Often overlooked by tourists, Bellinzona is a stunning city with the best-preserved medieval castles in Switzerland.
Due to its strategic position as a gateway to the Alps, Bellinzona had been at the forefront of defence line since ancient Romans built the first castle here in the 1st century A.D., which was enlarged and further fortified in the Middle Ages to withstand continuous sieges, raids and invasions. Today three formidable fortresses stand as silent reminders of those bellicose days and offer spectacular vistas over the Alps.
Castelgrande, the oldest of the three citadels, blocks the passage through the Ticino valley. Its two towers, Torre Nera (28 metres) and Torre Bianca (27 metres) rise above Bellinzona's old centre. The fortress houses an excellent Archaeological Museum and can be reached by an elevator or on foot following the steep winding streets of the old town.
Deep moats surround Castello Montebello and massive city walls connect it to Castelgrande. It is fascinating to walk around the fortress to see drawbridges, ramparts and murder holes. On a clear day, from the top of the castle, you can see as far as Lago Maggiore.
The third fortress, Castello di Sasso Corbaro, is perched on a hill a few miles from the centre of Bellinzona. In the he city itself is studded with beautiful Italian-style buildings, old churches, pretty squares and atmospheric cafes. Stroll along the narrow streets of the Old Town, check out an beautiful collection of Swiss and Italian paintings at Villa dei Cedri, admire the 19th century Italian Classical style building of Teatro Sociale that was inspired by La Scala in Milan.
Bellinzona is abuzz with interesting events all year around. The famous Rabadan Carnival takes place in February; in summer international blues stars arrive to the city for the Piazza Blues Festival; in September everyone celebrates PerBacco, the wine-growers' festival.
Photos via Flickr by: Kurt Zwahlen, Luca Pedroni, Aanjhan Ranganathan.