Lake Lugano. The Italian lakes.

Lake Lugano (Italian: lago di Lugano or lago Ceresio) is a glacial lake shared between the Canton of Ticino in Switzerland and Lombardy in Italy. The lake, named after the city of Lugano, is located between Lake Como and Lake Maggiore. Famous mountains and tourist destinations on the shores of the lake are Monte Brè to the east, Monte San Salvatore to the west of Lugano and Monte Generoso on the southeast shore. The World Heritage Site, Monte San Giorgio, is located south of the lake.




The gate of the Lombard Lakes — Characteristics of Lugano — Santa Maria degli Angeli — The Luini Frescos — Monte San Salvatore — Monte Generoso — Osteno — Porlezza.

So small a portion of the Lake of Lugano lies in Italian territory, that its inclusion in the present volume can only be warranted by the fact that it forms, as it were, the entrance gate by which the majority of travellers from the north of Europe find their way to the lake district of Northern Italy, and especially to the Lakes of Lombardy.

Those who enter the Italian kingdom by way of the Austrian frontier are greeted at once by the beautiful Lago di Garda which, unlike the Lake of Lugano, is purely Italian in its character, its atmosphere, scenery, and traditions.

Lugano and its lake, indeed, probably owe not a little of their reputation to the fact that they form, as it were, the threshold to a district which is not only one of the richest even in Italy in scenic beauty, but which also possesses an almost inexhaustible fund of interests at the disposal of the student of mediaeval art, of history, literature, folklore, botany, and geology.

To those fresh from a journey from Basle through the St. Gothard Pass, the change from a stuffy railway carriage, very likely shared in the company of a German couple on their voyage de noces who have devoted themselves to amorous — to triflings, embarrassing enough any but Teutonic spectators of the same orange is not—an uncommon, and a comparatively delicate example to the little steamer which conveys travellers from Lugano to Porlezza and Italy, is grateful enough.

Lugano and its lake are, naturally enough perhaps, regarded by the vast majority of Anglo-Saxons whose acquaintance with Italy and her people does not penetrate below the surface as Italian in reality, though accidentally within the Helvetian Confederation.

A political severance from their Latin neighbours, however, dating from nearly four centuries back, has left its mark upon the Ticinesi of to-day upon their character, manners and customs, if not upon their dialect. Prolonged contact with the German-Swiss, probably the most disagreeable race in Europe, has not failed to rob the inhabitants of the so-called Italian cantons of Switzerland of much of that courtesy and natural refinement which are among the pleasantest characteristics of their kinsmen across the Italian frontier.

Morcote, Lugano, Lake, Ticino, Switzerland,
Morcote. Lake Lugano.


Note:  An old woman tells sleepy stories. Mont Cenis. Nursing 1821.

The town of Lugano, although the largest in the Canton, has little history of any interest. At different periods political refugees from Italy have made it their place of residence, and of these, at least in later times, Mazzini was the most remarkable. The physiognomist wandering through the arcades of Lugano at the present day will scarcely fail to suspect that the town is still regarded as a convenient resting-place for offenders whose misdeeds have probably been of a civil rather than a political nature, and for whom the Italian police at the frontier a few kilometres away are on the watch, for there are few places of its size in which more forbidding types of the human countenance may be met with than in the streets of this little town.

Apart from its population. Nature evidently intended Lugano and its lake to act as a kind of portal to that genuine Italy which is disclosed to the senses so soon as the mountain pass between the basin of the Lake of Lugano and that of Como has been traversed. Used as an entrance door, the Ceresian lake is admirable; it is only when the traveller makes it his exit from Italy that its shortcomings and deceptions reveal themselves.

In Lugano itself there is certainly little to detain any but the inveterate tourist who is happy in an atmosphere of hotels and compatriots. Its most interesting object is the great fresco by Luini in the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli. It is one of the great painter*s later works and, unlike many of his compositions, has had the good fortune to be left in the place for which it was painted. Its principal theme is the Crucifixion. The unpleasant subject is treated with the skill of a master-hand, able to gratify to the full the tastes of those to whom representations of executions and scenes of violence and death appeal.

The composition and grouping of the many actors in the tragedy are superb; and it is not until the different parts of this great fresco have been quietly and thoroughly studied that its dignity and wealth of detail can be realised. Nevertheless it is a relief, at least to those to whom such representations appeal only in a disagreeable manner, to turn away from it and visit another masterpiece of Luini’s, said to be the last fresco painted by him, and bearing the date 1530. It represents the Virgin and Child, and St. John; and a touch of childlike nature is given in the attitude of the Holy Infant towards a lamb in the foreground.

