The Canton of Ticino is a very interesting part of Switzerland—it's the wedge of warm country that's almost completely surrounded by Italy. The culture here is decidedly Italian and you'll hear Italian spoken just about everywhere, yet the Ticino has been controlled by the Swiss since the early 1500s.
The Canton of Ticino is stunningly beautiful, with a mild climate and sub-tropical plants. The Ticino is a great place for a walking, biking, or driving tour.
The Best of the Ticino
For walking, try the region north of Biasca, where the trail called Sentiero Basso will take you on the west bank of the river from Biasca to Acquarossa (just south of Torre on the map) in around 4 hours. Taking the road over the pass from Olivone is said to be the most scenic way out of the Ticino.
The folks at the Lugano Tourist Office have put together 5 great mountain biking itineraries. Bikers will also want to visit Biking in Switzerland. A great print reference for cycling in the Ticino is Ticino Bike, featuring detailed maps of cycling itineraries in the Ticino. Ask for it at a tourist office; it's published by Fondazione La Svizzera in Bici.
Bellinzona is overlooked by most tourists in favor of the glitzier lake cities to the south and west. But the hills of Bellinzona offer three castles, and the city dominates a central, often fought-over valley. The old town is nice and Bellinzona is worth visiting for a relaxing day.
If you're around in February, don't miss Bellinzona's February carnival, known as Rabadan—a huge masked parade and festivities around the Old Town. The party starts on the Thursday before Mardi Gras and continues all weekend.
Another seasonal even occurs at the end of June, when Bellinzona hosts Piazza Blues, which attracts many top blues musicians.
Locarno is the principle Swiss resort on Lago Maggiore. The cobbled streets of the old town are full of day trippers on weekends but quieter during the week. The Locarno tourist office is in the Casino complex on Via Largo Zorzi, 100m southwest of the train station. You can get PDF maps and brochures from the Locarno tourist office web site as well. If you are in the area in spring, Locarno hosts a Camellia Festival in March.
Lugano and Ascona
Lugano is probably the most bustling of Swiss lakeside resorts. You can get to Lugano from Milan's Malpensa airport via the Bus Express. Lugano's tourist office is in the Palazzo Civico on Riva Albertolli, directly opposite the main landing stage.
Near Lugano is Ascona, which hosts the JazzAscona festival in late June.
How to Get There
All of the above cities in the Ticino are served by rail service, with most along the main route as indicated by the thick gold line on the map. Locarno to Domodossola is served by the Centovalli Railway.
If you wish to drive, the toll roads A2 Milano-Basel and A13 Locarno-Chur can get you swiftly into the Ticino.
If you plan to fly, there is a small International airport at Lugano, but close by is Milan's Malpensa, which is just south of Varese on the map.