What to do in Ascona

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March 11, 2022

Only a 3.5 hour drive from Lausanne, you can be transported into a charming and vibrant lakeside town that boasts Italian flair—but without even leaving Switzerland.

Ascona is Switzerland’s lowest town, located at 196 meters above sea level and on the northern shore of Lago Maggiore. The promenade is a showcase of colorful shops, restaurants and cafés, where waiters in white aprons bustle about; aperol spritzes and Mediterranean spirit setting the scene. But it’s not only a lakeside paradise for its beautiful location – Ascona is also known for its history, art, and culture.

©Eden Roc

the sunrise in Ascona

Where to stay in Ascona

Great location and value, with luscious landscaping on its backyard terrace as well as the palm-tree lined pool, it’s a perfect hotel for both families and a romantic getaway.

A boutique hotel aimed more toward couples than families (though you can certainly splurge for the suite), its central location right on the main promenade and trendy vibe lend to an unforgettable stay.

the infinity pool at Hotel Eden Roc

©Eden Roc

If you’re wanting to channel the Dolce Vita, look no further than Eden Roc. Situated directly on the lake, this 5* hotel has its own beach and watersports school, four restaurants featuring Mediterranean cuisine, including La Brezza which boasts a Michelin star and 17 Gault & Millau points, and a luxurious spa and wellness center.

An outdoor pool, sunny terrace, and vibrant and romantic atmosphere, Art Hotel Riposo is more of a boutique hotel, with each room decorated differently.  Located in the heart of Ascona on the pedestrian-only streets of the old town center, just steps away from the central piazza, it’s a small oasis that is the definition of holiday.

Where to eat in Ascona

photograph of pasta in Ascona

Almost like a villa, with different corridors, rooms, and corners to dine – brothers Bruno and Isolino will welcome you like family. If the weather is mild, which is likely, opt for the backyard terrace, where you’ll eat on white tablecloths scattered on the soft lawn, palm trees swaying overhead.

Open from Easter until mid-October, this is a typical grotto (which is the name of a traditional Ticinese restaurant), which offers a casual and delicious experience. There is no set menu, just inspiration from each day – a refreshing and simple statement on their website sums up their philosophy: ‘what the chef cooks that day is what is eaten.’

This restaurant is a hidden gem, with dishes that are prepared fresh using regional ingredients. Located in a boutique hotel, there’s also an option for guests where they can partake in a “lunch package” to guests, where they prepare a fresh picnic for you so you can enjoy delicious products from the region while you’re out and about.

Simple, creative seasonal and regional cuisine, with delicious pizzas which feature a “family secret recipe for the dough” – it’s a perfect place for the entire family.

people walking outside of restaurant in Ascona
shrimp risotto in Ascona

What to do in Ascona

Between April and October you can take a 15-minute boat from Ascona to Brissago to visit this small but significant island. It’s home to a gorgeous botanical garden with over 1,700 species of plants from all over the world.

In the early 1900s, Monte Verità hosted a naturist colony which attracted revolutionaries, artists, writers, and great thinkers. It was a place that represented the antithesis of the urbanized and industrialized north and became a sanctuary for the idealist. It’s now a complex with several hotels, villas, restaurants, and museums, which host cultural activities, conferences, and most notably, the Monte Verità Literary Event – where international personalities come and have poignant conversations on different themes every year. Even if you’re not staying in one of the facilities, it’s worth a visit with its amazing panoramic view over Lake Maggiore and perhaps walking the grounds will enlighten you as it did for others many years ago.

Founded in 1922 by several artists who had come to Ascona between WW1 and WW2 and decided to donate one of their works to the town for the opening. The collection now houses more than 500 works of art, with important works like Alexej Jawlensky’s Head of a Girl, The Red House by Paul Klee, and the collection of the Marianne Werefkin Foundation which is composed of about 90 paintings and 170 sketch booklets from this influential Russian-Swiss expressionist painter who died in Ascona in 1938.

old church in Ascona
Photo of a swing next to Lago maggiore

This beautiful church is known for the iconic bell tower which was built in the 16th century and is seen in many photographs (and all over Instagram) of Ascona. It’s worth popping your head inside to see the three incredible paintings by artist Giovanni Serodin – his most famous painting which is called The Coronation of the Virgin Mary – as well as the fresco on the choir celling which was created by Pier Francesco Pancaldi-Mola in 1770. It’s also rumored that there are two paintings inside from the 1500s by Bernardino Luini, one of Leonardo da Vinci’s students. Regardless of each painting’s origin, it’s a historical church with exquisite artwork worth peeking inside.

A fun and relatively short (takes about 1.5 hours) way to discover Ascona with your family and learn some fun facts. It’s only 10 questions, free online, and completely accessible for almost all ages.

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