Journey south: Lugano and the best wine bar in Switzerland
Real food, real wine and people who care about it: Blogger Kathy is smitten by a little eatery in Lugano. Bottegone di Vino is well worth the journey south.
We took one more holiday journey. This time to Lugano. It was a bit of a throwaway choice. A last-minute, what-the-hell, let's just go idea. Because we hadn't seen it yet. So why not?
We were rewarded by yet another enchanting train ride that carried us through Central Switzerland into Ticino. At first we rode south along the Zürichsee, which is of course quite lovely. But then we passed into Central Switzerland, the Ur-Switzerland, the land of William Tell and Rütli meadow, traveling the long shores of the Zugersee and Urnersee.
On the east side of the train we could see towering snowy peaks above the lake. On the west, graceful slopes rose, forest and farm with unlikely green showing in between patches of snow. Here and there we passed tidy farmhouses perched on 50º slopes, managing somehow not to slide down the hill.
Then we turned toward Gotthard and entered Ticino. The landscape shifted, gained a stark black and white quality: impossibly steep slopes, the massive peaks out of sight, bare rock faces and bared tree limbs, a tumbled, wild feel to the land. This was the Val Bedretto, which was for hundreds of years an impoverished cattle farming region and where the marks of poverty still show in the raggedy, rundown track-side bits of habitation and debris.
Early afternoon and we arrived in Lugano, taking the funicular down from the station to the hotel, following the town's geography as it spills down the steep hillside to the lake. The steep twisted streets, the arcaded shops, the many piazze, the ochre, yellow, and pink facades, and the lakeside all made for great touristic rambles. And this is a town that seems tailor-made for the tourist, especially German-speaking Swiss vacationers who dominate the scene. This is clearly their getaway spot.
The two primary languages here are Italian and German; English comes in a distant third or maybe fourth behind French. I tried my best to use the Italian phrases I had studied on the way down, but I realised it was hopeless when the hotel desk clerk gently corrected my mangled request for the key in Italian. Ché peccato. It's a beautiful language. I want to go back just so I can say things like C'è una specialità della casa?
The language, the lakefront, the architecture. All quite charming. But it was the people who captivated. After a fruitless search for the perfect lakeside café listed in our guidebook, we headed back up into town to the famed wine bar, Bottegone di Vino. Here was an oasis. People who love food, prepare it with care, serve it with grace. The waiters want to tell you about the wine and food. They know about it. They love it. There's no rush, even if it is the end of lunch service and getting on to three in the afternoon.
After due consideration and discussion of its merits with the waiter, we went with the 2000 Vinatierri Merlot (from Ligornetto in Ticino) as a pairing for our plate of prosciutto crudo and platter of Swiss and French cheeses. The waiter even brought over three local honeys to try with our cheeses, including acacia and chestnut. Everything was just so good.
No question where we should go for dinner. The waiter got us a late table and we returned at 21.00 for marvelous plates of miniature sausage ravioli and a bottle of the 2005 Vinatierri Merlot. Ignoring our protests, the waiter brought out bowls of clementines and mixed nuts for after. We cracked and peeled and nibbled while he brought out two barrel-aged grappas for us to try. If you're used to thinking of grappa as something that tastes like lighter fluid, think again. These could rival the best Armangnacs. The Tonys were so enthused they ordered a second round, and so of course the waiter insisted that I partake as well. Mercy.
At this point I was fair smitten with Lugano and especially Bottegone di Vino, and that's not just the grappa talking. Real food, real wine, and people who care about it. A beautiful lakeside setting to boot. I'm already planning a week-long stay somewhere here with a kitchen so that I can cook with these ingredients.
Kathy is an American in Zürich, studying German and French, learning about the food and wines of Switzerland and living the dream with her husband. When not memorising new verb and preposition combinations, or traveling, she’s blogging about the ups, downs and oddities of expat life over at TwoFools in Zurich.
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