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Lugano is the main city of The Tessin, the Italian speaking part of Switzerland. Though only 3 hours by train from Zurich, Lugano has a completely different atmosphere. In fact it is hard to believe that both are in the same country.

Once in Lugano, you feel a distinctly Italian culture and pace. Life slows down and relaxes. The Lake of Lugano dominates the area. Many of the nicer hotels and restaurants offer a view of the lake. The view of the lake with tree covered mountains as a backdrop gives charm and tranquility to the scenery.

In addition to Lugano, other popular destinations in the Tessin include Locarno and Ascona. Lugano is the biggest of the three and has a distinct “city” atmosphere. Ascona is more of a village, but at the same time it is a resort town, with a relaxed, sleepy pace. Locarno is smaller than Lugano, but bigger than the village of Ascona. While lovely and peaceful, Locarno lacks the elegant, upscale feeling of the other two destinations.

In Lugano, something always seems to be going on. We have seen outdoor concerts and full blown festivals, such as Estival, the free annual open-air jazz festival that takes place in July. But even when nothing is happening, there is much to do. Life seems never to stop. Everywhere you see a mix of people: tourists, locals, singles, couples, young and old; a real cross section of humanity. People come for the mix of beautiful views of the lake and as well as simmering mediterranean lifestyle.

Ascona is just the opposite. The population seems to be 75% senior citizens and 25% couples. The life not only slows down here, it stops! Around siesta time (mid afternoon) most of the shops close and the streets empty. It is a quiet kind of place. The draw here is the relaxing pace of life, the breath-taking views of the lake, and people-watching. Yes, the real entertainment here seems to be looking at the other people. Probably because there is not much else to do.

Locarno is something between Lugano and Ascona. While it does have some of the resort feel, it is not as sleepy as Ascona. But it is not as active as Lugano and in the evenings, the old town is very quiet. A walk along the lake is lovely, peaceful and charming.

Lugano Area Hotels

Hotel Dante
This is the type of hotel that you used to be able to find EVERYWHERE in Switzerland. Now it is an endangered species.

If you come by car, it is probably difficult to find, because its location is in the heart of the old town and that is a pedestrian / walking area only. However, if you arrive by train the Dante can not be easier to find. After arriving at the Lugano Central Station, just head for the funicular, the little train running down from the train station to the old town. The Hotel Dante is located right at the end of the funicular.

The location is actually one of the highlights of the hotel. Walk out the door and you are in the center of everything. The lake is a 2 minute walk; the main square is around the corner. It is one of the best located hotels in the city. However, there is no lake view and no swimming pool.

We arrived a bit early, had a very nice reception and were immediately offered our room, which over looked the little square and funicular. The window was opened and the square was very lively, but as soon as the window is closed, all the sound disappeared. The Dante Hotel has very well made windows!

The rooms are well decorated and built for comfort and charm. Though a little bit small, the guest rooms are modern and well kept. The breakfast buffet is truly amazing. Everything you could want is there. It is one of the best breakfast buffets we have experienced.

Another very nice feature was all the things that the hotel offered for free:

  • Free coffee, tea and mineral water in the lobby
  • Free chocolates in a bowl at the reception
  • Free internet corner in the hotel
  • Free mini-bar with soft drinks and mineral water in every room

    In recent times, probably due the popularity of the hotel, the Hotel Dante has been raising its rates quite dramatically. Should you not find a reasonable rate at the Dante, consider another wonderful Lugano Hotel alternative: the Hotel de la Paix (see review below). While a very different experience from the Dante and more removed from the center, we would consider these two hotels to be of similar quality.

    Hotel De La Paix
    Not far from the Hotel Du Lac (see review below) and much better value for money is the Hotel de la Paix. Like an oasis in the desert, the Hotel de la Paix is a paradise, offering the luxury and calm while being located in a very active city. This is a hotel that was obviously built in an earlier era, with charm and grandeur. But unlike the Du Lac (see review below), the de la Paix is renovated and impressive. We found our room to be lovely and well decorated and the pool area to be peaceful and relaxing. For breakfast we had the option of eating in a well decorated restaurant or on a lovely terrace with a view of gardens and the swimming pool.

