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Lugano: Hiking Heaven on Monte Brè

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Still not fully recovered from my mysterious malady, but after a second hospital visit, another date with Dr Ringer, a new prescription of different but equally mysterious drugs, and eight days off work, I fear the dream is over and it’s back into The Abyss I trudge in the morning.

It was a productive break in some ways. I got about halfway through the 25,000 pictures I have stored on my Macbook, culling some, fine-tuning others, and putting about 5% of them that I especially like in a folder where I can find them. Lots of great memories flooding back.

I also just enjoyed a productive couple of hours sitting in the sun in a local park with a coffee and a very, very big map. While solarphobic old ladies sat chatting, towels wrapped around their heads, under a pergola, and kids did loops around me on bicycles, I finally finished connecting pencilled segments of a rough route for one of the national end-to-ends I have in mind for next year. The caffeine sang in my veins, my heart raced, visions of grand adventures danced behind my eyes.

It was a good coffee.

So here’s the next part of my Lugano tale. I’ve wasted enough words on this introduction, so I’ll let the pictures, taken with my little Cybershot TX5, do most of the talking…

MID-DECEMBER, 2010

The bad weather had gone on its way. I got up, as always, hours before Sarah, and went out into the dark. The hillside suburb, and the old village above it, were sleeping. I went walking, climbing up above the old town centre…

..and with a few false starts, and some backtracking, finally found myself at this old church I’d seen from down below:

The whole way, I was memorising landmarks and turns for the journey back. This sign struck a chord:

We drove into the city after breakfast. Sarah wanted to take me up Monte Brè, a mountain bordering the town that rises from the shores of Lake Lugano. We walked to the funicular train station, but the place was deserted and the car sat slumbering.

“These bloody Italians,” Sarah said, and amazed me by calling the tourist office and enquiring in Italian about what was going on. “It’s not operating today,” she told me. “Maybe because of the bad weather yesterday.”

She had her young son with her, too little to climb, so she quickly worked out a plan — one of her favourite activities and one she’s very good at. She and Andrin would take in the city, and I would hike along the edge of the lake, through the beautiful old village at its edge, and climb up the mountain when I met the path. We had a dinner reservation early that evening, so I had to make sure I was down in time to meet them in the city.

“Have fun,” she said, and I did — mostly.

Actually, when I think of the great day-walks I’ve done over the years, this one stands out more than any other.

It had everything: sensational weather, all the lovelier after the bleakness of the day before (was this really the same place?), a splendid lake with Italy and snow-clad mountains not far beyond the far shore, the ancient and deserted village I was walking through (people have lived here since the Stone Age), a great climb, and a pizza restaurant waiting at day’s end.

It’s only now, researching this post, that I learn Lake Lugano is perhaps the most polluted lake in Switzerland, despite earnest attempts at a clean-up, and that swimming isn’t advised!

This is one of the warmest spots in the country, though I wouldn’t have believed it the day before.

I spent part of my walk on an olive-themed path, with little signs explaining the history of olive cultivation in the area. I really felt like I was in Italy.

At last I left the lake to climb to the 925m summit of Monte Brè, Switzerland’s sunniest spot, via snowy paths and empty roads.

Here’s the ancient village of Brè near the summit:

And here’s Lugano:

I ate some chocolate and waited for the funicular (apparently running again) to take me down. Then, perhaps inspired by the caffeine (I’m highly susceptible; I’ll try anything when I’m buzzing), I decided to go down on foot. Surely I could just follow the funicular cables?

I only had 90 minutes, but that would surely be enough, and I like connecting loops, so down I went, through Brè…

..and into the woods:

Of course, this being me, it didn’t work out quite as “planned”. I ran out of path, did some high-speed uphill backtracking, called Sarah to tell her I might be held up, sensed her displeasure, felt guilty, tried to improvise, got lost, backtracked, had to push through waist-deep fallen leaves under a layer of snow, almost walked off a cliff, felt sure I was going to be late, got guiltier, was stricken with an old phobia of being late for meetings, and then at last found myself on the right path…

..which became a road, which led me into the suburbs above Lugano:

It wasn’t over yet, though. Once again I was in a zig-zagging rat’s maze of steep, narrow streets. With time running out, the sun going down, I’d gamble on stairways that would land me in dead ends, or roads that started going uphill again…

It was very stressful.

At last, exhausted and dry-mouthed, I reached the deserted station — but no Sarah. The phone rang. She was waiting at another station, right in the middle of the city. I commenced running again, consumed by dread, anticipating much unpleasantness. I’ve never won an argument with Sarah — or any woman, now that I think about it.

When I reached Sarah, with Andrin in his pram, she was smiling. “How was your day?” she asked.

The pizza was unbelievable.

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Wow, that’s some freakish scenery. I can honestly say I haven’t seen a landscape that looks as stunning as that on a day walk! Stuff Australia, I think I need to do some walks overseas. I’m getting weary of the eucalpyts!

    I must say that little Cybershot really punches above its weight for a compact. These photos look great or maybe it’s just the photographer?

    May 6, 2012
    • I like to think we made a great team, Greg! Yes, you really ought to plan an overseas adventure. You start to imagine walking adventures everywhere. Australia has unbelievably beautiful scenery too, but scenery AND history in one awesome package: unbeatable.

      May 7, 2012
  2. Barb #

    Great pics.. how nostalgic for you.. glad you are feeling better .. although i think the date at the beginning went awry??Agree with Greg.. stuff OZ for scenery !

    May 7, 2012
    • Thanks, Barb, I’ve corrected the date. I think about Switzerland a lot these days, and parts of Europe I’ve never seen fill my escapist fantasies…

      May 7, 2012
  3. What a gorgeous post. Lovely images and a good story. I especially like the one with all the bikes and arches. The light is so good.

    May 7, 2012
    • Thanks, Rachael. Yes, it’s the light I remember most about that day — the light and the stone and the blue (polluted?) water.

      May 7, 2012
      • Just beautiful! I love the church lit up on the hill in the morning. You captured the changing light throughout the day wonderfully! Must have been an incredible day!

        May 7, 2012
      • Thank you, yes. That beautiful blue-ish light in the very cold pre-dawn, and the golden light later, and then the rich tones just before sunset… A really special day’s walking.

        May 8, 2012
  4. Carl #

    Yo muthafuckin lucky muthafucka. Say that three times and tell me you aren’t ready to be a rap star, Those photos look unreal. You were a re lucky man to see all this.

    May 7, 2012

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