Autumn is the ideal time to enjoy Italian culture’s favourite pastime – food. Annette Greenwood visits our second destination Hotel Giardino Ascona in Switzerland
Standing in the warm afternoon sunshine, I looked down over crooked rooftops atop stone houses and beyond to the narrow, classic U-shaped valley. Waterfalls tumbled over the top of either side and in the far distance I could see snow-capped mountains rearing up to the cloudless sky.
I was in the tiny Hobbit-like village of Foroglio at the edge of the Valle Maggia (literally, Magic Valley) in southern Switzerland’s Italian-speaking canton Ticino. We were here for lunch at La Froda, a typical Ticinese ‘grotto’ – dry, cool natural caves that were originally used to store perishable food all year round. Eventually, rough stone benches were placed in front and travellers would stop and share the meal.
Today they have evolved into family-run taverns serving local dishes. We ordered homemade bread, cured meats, Pizzoccheri – a bowl of buckwheat pasta with chard, potato and very stringy cheese – and the highlight, spezzatino di capra, a slow-cooked goat stew with a mound of polenta.
We drank local wine from ceramic bowls before being driven back to the spot where we’d parked our hotel bikes. Pleased for the exercise after an over-indulgent lunch, we cycled back to the hotel past lakeside beaches, charging rivers and chestnut tree-covered mountains.
And chestnuts are why we are here: one of the area’s main gastro offerings, chestnuts spread via their inclusion in Roman soldiers’ lunchboxes and the old custom of planting a new ‘tree of bread’ to mark a new birth.
Today the chestnut harvest is celebrated with festivals throughout Ticino, one of the best being in the lakeside town of Ascona, a settlement littered with palm trees and couples sunning themselves over al fresco aperitifs.
If you’re tempted to join the fun, try the five-star Giardino Ascona, with its two-Michelin-starred restaurant Ecco. My room was warm and understated, the only things escaping the neutral aesthetic of cream and pine being a vivid pink sofa and a luxurious in-room bathtub encased within powder-pink walls.
The hotel sits on the outskirts of the town next to the Golf Patriziale Ascona which, according to head concierge Claudio, is “one of the most beautiful courses in Switzerland” and a five-minute walk from Lake Maggiore.
I took a stroll down to a lakeside bar, sat outside in 24-degree warmth (not bad for autumn), ordered a Prosecco and toasted the chestnut harvest.
Getting to Ascona
Swiss flies to Lugano via Zurich; depart from Manchester, Birmingham and London with prices starting from £126 based on a return journey.
Rates at Hotel Giardino Ascona start at £314 per night including breakfast based on two people sharing a Double Room Casa Rosa.