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Switzerland is a very special place - full of culinary delights and magnificent scenery

Stunning Lucerne in Switzerland

The Hotel Belvedere is where Clodagh stayed during her press trip

Clodagh Meaney

I always knew Switzerland was a very special place. With the mix of heritage, horticulture, and culinary delights, it is one of the most unique destinations in Europe. It's somewhere I've always dreamed of visiting.

In January when I was stuck at home with Covid, I spent time endlessly scrolling social media, watching videos showing the magnificent scenery of this central European country. So when the opportunity arose to visit, I jumped at the chance to explore Lucerne and various parts of Ticino.

Upon arrival in Locarno, Ticino, which is an Italian-speaking part of the country, hotel staff were excited to tell us how much they had been anticipating the rain that had just begun to fall after months of dry weather. After all, the famous scenery is dependant on the beautiful plants and flowers being able to flourish.

The Hotel Belvedere is where Clodagh stayed during her press trip

Perched in the mountains, Hotel Belvedere is a luxurious four-star haven in the heart of Locarno, complete with pool and spa.

With delicious Mediterranean food and an air of comfort and relaxation, returning to the hotel each evening to refuel was an experience in itself. We enjoyed a four-course dinner each evening as part of the half-board menu, with familiar favourites like lasagne and salmon as well as delicacies such as vitello tonnato and beef tagliata.

On the first morning of our trip, we made our way to Ascona, known as the pearl of Lake Maggiore. The local bus stops directly outside the hotel every 30 minutes, making travel around the town super convenient.

The stunning sun-drenched bay offers chic cafes, restaurants and bars that have a rich cultural and historical heritage. Home to Ascona Jazz Festival, which takes place in June and July, the village is small but mighty and well used to welcoming tourists from across the globe.

We hopped on a boat taking us across Lake Maggiore to the Brissago Islands nearby, known as the floating gardens. The larger of the two islands, San Pancrazio, is a natural paradise, home to Ticino's botanical park.

The incredible scenery stole Clodagh's heart

Visitors have a unique opportunity to see bamboo and banana trees from Japan, agave from Mexico, palm trees from California and eucalyptus from Australia, all in the same place.

The garden was curated by Antoinette Saint Ledger, the wife of an Anglo-Irishman who purchased the islands in 1885. During their time as owners, the pair liked to host local artists for retreats and even welcomed Dublin writer James Joyce while he was penning Ulysses. Years later, in 1928, German businessman Max Emden bought the island but knocked the property to build his own home, which is now the island's hotel, Villa Emden.

After enjoying lunch with a bottle of Ambrada, a local beer, it was time for another boat ride as we headed back to Locarno. Our next destination was the pride of Ticino, the stunning Camellia Park.

Located in the heart of the city, Camellia Park is a slice of paradise amid the hustle and bustle. Home to over 900 species of camellia flower, it is the perfect place to take in the beautiful sights, sounds and scents.

From the edge of the park, overlooking the lake, visitors can take in the magnificent views of snow-capped peaks, clear blue waters and small quintessential Swiss homes, nestled in the side of the mountains.

The spellbinding Villa Emden

The following day, I visited and immediately fell in love with Morcote. Arriving in the village on the Italian border, the sense of beauty and awe was breathtaking and immediate. One of the most photographed places in the Italian region of Switzerland, it has a population of just 734.

Winding cobblestone streets, scenic steps, and the area's architecture will have you seriously considering spending the remainder of your days living slowly, boating and soaking up the sun in a Mediterranean dream.

For lunch, we ate at Ristorante della Torre, which overlooks the sparkling lake. I tried a carbonara pizza made with their signature black dough - and it was just as delicious as it sounds. I also sampled the region's famous merlot white wine, something I had never tried before. Perfect for a hot summer's day, white merlot has the depth and softness of red merlot, but the crisp sweet freshness of white wine. Something every wine lover should try.

Following lunch, I strolled along the stunning lakeside to visit Park Scherrer. Like the Brissago Islands, it's home to a wide variety of subtropical plants, as well as an homage to the owner's travels abroad. Decked out with wonders including a Greek temple, Asian temple, and traditional Bangkok house, Hermann Arthur Scherrer could experience the cultures he adored, right on his doorstep.

By the next morning, my fun-filled trip was nearly coming to an end and it was time to say 'Ciao' to Ticino and 'Grüetzi' to German-speaking areas of Switzerland.

The Gotthard boat sits on the lake with the mountains in the background

But first, I hopped on the Gotthard Panorama Express, which takes passengers on a scenic train journey from Bellinzona to Flüelen and across the fresh waters of Lake Lucerne by boat.

Upon arriving in Lucerne our first stop of the day was the Glacier Garden. Meeting our guide Andreas, I was fascinated to learn that the romantic garden was home to a glacial Ice Age pothole - 20,000 years ago the city of Lucerne lay under almost 1km of ice. When the ice melted, 16 glacial potholes were formed.

The entrance to the garden is right next to one of the most famous monuments in Switzerland: The Lion of Lucerne. It was designed in the 1800s to commemorate the Swiss Guards who were massacred in Paris, while protecting the king of France during the 1729 French Revolution. We next took a stroll through Lucerne, soaking up the views across the town from the city wall.

Full of eye-catching buildings such as the renaissance-style town hall and the baroque-style Jesuit church, Lucerne is also home to Chapel Bridge, the oldest wooden bridge in Europe - unsurprisingly one of Switzerland's most popular tourist attractions.

Originally built in 1360, the footbridge features a number of 17th-century paintings. While it is a beauty to behold from afar, a walk through the covered bridge is a must, to experience it in all its glory.

Before leaving Lucerne there was one more thing on my to-do list - eating Lozärner Chügelipastete. Roughly translating as 'chubby pie', it is traditionally made with veal, pork, mushrooms, raisins and brandy. But I was delighted that Hotel Rebstock offered a meat-free version. Paired with a glass of Rivella, a Swiss soft drink made with milk whey, my final meal in Switzerland was the best saved for last.

A beautiful country with stunning architecture, blossoms and cuisine, Switzerland is the perfect location for the curious, the adventurer, and those who enjoy living in the moment. I for one cannot wait to return to see more of what might just be the most beautiful country in Europe.

A Swiss travel pass lets you to travel on buses, boats and trains, including the Gotthard Panoramic express, while visiting Switzerland. It also gives you money off at attractions across the country. Visit sbb.ch/en for more.

VISIT ticino.ch and myswitzerland.com for more about Ticino, Lucerne and other destinations across Switzerland.

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