My phone rings on the way to Heathrow. Husband: ‘It’s going to be wet all weekend in Basel, so I thought we’d go to Lugano, where the forecast is fantastic.’
Despite the forecast, Saturday is sunny and bright as we leave to cross Switzerland from north to south. The journey is slated to take 2 hours 40 minutes, but we have to go underneath the Alps via the Gotthard tunnel, where the queues are legendary.
The leaves are turning – larches in particular go a brilliant orange, and contrasted against the verdant green pastures, still full of cows and horses, and the evergreen pines, the valleys shimmer with autumn beauty. The road passes by lakes, smooth as glass, with the steamers plying their routes from port to port, and follows streams that tumble away in the opposite direction. Mountains loom over us, jagged sandstone and granite, capped with early season snow.
Suddenly our reverie comes to a halt, along with the traffic. Our statnav had shown jams a good 6 kms from the tunnel and, here we are, at a standstill. Six chamois munch unconcernedly beside us as we inch forward; the queue is regulated, Swiss style, like clockwork by a series of traffic lights so that the tunnel keeps free-flowing.
We emerge from the 17km tunnel into brilliant sunshine and whizz down the motorway to Lugano, notionally in Switzerland but plum on the border with Italy. It’s an attractive little town, with highly-decorated baroque buildings sitting side-by-side with more modern stylish ones, all rooms with a view over the deep blue lake. Little white dots bobbing about are schools of toppers racing; a few purple and pink spinnakers billow in contrast against the white sails and the blue lake.
As we swoosh up to the Hotel Grande Splendide – right on the esplanade and an ornate Victorian edifice that promises luxury – a uniformed man takes the car keys and we are ushered inside. Our room is 19th century in style, but the bathroom is modern marble, and comfort exudes from every inch. Our balcony is gigantic, furnished with sun-loungers and overlooks the lake. Bliss!
We wander in to the centre of town for a quick lunch, take a look around the market and then head towards one of the funiculars to get a better view. The fixed rail is almost vertical but it does the job – soon we are at the top and a short walk up to the view point affords a 360 degree panorama of the lake and its surrounds. The sun is low in the sky and the light is gentle. We can see Monte Rosa in the distance….
The next day – after a fine dinner in the belle epoch restaurant – we set off for Basel, and encounter another jam, but this time not so long. We leave Lugano in dazzling sunshine and emerge from the tunnel into a fine grey drizzle which turns into a driving rain. It clears by the time we reach Lucerne for a spot of lunch and a quick wander round the old town before I catch my plane back to London.
What better way to spend a wet weekend in Basel! And what a romantic man my husband is!
For more and better photos of our weekend see Ross’s blog