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Introducing Ticino

The summer air is rich and hot. The peacock-proud posers propel their scooters in and out of traffic. Italian weather. Italian style. And that's not to mention the Italian ice cream, Italian pizza, Italian architecture, Italian language. But this isn't Rome, Florence or Naples. It's the Switzerland that Heidi never mentioned.

Ticino (Tessin in German and French) is a strange mix. Classic, dark-haired Latin lookers rub shoulders with equally style-conscious blue-eyed blondes. There is a certain vibrant snappiness in the air of towns like Lugano. But this is Switzerland, after all, and the temperament is tamer than further south. A lusty love for Italian comfort food and full-bodied wines is balanced by a healthy respect for rules and regulations. And in the scattered valley hamlets the Italian spoken has a halting lilt that marks its distance from the honeyed heat of southern Italian conversation. The very manner of the people is demonstrative of how the canton manages a blend of Swiss cool and Italian passion.

The region offers a little of everything. A touch of the shimmering lake life can be had in Lugano and Locarno. Their mirror-like lakes, dotted by colourful villages with mansions and palm trees, are framed by grand, verdant mountains. To the north, the region's capital, Bellinzona is a quieter but stunning medieval fortress town. Those in search of rural quiet have come to the right place. Various valleys spread across the length of the northern half of the canton, blessed by homely hamlets, Romanesque chapels and endless hiking options past lakes and roaring mountain streams.