Last Updated on 8th February 2021 by Sophie Nadeau
Italianate architecture, snow-capped peaks, and situated on the shores of Lake Maggiore (otherwise known as Lago Verbàno or Lago Maggiore in Italian): if you’re looking for some fresh water, sun and one of the prettiest Swiss towns to visit, then you simply must plan a visit to Ascona. Here’s your ultimate guide to the best things to do in Ascona, Southern Switzerland.
Pretty as a postcard, this Italian speaking town is in the South of Switzerland, not far from the border with Italy and the Italian province of Varese. And at just 196 metres above sea level, Ascona also happens to be the lowest lying town in Switzerland.
Ascona: The magical Swiss Town of Lake Maggiore
Two hours North of the capital of Lombardia, Milano, the charm of this alpine lakeside town lies in its laid-back nature and wealth of beautiful scenery, as opposed to the typical tourist attractions you might expect from a historic European settlement. Here you’ll find a blend of Swiss efficiency beautifully mixed with a taste of ‘la dolce vita’.
Ascona can be found in the Canton of Ticino, one of twenty-six Cantons in total. Of note is that the full name of Switzerland is the Swiss Confederation. Though many people mistakenly assume that Bern or Zurich is the capital city, there is, in fact, no capital when it comes to this landlocked country!
A brief history of Ascona
For those with an interest in history, Ascona is certainly not a disappointment. Human settlement of the area dates back to at least the Late Bronze Age, perhaps earlier. The region was then inhabited during Roman Times and right through to the Middle Ages.
By the 17th-century, Ascona had well and truly established itself as an independent town. During the early 20th-century, a colony was established on the mountain that presides over the town, the Monte Verità (Hill of Truth), whose inhabitants wanted a return to nature.
Best things to do in Ascona, Switzerland
#1 Admire the Italian architecture
Though the town can be found in Switzerland, Italian is spoken in Ascona. Similarly, the villas, restaurants, hotels, and houses are all painted in bright colours, reminiscent of Burano or Venezia. Ideal for a romantic getaway or weekend girls escape, you’ll soon discover that this beautiful Swiss town is great to visit all year ’round.
#2 Wander around the Borgo Old Town
When wandering around the historic part of the town, which can conveniently be found by the lake, you’ll soon discover a small yet charming maze of cobbled streets and shuttered houses. Best of all, this car-free zone is incredibly picturesque, meaning that you’ll most definitely want to bring your camera along!
#3 Go sailing in Ascona
If you plan your visit to the Swiss town in the summer season (i.e. the high season) when it’s possible to swim in the crystal clear waters of the lake, it’s also worth noting that Ascona is perfect for sailing. Truth be told, the best sailing school in the area has long been hailed as ‘Asconautica’ and it’s there where you’ll find a whole host of water-based courses.
#4 See the Casa Serodine
Situated in the centre of town, next to the town hall and adjacent to the church, it’s hard to miss the beautiful Baroque building of the Casa Serodine. Three floors facing the piazza are decorated in typical Italian stucco work, while the house itself dates back to the 17th-century.
#5 Take a boat to the Brissago Islands
And if you fancy taking to the water but want for a more relaxed way in which to take in the scenery, then you might consider a trip to the Brissago Islands. During high season, passenger boats depart on a regular basis to the Brissago Islands from both Locarno and Ascona. The trip costs around €5.
#6 Visit the church of San Pietro e Paulo
Located in the heart of the city, opposite to the town hall and close to the lakeside cafés, the imposing clock tower of the Chiesa of Saint Peter and Paul can be seen from miles around. Dating all the way back to 1264, when the church was first attested, today this ecclesiastical building is home to artwork by 17th-century painter Giovanni Serodine, as well as the relics of Saint Sabina.
When and how to visit Ascona
The closest train station to Ascona can be found just across the River Maggia in Locarno. It’s also in the Swiss town of Locarno where you’ll find a medieval castle, plenty of restaurants, grand piazza, hotels, and shopping opportunities- so pretty much all of the amenities you would expect to find in a modern busy city.
Due to the small nature of Ascona, shops are few and far between, while those retail stores that do exist are incredibly high in price! Instead, the joy of Ascona lies in its many water-based activities, mountainous scenery, and many luxurious hotels.
As such, many would maintain that the best time to visit is in the late spring, summer, or early autumn. I personally visited in mid-winter, just before Christmas, and thoroughly enjoyed my time! Although the temperature was pretty chilly, visiting during low season also meant that it was easy to be present for sunrise and sunset, and fewer tourists were milling about.
Where to stay in Ascona
Without a doubt, the best (and easily most luxurious) place to stay in Ascona is five-star Hotel Eden Roc. Situated on the fringes of the lake and close to the town centre, this home away from home is a true taste of luxury, Swiss style. Think several restaurants serving local specialities with a twist and spacious rooms overlooking the lake.
And with several pools, a series of spa-style pools (massage pool, a Kneipp pool, a sauna, and a steam room, you pretty much won’t want to leave the hotel complex. In the summer, there’s even the chance to eat outside and enjoy your evening glass of wine with a view of candy skies as the sun dips below the horizon.