An expedition of little interest may be made from Lugano to the summit of Monte San Salvatore, up which runs a funicular railway. The view to be obtained from the top embraces the lake and surrounding mountains seen across a foreground of beer-glasses and perspiring Germans. The expedition to the summit of Monte Generoso, on the contrary, is an experience which nobody should miss, and it is more comfortably managed from Lugano than from other starting-points. A day or two at the least should be spent on Generoso, if possible at the end of June when the hotel is comparatively empty.

Note:  Arch of Trajan on the mole at Ancona.

The view is without dispute one of the most beautiful in Europe. It embraces the chain of Alps, the Lakes of Lugano, Como, Varese, and others; the vast plains of Lombardy and Emilia to the southward as far as the Apennines rising above Bologna.

Monte San Salvatore, Lugano, Lake, Italy, Switzerland,
Monte San Salvatore. Lake Lugano.


To the eastward the mountains above Verona are visible. The charm of Generoso lies in its woods and pastures, its splendid air, and the incomparable beauty of the sunsets over the snow-capped Alps. A midsummer night on Monte Generoso is worth travelling far to enjoy, especially if it be a moonlit night. The Lake of Lugano lies more than a mile directly below, and a stone might almost be thrown from the rocks on Generoso into its waters as they flash in the moon’s radiance.

Through the glades in the chestnut woods and across the meadows flit innumerable fireflies, and glow-worms gleam among the mossy banks and grey stone walls. In May and June Monte Generoso is a garden of wild flowers, and for the botanist it harbours rare treasures, as it also does for the entomologist. From this beautiful mountain—the most beautiful, as we hold, in all Italy— delightful walks may be taken down into the surrounding valleys, and to Argegno on the Lake of Como.

The majority of visitors to Generoso spend at the most a couple of days on it, whereas a couple of weeks are insufficient to exhaust its beauties. There is but one thing lacking to Monte Generoso, and that is water. The mountain is almost entirely bereft of springs or streams, and the charm of its woodlands would be immeasurably increased by their presence.

It would be ungracious, however, to insist on a single defect in a spot so full of varied beauties, and throughout North Italy in—deed we may almost say throughout the Italian peninsula – it would be hard to find a mountain so rich in attractions as is Monte Generoso. At the same time, the intending visitor will do well to choose his time for going there. After the middle of July the hotels fill with Milanese and Germans, for guide-books and advertisements have libelled Generoso by calling it the Italian Righi. The pleasantest time to enjoy a few days on the mountain is in June, when the majority of English tourists have left and the Milanese have not yet invaded its solitudes.

Oria, Valsolda, Lugano, Lake, Italy,
Valsolda, Oria. Lake Lugano.


The villages along the shores of the Lake of Lugano should be seen in late spring and summer only, when trailing vines, flowers, and gourds do much to conceal their squalor. They are undeniably picturesque from the purely artistic point of view, but bear unmistakable testimony to the poverty of their inhabitants a poverty, it may be added, largely due to drink, and to the idleness entailed by religious “feste.”

Note:  A Gentleman in the ordinary Portuguese habit.

The principal attractions of the Lugano district consist in the chestnut and oak woods which clothe the mountains. It is difficult to say when it is most enjoyable to wander through these quiet haunts in spring, when all Nature is bursting into renewed life, when every step reveals some freshly-opened wild flower, some unexpected glimpse of distant peaks and flashing waters framed in the vivid green of the young leaves; in the hot hours of a summer day, when the blue haze quivers over the mountains and the lake lies like a shield of burnished metal far below, and the drowsy tinkling of the cowbells from the higher pastures, or the monotonous rattle of the cicale are the only sounds that break the intense stillness.

Castagnola,  Lugano, Lake, Ticino, Switzerland,
Castagnola. Lake Lugano.


Or, again, in late autumn, when the mountain-sides are ablaze with gold and red; when the vintage is over in the valleys, and the chestnut groves re-echo with the sound of the prickly fruit being beaten down from the trees.

Even on a fine day in mid-winter, and such days are many, these woods have their charm to the lover of Nature in all her moods.

Behind the gnarled stems of the older trees the mountains flash in the sunlight, dazzling in their coat of newly-fallen snow; and between the black, leafless branches is a background of clear sky of vivid blue, which, as evening falls and the frost sets in, deepens into violet framed in a circle of fiery red.

Masses of hellebore (“Christmas roses”) cover the banks, the pure whiteness of the blossoms standing out in sharp contrast with the dark foliage of the plants, and the carpet of withered leaves and mosses around them.

At Osteno, shortly before reaching Porlezza, at the end of the southern arm of the Lake of Lugano, Italian territory is reached; and as the object both of the illustrator and of the writer of the present volume has been to offer some description of the principal lakes of North Italy, excepting that of the Lago di Garda, which it has unfortunately been found impossible to include in these pages, we very readily leave Switzerland behind us, to find ourselves upon more congenial and, as we venture to think, more artistic ground.

Source: The Italian lakes by Richard Bagot and Ella Du Cane. London, Black 1912.

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