    We believe that renovations are an ongoing process at the Hotel de la Paix. We were told that some floors of the hotel (such as the fifth floor where we stayed) have all recently renovated rooms, while other floors are not recently renovated. Before reserving, confirm if your room is recently renovated. While we saw some small signs of aging at the pool and lobby, mostly the hotel facilities are in excellent condition.

    Another thing we liked is that we received an offer much lower than the published rates, simply by contacting the hotel by email and requesting their best offer. This is not unusual in other countries, but rather uncommon in Switzerland

    The main disadvantages of the hotel de la Paix is that, while you feel removed from the hustle and bustle of the city, you can hear it. The hotel is located near a main road and from the swimming pool or the hotel balcony you can hear the sounds of traffic. Though the street noise is not extreme and is not heard from the rooms when windows are closed, those seeking absolute quiet may not be satisfied. In addition, the hotel is a 3 minute walk to the lake and a 15 minute walk to the city center. However, balconies on upper floors have a nice view of the lake.

    Our experience at the Hotel de la Paix was very positive. Though not as luxurious as the Swiss Diamond or the Villa Sassa reviewd below, the Hotel de la Paix was elegant and charming. For the money, the Hotel de la Paix is probably one of the best options in Lugano.

    Swiss Diamond
    This is a true 5 star quality hotel located just outside of Lugano, within walking distance of the charming, medieval village of Morcote.

    The Swiss Diamond is a Spa Hotel with everything one needs for a summer holiday. The swimming pool is very lovely and the area around is very luxurious. The wellness area is beautiful and very relaxing.

    Our Lake View room was incredible: spacious, spotless, nicely decorated with a lovely view from the balcony.

    A nice touch to one's stay at this hotel is the evening entertainment. In the evening hotel guests are entertained by very professional singers which created a charming atmosphere at the lake front restaurant.

    Disadvantages? Sure a few. The restaurant and bar are very expensive. Also, the hotel is about 5-10 minutes from the center of Lugano by car. The hotel does offer a shuttle service, which is free for arrivals and departures only. But you can not use the shuttle as free transportation into the city of Lugano. However try walking to a charming medieval town of Marcote just 10-15 minute walk from the Swiss Diamond. You will enjoy not only the beauty and charm of this town but also find a nice selection of Italian restaurants with lake view.

    Another disadvantage is that the Swiss Diamond pool area is separated from the hotel by the town’s small road. This means that to get from the hotel to the pool and restaurant, you walk through a beautifully decorated underground walkway. Finally, we saw some mountain-view rooms and can not recommend them as they are small, dark and dreary.

    The Swiss Diamond is a real jewel. The service is top quality, everything you would expect of a five star hotel. When you come here expect to be treated well.

    Villa Sassa
    Though a four star hotel, the Villa Sassa is equal in quality and amenities to the Swiss Diamond. It has luxurious wellness facilities, complete with Turkish steam room, sauna, Jacuzzi and indoor pool. There is also a beautifully designed outdoor pool area. The main difference between the two hotels is the location. While the Swiss Diamond is removed from the city of Lugano, but directly on the Lake, Villa Sassa is located on the hill behind the city of Lugano, with a grand, spectacular view over the lake.

    Our guest room was a well decorated suite, with living room, kitchen, bedroom and balcony. It also had a very big balcony with a view. Though the view was lovely, it was not a direct view of the lake. The Villa Sassa restaurant offers an amazing lake and mountain view, excellent service and tasty cuisine that looked and tasted like a creative fusion of Italian and French. The restaurant open-air terassa is charming and a great place to start your day off with a delicious breakfast.

    Like the Swiss Diamond, the hotel offers a free pick up service upon arrival and departure. However, one of the main advantages of the Villa Sassa over the Swiss Diamond is the location: we reached the city center in only 15 minutes by foot. The walk was steep, but relatively easy; just walk down Via Gerso, down the steps of the underpass, turn right and follow Via Cantonale into town. There is a short-cut to Via Gerso through the hotel parking lot.

