Though it was once the seat of the dukes of Milan, the small city of Locarno has been part of the Swiss Confederation since 1516. Set on the northern shore of Lake Maggiore 145 mi/235 km south of Zurich, Italian-speaking Locarno has a lovely old town, a castle that may well have been partly designed by Leonardo da Vinci and one of Europe's biggest film festivals, held annually in August.
A pretty city of banana and palm trees, Locarno offers visitors a chance to rest and renew in its many piazzas and outdoor cafes. You can take a cable car up to the Cimetta, a belvedere with a wonderful view over the town and lake.
There are many quaint villages in this area offering spectacular scenery, peaceful lakes, stone churches and wine tasting. Chief among them is Ascona, the most popular lake resort in Switzerland. At the southern tip of Lake Maggiore is the Italian resort of Stresa and the stunning Isole Borromee. (If you plan to go to Italy from Switzerland, remember to take your passport with you.)
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