The former fishing village of Ascona is situated beside a charming, sunny bay on Lake Maggiore, and, with its Old Town and lakeside promenade, is a popular yet exclusive holiday destination, with some of the most famous hotels in Switzerland. While Lake Maggiore offers a wide range of water sports, the unspoilt valleys in the hinterland are ideal for excursions and walks.
Ascona is on the north-west shore of Lake Maggiore, on the large delta created by the River Maggia. At an altitude of just 196 m, Ascona is the lowest town in Switzerland.
The old town centre, called Borgo, huddles round the church of San Pietro e Paolo, a columned basilica dating from the 16th century, whose high bell-tower or campanile is the symbol of Ascona. The dense network of alleyways, with shops of all kinds, leads directly down to the Piazza by the lakeside promenade, from where there is a beautiful view of Lake Maggiore. The promenade (Lungolago) at Ascona, with its rich merchants’ houses, arcades opening out on to the lake, and sun-soaked cafés, is considered the most beautiful section of Lake Maggiore to stroll along, and can be enjoyed even on sunny winter days, thanks to the mild climate here.
Ascona experienced an extraordinary period at the start of the 20th century when a colourful colony of assorted artists came together to live on the Monte Verità above Ascona and to preach the benefits of returning to nature. This settlement developed into an experimental arena for alternative lifestyles and art forms, which attracted revolutionaries, anarchists, philosophers, writers, vegetarians, poets, dancers and painters from all over the world. The psychoanalyst Karl Gustav Jung, the writer Hermann Hesse, the artists Alexej Jawlensky and Marianne von Werefkin are just some of the well-known personalities who lived in Ascona. The history of the Monte Verità is recorded in a museum.
Nowadays, the resort of Ascona, which is very close to Locarno, boasts a beautiful 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, elegant boutiques for shopping excursions, a large open-air swimming pool, smart hotels and many excellent restaurants, lovely walks in parkland, surfing, sailing and other water sports, not to mention boat trips on Lake Maggiore. There are many opportunities for excursions, hiking and biking in the beautifully wild scenery of the nearby side valleys of the Tessin such as the Maggiatal and Centovalli.
- Borgo Old Town – beautiful Old Town of Ascona around the church of San Pietro e Paolo, an art museum with paintings by artists who spent time living here (Jawlensky, Werefkin, Klee).
- Maggiatal – natural river landscape, broad paths in an unspoilt side valley of Ticino, with nearly 40 mountain lakes and a wealth of fauna and flora.
- Brissago Islands – worth a trip, reached by a peaceful boat ride; thanks to the near-Mediterranean climate, 1500 different species of plants thrive here.
- Centovalli – this enchanting “Valley of a hundred valleys” lies between Domodossola and Locarno, with deep gorges, waterfalls, chestnut woods and picturesque villages, reached by narrow-gauge railway. Rail links to Brig in the Valais, change in Domodossola.
- Ronco sopra Ascona – one of the most delightful places overlooking Lake Maggiore, with an enchanting panorama of the lake and mountains, and a picturesque footpath with over 800 steps leading down to the lakeside.
- Carnival in Ascona – with a big risotto feast, typical sausages (Luganighe) and wine (February).
- International Camellia Show in Locarno – a festival celebrating the pink blooms of over 300 varieties of the beautiful tea plant (March).
- JazzAscona, New Orleans & Classics – the largest European festival of traditional jazz with 250 artists and 200 concerts (June).
- International Festival of Street Artists – the streets of Ascona become the stage for mime artists, comedians, dancers, jugglers, balancing artists, fire-eaters, musicians and clowns (June).
- Settimane Musicali di Ascona (Music Weeks) – long-established festival of classical music (August to October).
- Ascona’s Chestnut Festival – chestnuts, Merlot, folk music and “dolce far niente” in the warm autumn sun (October).