    We were highly impressed by the Villa Sassa and had a wonderful spa experience. It is expensive, but if you are seeking to combine relaxation with frequent visits to the lovely city of Lugano, this is possibly the hotel for you.

    Hotel Du Lac
    What does this hotel having going for it? In the central Lugano region, it appears to be the only hotel, with a pool, that is directly on the Lake. When you are sitting at the pool, you are next to the lake. From your room balcony you are directly over the lake. The view of the lake is very beautiful and the pool is nice.

    But the hotel needs an update. It is relatively expensive, so one should expect a quality experience. But the rooms are in desperate need of a renovation. We asked at the desk if there were other rooms that were more recently renovated and were told that they are all about the same. In our room, the air conditioning was an inexpensive fan. The mini-bar was quite old-fashioned, the furniture was old, chipped and scratched.

    The service was nice but inconsistent. The desk receptionists were friendly. But the pool attendant, was rude and borderline arrogant. Not what one would expect from a quality hotel.

    The location of the Hotel Du Lac is about 15 minutes by foot along the Lake of Lugano to the center of town. A taxi ride to the hotel will cost between 20-25 Swiss Francs.

    There are restaurants and cafes in the vicinity. In fact, if you stay here, check out the Sushi Lounge Bar at the Eden Hotel next door. It is next to the water jet, which is kind of like a fountain in the lake.

    In summary, we will probably not return to the Du Lac until we hear that the rooms have been renovated. There are much better hotels in the area for less money. In our opinion, this is a two star hotel with a five star view.

    Ascona Hotels

    La Perla Hotel What a difference a hotel can make! We visited Asona twice. The first time we stayed in the La Perla Hotel, a hotel that came highly recommended from reviews on Trip Advisor. We were so disappointed with the hotel that it had a very negative impact on our time in Ascona. The room was basic and run down, the location was a bit removed from the center of the village up a steep walkway, and the swimming pool was dirty and sad looking. La Perla Hotel offered little more than a place to sleep. It may be that there are different rooms with different quality at the hotel. But the room we were given was only slightly better than a backpackers’ hostel. 

    The second time we went to Ascona, we chose the Hotel Riposo.

    When we called to reserve a double room at the Riposo in August, we were told all double rooms were fully booked. However, we were told that there was still a single room available with a Grand-Lit bed. When we inquired what that meant, we were told that the bed was 200x140 cm, larger than a normal single bed and smaller than a normal double bed. We decided to book it and try our luck. It turned out to be an excellent choice!

    The hotel Riposo is a ‘boutique hotel’, beautifully designed and well located in Ascona. It is situated a few meters from the lake, and just off one of the main pedestrian streets. From the hotel, it is a short walk to everything; shopping and dining are just minutes away. The hotel rooms do not have a lake view. But though very central, the hotel is very peaceful and quiet. One of the best surprises of the hotel, was the roof top pool and terrace. The terrace offered a breathtaking view over the city and the lake of Ascona. There were nicely arranged relaxing lounge and charming sitting areas, sun beds, umbrellas and even palm trees on the terrace. Though the pool was small the roof top terrace was charming and very relaxing place to enjoy a summer siesta.

    The breakfast offered a wonderful beginning for the day and was served at a lovely cortyard with a small fountain home to many sparkling gold fish.

    On one evening we were there the hotel had a Jazz night. Hotel guests were entertained by a lively jazz group, which preformed on a balcony overlooking the hotel courtyard. The hotel owner Mr Studer, was the group’s pianist and his daughter Olivia, a very talented jazz singer, put on an excellent performance. Jazz night is every Saturday and an event not to be missed.

    So how was our room with the Grand-Lit bed? Though a bit small, it was perfectly fine for us. We did not notice the difference from a normal double bed; though others used to sprawling in a king-size bed might. Our room even had its own small patio with a sun bed and access to a quiet garden. Perhaps because our room had a small bed, it was actually a little less expensive than our pitiful room at the La Perla Hotel! We were so pleased; we will definitely return to the Riposo and probably even request little room No. 28.