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Thoughts of Switzerland don’t normally evoke images of verdant olive groves. But Lugano, Switzerland’s southern-most city is situated on the Italian border with mild Mediterranean-like temperatures. You can sense Italy’s cultural influence not only in the obvious primary language spoken but in the village bustle clustered around top end boutique shops and historic food markets like Gabbani's Gourmet Store (great olive selection) lining Via Nassa and Via Cattedrale. The landscape is studded with classic Swiss mountain terrain fronted by pristine Lake Lugano views all with the added bonus of far more days of sunshine than Bern or Zurich.
Getting out on the water and taking a boat ride up shore to the decidedly smaller village of Gandria is a must-do excursion. Once you’ve disembarked on a stone block landing, a noticeable hush permeates the air. No more wooshing car traffic or clattering merchants…just the serene majesty of the lake and a residential quaintness of storefronts and houses clustered around narrow lanes approximating footpaths rather than streets.
There are no flat stretches in Gandria, it’s either steeply up or down according to the dictates of the lake shore. Just follow the green olive signs to reach the Sentiero dell'Olivo by climbing up a lane and long stone staircase built into the rock ledge reaching a gravel walking path that stunningly affords ever-changing views depending on the time of day and seasons.
Olive cultivation has ancient origins here but an unusually harsh winter in 1709 destroyed most of the trees. It wasn’t until 2002 that Amici dell’Olivo (Friends of the Olive Tree) began reintroducing trees, producing small quantities of oil, and adding information panels in 4 languages alongside this scenic trail. According to Marco Mastelli, guide and longtime Friends member, the olive tree count has been steadily increasing. "By the end of 2012, there were approximately 3,000 trees in Canton of Ticino and Gandria's harvest alone produced 46 liters of oil."
As much an historic path as olive trail, the Sentiero dell'Olivo at times meanders underneath houses, through a private terrace, and along cobbled lanes. You’ll pass San Rocco, a 17th century church with a ornate baroque interior topped with a late-medieval style belfry.
Photos courtesy of Steve Mirsky. Coverage made possible by participating in a sponsored trip.