Gandria's centre is charming and well preserved, where the building facades are reflected in the waters of Lake Ceresio. It is one of Ticino's most beautiful lakeside towns. The buildings, tightly aligned, can be reached via stairways and alleyways. Some of the houses date back to the 16th and 17th centuries and are embellished with frescoes and stucco decorations. The village is comfortably accessible by boat from Lugano and is connected to two very enjoyable walks: the Sentiero di Gandria (Gandria trail) and the route that develops from the village's opposite bank, much appreciated in the summer for its grottos (taverns).
Gandria is the last Swiss village before the Italian border. The mountaintops in front of it are already Italian territory, but the conglomeration of houses visible at their feet are still on Swiss soil: these are the Cantine di Gandria, the cellars where in the past local residents would store their wine, cured meats and cheeses.
Gandria is located at the foot of Monte Brè, which in Celtic means "mountain". Before 1300 the village was located halfway on the slopes of the mountain; the ruins are still visible. Later the inhabitants moved to the lakeside. Until 1936, when the road was built, the village was accessible only by water or via uncomfortable trails. Hence, the residents had to be self-sufficient: beyond horticulture, viticulture and livestock farming, the main activity was fishing.
Until the frigid winter of 1709, when most of Ticino's olive trees were destroyed, Gandria was also known for its oil. This explains why an olive press is exhibited in front of the town hall. Out of respect for this tradition, new olive groves have been planted in recent years and can be visited by taking a short detour from the Sentiero di Gandria. In the middle of the 19th century silk production was setup in the mill, the long yellow building visible from the lake.
Just as other villages on the banks of Lake Ceresio, Gandria was home to many artists and architects that became renowned abroad, like the brothers Giovanni and Giuseppe Torricelli, who were engaged in the 12th century construction of the Trento Cathedral. The two brothers also decorated the ceilings of the beautiful house of Vigilio and Pietro Rabaglio and are known to have designed the royal palace of the Bourbons in Segovia, Spain.
From the end of May until the middle of October, every Monday afternoon, a guided visit to this magical and incredibly charming location, invite you to take a dive into the past and discover how the fishermen and the inhabitants of the lake used to live once. Accompanied by a guide you navigate Lake Ceresio on a boat, then wander up and down the narrow village streets and return to the city centre taking a naturalistic path, better known as “The Olive Tree Path”.
If you have more time…
Visiting Gandria pairs well with two nice walks: the Sentiero di Gandria and the one on the opposite bank of the lake that starts from San Rocco leading Gandria's grottos.
Itinerary: Gandria Trail (1.5h, see map)
To walk the classic Sentiero di Gandria we recommend taking the boat from Lugano and getting off at the "Museo Heleneum" (Villa Heleneum/Museo delle culture) where the walk starts from the lakefront to Gandria. You will visit the village and return with the boat. You should allocate approximately half a day.
Itinerary: Cantine di Gandria (2h, see map)
We recommend doing the second walk, from San Rocco to the Museo doganale Svizzero (Swiss Customs Museum), when seeking places to cool off in the heat of the summer because it leads to the so-called area of the Cantine di Gandria where local residents used to store wine, cured meats and cheeses.
The walk starts with a boat from Lugano to San Rocco where the namesake grotto lends itself for a first stop. In a twenty-minute hilly up-and-down walk you will reach the Cantine di Caprino, a long line of connected buildings that have defied time. You will need an additional ten minutes to reach the Grotto dei Pescatori (Fishermen's Tavern) known for its inviting tables in the shade on the Ceresio lakefront. The course continues through the woods at the foot of the mountain in an enjoyable sequence of ascents and descents, sometimes equipped with flights of steps, partially on the lakeside, partially higher.
After approximately an hour walk you will finally arrive at the Cantine di Gandria where some cellars are private and others have become public meeting places. Many of them have in fact been transformed into grottos: typical Ticino taverns open only during the warm season because they're not equipped with inside seating.
The walk ends at the Swiss Customs Museum (free entry, open only in the afternoon, from April to October), exhibiting stories about the border and smuggling. After the visit, take the boat to the picturesque village of Gandria.