Lake Lugano, Italy & Switzerland
Also known as: Lago di Lugano, Ceresio
Lake Lugano, which curls through southeastern Switzerland just south of the Swiss Alps and borders northern Italy, features the best of both of these countries and cultures. The lake region enjoys northern Italy’s warm Mediterranean climate for three seasons of the year, and outdoor recreation choices are diverse and nearly unlimited, especially in the warm seasons: from walking the verdant valleys and escaping to the nearby mountains to following the biking and hiking trails, to climbing, sailing, water skiing, paddle boating, swimming, scuba diving, windsurfing and leisurely exploring the beautiful area and the local shopping districts, the active traveler will be thrilled with this location. Horseback riding is also popular, as is tennis, soccer, and golf. Funicular railways are available for young and old, allowing everyone to enjoy the mountaintop views.
Winter around Lake Lugano is just as popular. Ski resorts can be found within a half-hour drive of the city of Lugano, the lake’s namesake. Saint Moritz, one of the most popular Swiss resorts, is located to the north, a scenic 90-minute drive away. Views of mountaintops frosted with snow and excellent skiing conditions abound in the cold months, yet the climate remains quite mild and appealing throughout the winter season.
For more relaxing pastimes, ferry trips and boat cruises on the lake are a clear choice for absorbing the startlingly crisp and colorful scenery uninterrupted. Other attractions include a delightful outdoor theater in Lugano Lido for summer viewing of popular movies; and clubs, cafes, bars and a casino for memorable local drink, food and entertainment. Lake Lugano attracts visitors for its scenic beauty and wide choice of activity, yet remains a truly peaceful and relaxing getaway.
Although Lake Lugano has had its current name for more than 260 years, it was also known as Ceresio, a word derived from the Latin term for cherry, as early as 500 AD. It may have been called Ceresio because of the vast numbers of cherry trees that once grew around the lake. In 1752, the Treaty of Varese established the current Italian-Swiss border that divides the lake. The Dam of Melide was constructed in 1848 between Melide and Bissone, cities located on opposite sides of Lake Lugano. This dam separates the Swiss and Italian northern basin from the Swiss-owned southern basin. Water retention times vary, with the southern basin’s retention at 2.3 years, and the northern basin’s at 11.9 years; residence time averages 8.2 years.
Lake Lugano is a glittering glacial lake, yet its deep blue bathing waters can be downright balmy due to the Mediterranean climate. The lake has a surface area of 12,083 acres (48.9 square kilometers), with roughly two-thirds of that area in Switzerland’s Ticino region and one-third in Italy’s Lombardy region. The average width of the lake is about 0.6 miles (1 kilometer); its maximum width is 1.86 miles (3 kilometers). Average depth is 440 feet (134 meters), and its deepest point is 945 feet (288 meters). The St. Gotthard railways cross the Dam of Melide, as does the A2 roadway. This dam, built on a naturally occurring glacial moraine, connects Lugano on the west shore to Chiasso on the east. With a ferry service that runs the full length and and ports at several different locations along the lake, this area is very accessible and tourist-friendly.
Lago di Lugano, as it’s known in Italian, is surrounded by attractions on all sides. Two popular area family attractions include the Swiss Miniature Village, an enchanting display sure to be intriguing to all ages, and the Alprose Chocolate Factory, which is a delight for the senses–and a source for unforgettable edible souvenirs. South of the lake is Monte San Giorgio, a World Heritage Site known for its abundance of fossil deposits. On the Swiss end of the lake are the botanical park in Carona, a smuggling museum in Gandria, and a natural history museum. On the Italian end there is an enjoyable museum of sacred art and locally found fossils in Scaria. The impressive sights of Monte San Salvatore, Monte Generoso, and Monte Bre surround the lake, on the western, southeastern, and eastern shores, respectively. Lake Maggiore is found to the west, while Lake Como is located to the east of Lake Lugano. These three lakes together make up Italy’s Lake District. Although Lake Lugano is the smallest of the three, it is loved for its abundant beauty and endless activities.
Since 1752, the indigo waters of Lake Lugano have been shared legally by Italy and Switzerland. More than two dozen villages and towns surround the lake; the low crime rate and relaxed atmosphere of the region permeates all of them. Travelers will find a sophisticated culture, including a wide range of festivals of music and art, historic buildings, the architectures of many churches and cathedrals, grand piazzas, museums, galleries, parks, gardens, fine restaurants, a well-kept promenade along the lake in Lugano itself, upscale shops and boutiques, and more traditional markets that carry goods made by local artisans.
Fishing is allowed in most areas, the exceptions being a few protected regions. From local species to those introduced, fish are plentiful. The largemouth bass, zander, burbot, eel, welsh catfish, carp, European perch, European chub, tench, brook trout and the common whitefish are all in residence, with the common roach being the species with the largest numbers. A few species are protected, including the bleak and the white-clawed crayfish. Local eateries feature regional cuisines, which frequently includes fresh fish caught from Lake Lugano. The city of Lugano is found on the lake’s northwest shore, in Switzerland, though its inhabitants are Italian-speaking. Both northern Italian and Swiss cuisine are featured in this region, with nearly unlimited choices for dining ranging from intimate cafes to gourmet restaurants.
The area around Lake Lugano is dotted with self-catering vacation rentals that blend tastefully into the local architecture. From apartments, cottages, townhouses, and rusticos to luxury villas, there are many options and styles to choose from. Available real estate includes single-family homes, restored villas, apartments in small complexes, and even luxury houseboats. Building land is also available for those looking to build their holiday dream home in this hidden paradise.
Things to do at Lake Lugano
- Vacation Rentals
- Water Skiing
- Scuba Diving
- Horseback Riding
- Casino Gambling
Fish species found at Lake Lugano
- Black Bass
- Brook Trout
- Largemouth Bass
Lake Lugano Photo Gallery
Lake Lugano Statistics & Helpful Links
Surface Area: 12,083 acres
Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 889 feet
Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 886 feet
Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 892 feet
Average Depth: 440 feet
Maximum Depth: 945 feet
Water Volume: 5,269,635 acre-feet
Completion Year: 1848
Water Residence Time: 8.2 years
Lake Area-Population: 140,000
Drainage Area: 218 sq. miles
Trophic State: Eutrophic
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