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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Locarno, Switzerland

View of Madonna del Sasso church and the town of Locarno in the Swiss lakes district.
Our first stop in Switzerland was in the south, in the region called Ticino; Tessin in German. Looking at a map, Ticino is a little blip that extends south into Italy and seems unusually out of place; and historically the area was Italian, but it's been under Swiss rule now for hundreds of years. I love the way the locals have retained their Italianness; it's rare to hear any French or German spoken, unless by visitors from the other cantons.
To all intents and purposes it is Italian: they speak Italian, the climate is Mediterranean, it produces good wine, there's spaghetti and pizza on the menus and excellent gelati shops. However, it also has the neatness and order of the Swiss, a few more German and French signs and the cost of living of the Swiss. So, to us, even though we'd crossed a border it felt like we were still in Italy - until we saw the prices. Suddenly everything was 3 times more expensive. Welcome to Switzerland!

The city of Locarno is perfectly situated on a lake (part of the Italian & Swiss lakes district). Our original intent was to stay in Como and look for George Clooney but...helloooo expensive accommodation! Next idea was Lugano just over the Swiss border, but that was booked out. 3rd choice was Locarno and I'm so pleased that it came through as it was definitely a highlight of the trip. Half the town is built up the mountains nearby, and the other part along the lakeside. It has everything; beautiful old buildings, cobbled alleyways, a large piazza (home to the International Film Festival), yachting, a funicular and cable cars up the mountain. And a casino....where we didn't spend any time!

We went for a movie-star walk by the yachts in the lake at sunset and decided to shell out for a nice dinner at a hotel by the lakeside, rationalising that we were being billeted for the next few days and we wouldn't be paying for meals. After quickly eliminating lamb from our choices (do we want to take out a bank loan?!) we noticed that a local speciality seemed to be rotisserie chicken. Served either with french fries or risotto Milanese (!). Compared to what we'd just come from the dinner seemed pricey, but the food was spectacular and the view of the twinkling lights across the lake and into the mountains was beautiful.

Poultry for sale in a butchers. Heads and feathers intact. Pluck your own...hmmm!

Latest Swiss fashions. You really don't want to know the price....

We found an excellent chocolate shop near the entry to the funicular up to the Madonna del Sasso church. I think it was called Attuale, and I think it was a chain. I'm sure I saw one in Bern...or maybe Luzern. You could buy bags of mixed-flavour offcuts, which is great for somebody like me who can't make a decision and wants to try everything. The chocolate was excellent, as you'd expect from Swiss chocolate. Wish we had chains like this in Melbourne!
Belinda bought a slab of curry chocolate to hand around the bus, which grossed everybody out until they tried it. Milk chocolate with curry seeds sprinkled on top; surprisingly very good!

Piles of chocolate truffles from the same shop.

Market, main town square
I don't know if the local market in the main town square is a weekly event, but we happened to come across it in the morning, and spent some time wandering around. They had the usual trinkets, but the food was where it stood out. We tried everything from pastries, to cheese, to deep fried little fish from the lake to.....

...horsemeat salami. Mmmmm! Well, come on, I HAD to try it!! I knew it would scare people, but horsemeat is still eaten regularly throughout Italy and I wanted to have a taste. And, yeah, I was probably taking my health in my hands by buying unrefrigerated horse sausage covered in flies from a open air stand on a hot day, but I just peeled off the white layer -although I did first wonder if I was supposed to eat it- and took a bite. It wasn't bad at all...maybe a little hairy (OK, you didn't want to know that, did you?). It had a very rich, spicy flavour and felt quite fatty. Although it was small it was too much to eat, and after a few bites, mine sat in the back pocket of my bus seat for a few days while I forgot about it. Yeah, you don't want to know what it looked like a week later.....

A more palatable street-side purchase from a patisserie stand. My friend loves all things chestnut, and this little Mont Blanc cake made with chestnut puree was her dream (no warm horsemeat salami for her...) You even get a bonus view of the garish-coloured seats on our Italian bus - wow. This place was a chain and operated from a stand on the footpath. How I wish we had such a culture in Australia!
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  • I'm surprised that the chestnut puree cake was called Mont Blanc in Locarno, since when I thought it was called that my Swiss friends were like "huh?" In the Zürich area at least it's called Vermicell, after the noodly chestnut puree on top which is called Vermicelli (like the pasta). It's a very common fall/winter pastry here.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/09/2006 12:01:00 am  

  • Hi, you really wrote an interesting report. I'm German and now living and working for almost one year in Locarno. By the way, the local market at Piazza Grande is a weekly event every Thursday.

    By Blogger Mathias, at 2/03/2007 08:23:00 am  

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