Visiting Bellinzona with kids
I had previously skipped over the city of Bellinzona, zooming past on my way south to the palm trees and lake of Lugano when visiting Ticino, the Italian part of Switzerland. Apparently I was really missing something! Home to three UNESCO heritage listed castles, a great market and plenty of charm, Bellinzona is perfect for a weekend getaway.
But why visit on a weekend?
Because Saturday is market day. From 8am till 1pm the local market stretches down the main street and is a great place to pick up fresh local produce and home made specialities. Look out for the polenta guy—how can you not smile?
The market is perfect for picking up some fresh fruits and vegetables, salamis, cheeses, breads, and a couple of samosas (not Italian but they sure are delicious!) and heading up to the grassed area of the Castlegrande for a picnic. It feels like the whole town is out and about on Saturdays, with a mixture of tourists and locals strolling down the cobbled stone street.
But most people come to Bellinzona for the castles …
With three castles to choose from, we decided to first visit Castlegrande, the most popular of the three, which is conveniently accessible by lift from the centre of town. If you prefer to let your legs do the work, follow the signs and the winding streets up to the castle. Once there, you are greeted with a surprisingly large amount of open space, where my kids were more than happy enough to run around and explore, imagining they were shooting their bows and arrows at the enemy below. On this particular weekend visit we decided to visit the museum inside and learn more about the importance of Bellinzona’s stratigically important location near the alpine passes.
The other two castles are a little more of a walk, or you can hop on the local tourist train, Artù, a 1.5 hour train tour that does the work of climbing up to the castles for you. A family of 4 can ride for 30chf, with tickets purchased on the spot or as a part of the Bellinzona Pass which includes entry into the 3 castles as well.
Once the market has cleared and the shops have closed, it reveals a quieter town, with plenty of tables and chairs outside to enjoy a pre-dinner Aperol Sptriz while the kids run around the piazza.
February/March: Carnevale Rabadan - carnival celebrations
May: La Spada nella Rocca - Medieval re-enactment
Summer: Beatles Days Concert
7th October 2018: 3rd Swiss Castle Day
Where to eat:
Where to stay: Hotel Internazionale is conveniently located across the road from the train station and has family rooms.
How to get there: Bellinzona can be explored on foot, so I recommend ditching the traffic jams of the Gotthard tunnel and around the Bellinzona area and hopping on the train which will bring you straight into the center of town.
For more inspiration visit the Bellinzona tourism site https://www.ticino.ch/en/travel-inspirations/top-10-bellinzona.html