Nowhere else in Switzerland does spring begin as early as in the canton of Ticino. Apart from mild temperatures, the region offers high mountains, vast lakes and Mediterranean flora. Many artists also appreciate this.
"So you're looking for spring?" Jörg Deubner-Marty points to his garden. Red camellias and white magnolias bloom there, and the wisteria is also displaying its first flower buds: "You can find it here!" He runs a small hotel and restaurant in the center of Carona. The house dates from 1790, the garden is part of the hotel concept. Between palm trees and camellias the guests are meant to relax. I sink into one of the rattan chairs on the meadow and order coffee.
The artists' village of Carona is a stopover on my 10-kilometer hike in southern Switzerland. The Italian-speaking canton of Ticino is considered the sunniest region in Switzerland. Nowhere does spring begin as early as here, nowhere are there so many hours of sunshine a year. The landscape is picturesque: steep mountains, clear lakes, palm-fringed banks and an Italian way of life.
I started off with drizzle in Berlin and wrapped myself tightly into my winter jacket on the plane. In Zürich the sun was already shining, and in Ticino it was 20 degrees Celsius (68° F).
A historic funicular takes me from the city of Lugano to the 912-meter-high San Salvatore. The panoramic view from the top is spectacular: Lake Lugano below, Alpine mountains all around, still veiled in the morning haze. Several hiking routes start from here, and among them the tour to Carona is a classic.
A retreat for artists
The path leads over stones, rubble and steep steps through the still bare forest. Yellow primroses and purple violets shine through wilted leaves, while birds chirp. After seven kilometers (4.3 miles) and about an hour I am in Carona.
"They say that if you live here for more than seven years, you become a little crazy — but also happy," says hotelier Jörg Deubner-Marty: "That's why there were always so many artists here." The red porphyry stone from the nearby quarry unfolds this mind-altering effect when it enters the groundwater — legend has it.
In fact, stonemasons, architects, painters, sculptors and stucco artists lived in Carona as early as the 15th century. Their craftsmanship was appreciated and they worked on buildings such as Milan Cathedral and the Kremlin in Moscow.
During the Nazi years, German artists on their way into exile came to Carona, among them the writer Bertolt Brecht. Meret Oppenheim, an important surrealist artist, lived and worked in the village in the 1970s and bequeathed a sculpture to one of the squares in the community.
One of the most famous visitors was Hermann Hesse, who later won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He moved to Ticino in 1919 and in the same year met his second wife, Ruth Wenger, in Carona. In the story "Klingsor's Last Summer," he describes a trip to the village "Kareno," by which he means Carona: "Behind the village Kareno, ancient, narrow, dark, Saracen, gloomy stone caves under faded brown brick..."
From Carona to Morcote
Carona has retained its original charm. The mountain village is very quiet, only a few visitors roam through the alleys. Stone walls without plaster, cobblestones, wooden balconies, pots and pans adorning a house wall create a rustic atmosphere.
Today Carona has 800 inhabitants from more than 30 countries. The artists' village seems to attract people who are looking for a new beginning. Hotel owner Jörg Deubner-Marty has also found a new life here: He originally comes from Dresden in the former East Germany.
In addition to the romantic village center, Carona has another attraction: the Parco San Grato. This botanical garden is 700 meters above sea level. Rhododendrons, azaleas and conifers grow here on 20 hectares. "During the months of April and May the azaleas and rhododendrons form a wonderfully colored and scented carpet," says the park's brochure. I'm probably a little too early as at the moment there is not much flowering here. I enjoy the view of the mountains and the evergreen plants such as yews and cypresses that are plentiful in the park.
The path continues towards Morcote. It lies on the shore of Lake Lugano, 700 meters below. It descends steeply downhill over what feels like 10,000 steps. Already halfway through my lower legs feel like they are made of rubber. I can imagine the sore muscles that will be there tomorrow. Why exactly am I doing this here?
Baroque church Santa Maria del Sasso: a beautiful motif, already noted by Hermann Hesse. He also painted it.
The evening sun shines a glistening streak on over the lake. The sight makes any doubt evaporate. Again and again there is a rustling in the dry leaves around me whenever lizards are disturbed. Between bare branches cherry trees and hazelnut bushes with long catkins bloom. There seems to be no end to the path. At some point a spire appears deep down below me: That must be Morcote.
On shaky legs I reach the shore promenade of the village, which is already in the shade. Morcote is a popular excursion destination with artisan shops, moorings for pleasure boats, restaurants with lake view. In the 1930s, an art lover had a park built here with exotic plants and architecture from all over the world: Egyptian temples, Greek sculptures, a Siamese tea house — in memory of his travels. Across the lake on the other side is Italy.
This article was written during a press trip supported by Switzerland Tourism.