Settled centuries ago by rugged Italian ranchers and farmers, surrounded by Alpine mountains, and shot through with icy rivers and waterfalls lies the small commune of Gordola, a part of Switzerland that few tourists have experienced. Over 80 percent of the people who live in this area speak Italian as their native language and would likely describe themselves as more Italian than Swiss.
Although it sits along a major corridor for those traveling by car from Italy into Switzerland, people seldom choose to stop here, opting instead for the well-known resort towns and bustling cities further north.
But we decided to pay it a visit and found that Gordola and the charming region of Ticino are well worth not only a stop but also an extended stay.
Our Airbnb was of the traditional “rustico” construction, with original slate shingles and an enclosed garden-yard. Narrow cobblestone streets, roadside vineyards, Catholic shrines gracing every intersection and entryway, and palm trees (of all things) provided additional quirky character to this little corner of Switzerland.
We stayed with Lia and her boyfriend, Raph, but had the entire upper floor to ourselves. Although we didn’t get much opportunity to interact with Raph, we found Lia to be quite charming in her own right. Sometimes there are just those people who manage to be simultaneously funny, opinionated, and wise. I liked her very much and wish we could have spent more days there, talking and drinking wine.
Lia recommended that we drive down to Locarno and spend a day at the lake, but the weekend crowds were overwhelming, and there was no parking to be found. So we decided to do a bit of exploring instead and drove along the Via Cantonale, tracing the Melezza River along its course, looking for a place to stop and go for a swim.
Finally finding a place, we hiked down to the river bank where we lounged among the rocks and topless sunbathers. Ben and I did some easy bouldering in the river. Ben climbed trees. Angela made friends with a curious canine. And I flew the drone. And a wonderful time was had by all.
Although we don’t currently think Switzerland will be a place we eventually call “home,” the charm of Gordola and the Ticino district is enticing. It’s definitely a place I would love to visit again, spending time hiking in its mountains and swimming in its rivers.
Maybe it doesn’t get the same recognition that so much of Switzerland already enjoys, but Ticino has an Italian soul that makes it worth a deeper dive. Someday.