.
Major train stations in Ticino include Lugano, Bellinzona and Locarno. In Valais, Martigny, Sion, and Brig are important rail hubs, depending on your destination within the canton.
Coming by car from Central Switzerland (from Kandersteg in Bernese Oberland) into Valais (Goppenstein) via the Lötschberg Tunnel (your car is driven onto the train) is a straightforward affair.
Lugano (Ticino) has Switzerland’s fourth-busiest airport (albeit domestic flights mostly, and a few seasonal European routes), which is also the base for Darwin Airlines. The airport is a mere 5km (3mi) from the center of Lugano. Sion (Valais) has a small airport that does plenty of business with charter flights during the ski season.
The following websites offer detailed timetable and route listings.
Train (for both Ticino and Valais): www.sbb.ch
Boat (for Lake Lugano and Lake Maggiore): www.lakelugano.ch and www.navigazionelaghi.it
Bus (but all public transport in general within Ticino): www.arcobaleno.ch
Ticino‘s tourism office will bring out a new and improved Discovery Card for the region in 2017.
The Valais Central Pass, with its 700km (435mi) network affords the pass’s bearer free public transportation between Martigny and Gampel/Steg (Goppenstein, ie, the Valaisan end of the Lötschberg tunnel). Valid for any three days within a
one-week period, the pass is available for purchase on any of the modes of transport, at counters and vending machines of the public transport companies and regional tourist offices, as well as Interhome Offices in Nendaz, Ovronnaz and Montana.
In Upper (ie, eastern) Valais, the Adventure Pass (also known as the Erlebnis Card) offers excursions in the aforementioned region, plus the Surselva (Graubünden), the Urseren valley (Central Switzerland) and Bernese Oberland. The two-, three- or five-day pass works between Spiez, Interlaken (both Bernese Oberland), Montana, Leukerbad, Zermatt, Saas-Fee, Brig (all in Valais), Domodossola (Italy), Andermatt (Central Switzerland), Disentis and Chur (both Graubünden). The days are freely selectable within a one-month period.
Full-fare adult prices (in 2nd class) are CHF99/129/179, but reductions are available with the Half Fare card or aged between six and 16 years. The pass allows you free travel on the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn and on PostBus services in the Upper Valais, in addition to a 50% discount on regional railways, funiculars and cableways, and boats
To give you an idea of ticket prices, here are some popular one-way trips (adult, 2nd class price) in the region.
Brig to Saas-Fee (train and bus): CHF19.80
Brig to Zermatt (train): CHF37
Martigny to Sion (train): CHF10.40
Martigny to Verbier (train, then bus): CHF17.20
Both Ticino and Valais are brilliant advertisements for the good life in Switzerland, with their emphasis on food, wine and outdoor pleasures. When married to their enviable climates (they are the country’s sunniest cantons), the warm south beckons like no other Swiss destination for those seeking perfect panoramas, hearty home-cooked specials, rare tipples, breath-taking Alpine passes and more than a dash of Italian influence.
Ticino‘s Latin flavor is unmissable (Italian language, shared lakes Maggiore and Lugano, Italian flair, Italian food) and while it may not be immediately obvious, a strong Italian influence is evident in Valais too, thanks to a shared border and Italian immigration (especially from Piemonte, in Italy’s north) in the second half of the 19th century, during the industrialization of Valais. You’ll find plenty of Italian surnames and a noticeable Catholic community in the western end of the canton.
Historically, Ticino was ruled by the dukes of Milan and Como before being won by the Swiss Confederate forces of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden (in Central Switzerland) in 1503. Three hundred years later Ticino became part of the Swiss Confederation.
The Romans played a part in the life and times of Valais, with Martigny (known as Octodurum or Octodurus) an important administrative hub. After Roman times, the Burgundians took over, and various other aristocratic families and bishops in turn. Valais remained Roman Catholic during the Protestant Reformation (and is still so today). Valais became a part of the Swiss Confederation in 1815.
Both regions have a distinct local cuisine and eating is one of the great pleasures of a visit to this part of the world.
Ticino‘s gastronomy is profoundly influenced by its closeness to Italy, but specific differences remain. The Ticino staple of polenta is a must, and all the better if you can experience it in a grotto, one of the characteristic restaurants found throughout the canton. The region’s wonderfully full-bodied red and white merlot wines are a must for any wine lover.
Valais is highly regarded as a wine-producing region (Valaisans will inquire almost immediately of each other as to where a family’s vineyard is located; ‘T’as où les vignes?’): great reds (especially blends) and whites (Fendant is a big one, and it goes well with both raclette and fondue) are available, thanks to the sunny climate and ample space given over to vineyards. Check out www.lesvinsduvalais.ch to find out more. Other famed local produce includes the wonderful apricots (often for sale by the side of the road in July and August).
Staple dishes in Valais include fondue and its wonderful raclette, a classic cheese dish, where the wheel of cheese is melted, with slices scraped off and poured onto a plate with boiled potatoes then served with pickled onions and cornichons (gherkins). ‘Assiette Valaisanne’ is a simple but rewarding mixed platter that makes a great shared starter: think dried and cured locals meats, pain de seigle (rye bread), jambon cru (prosciutto), local salami and bacon, local cheeses, plus pickled onions and cornichons.
Swiss Italian is the official language of Ticino, but you will often find the locals fluent in at least one other language (almost always German, often French, sometimes English). Canton Valais has two official languages: French and German, with the röstigraben (the colloquial name given to the language divide) separating Lower (Western) and Upper (Eastern) Valais (or Sierre and Salgesch). Locals are almost uniformly bilingual (at least) and anyone who works in tourism should be able to speak English.
Good web resources for travel in the region include the following:
Ticino Tourism (www.ticino.ch)
Valais Tourism (www.valais.ch)
Great nation-wide hiking information abounds at www.wanderland.ch/en/; with special itineraries at a local, regional and national level.