So, Lake Lugano, is it Italian or Swiss? With its borders helping to form the national border, the proximity of Italy leaves a very clear mark on Lugano and its surrounding area, the common language helping to blur the lines.
Many members of Lugano’s workforce reside on the other side of the frontier, the contrast between the two nations’ respective financial tendencies creating a great incentive to commute from abroad. ‘I want to get a job in Switzerland,’ a local co-worker at a summer camp in nearby Porlezza, Italy told me. ‘You can make more money there.’ With Switzerland’s substantial salaries going a long way when combined with Italy’s considerably cheaper costs of living, there’s a strong chance that many of the people you see going about their daily business in Lugano are converting their Swiss francs into euros to fund luxurious houses on the south of the lake.
As for Lake Lugano itself, the fact that it shares its name with the city is apt, as the characters of both are inextricably linked. As well as providing the city and its surrounding area with some beautiful beaches and enabling participation in various water sports, the direct link to somewhere with another flag, anthem and currency plays a large role in giving Lugano its mixed identity. For anyone watching Lugano’s beach cafés get progressively smaller from a water-bound canoe or pedalo, there is a certain excitement in thinking that their oars or pedals could easily take them into a different country. Although if they want to be sure of it, visitors can easily add Italy to their holiday diary as passengers on a somewhat bigger means of nautical transport.
The ferry across to Porlezza is not only a novel way to cross a border, but also offers exquisite views from amidst the water. Feeling the breeze against your cheeks whilst admiring the magnificently mountainous backdrop is a splendid manner in which to prepare yourself for a glimpse of Italy, while the serenity of Porlezza’s beaches makes for a welcome break from the urban hustle and bustle of Lugano.
Likewise, for anyone enjoying an extended stay in the tranquillity of Porlezza, a cruise into foreign territory would be the ideal way to liven things up a bit. Porlezza and its surrounding countryside gives tourists a fantastic chance to get away from it all, but Lugano has a certain glitz and vibrant atmosphere that greatly outweigh its population of about 70,000 people. Sightseers will find far more to load their cameras’ memory with in the latter than in the former, with a host of historical buildings on show. Museums range from topics such as natural history and art to chocolate, fishing and Swiss border control, while a variety of festivals including the Poestate poetry festival in June, the eclectic LongLake festival in July and the Blues to Bop music festival in August give the town a sense of busy activity.
So, with its neighbouring country having such a strong influence on the population, workforce and overall character of Lugano, how do its visitors know that they are in Switzerland and not Italy? Other than the striking difference in price tags, there are a few notable features that make Lugano belong north of the border. Its importance as a financial hub (which, although it may not sound like it makes it the most interesting place in the world, does contribute hugely to its vibrant feel) owes to the Swiss level of precision and organisation, while the eclectic mix of old and new architecture to be seen around the city is a delightful consequence of how Switzerland’s sophistication combines with Italy’s fiery flair. The local gastronomy, despite being heavily influenced by the neighbouring northern Italian region of Lombardy, also draws inspiration from many worldly sources. On the whole, Lugano could be said to take the nearby country’s culture as a starting point, which it adapts, moulds and shapes using the more-internationally-orientated mindset of a nation which has four official languages and in which Germanic and Romance Europe sit alongside each other.
From Switzerland to Italy, from a lively city to a peaceful village, from cosmopolitan liveliness to natural serenity… all within a short ferry trip. For anyone staying in Lugano or Porlezza, the other one of the pair will make for a welcome contrast. Such an addition to a holiday, along with the pleasant voyage needed to get between the two closely-linked nations, proves indisputably that the beaches and water sports available are far from the only ways in which Lugano benefits from the presence of the lake bearing its name.