Ticino is a passionate and blessed land. Kissed by sweet meltwater from the wild heights of the Alps, the folded valley crevices of Switzerland’s Italian-speaking south are home to a wealth of emerald green pools, river beaches, and smooth granite alcoves perpetually being polished by rolling glacial streams.
In the thick of the summer heat, the cicada’s song fills the air. That’s when the locals quietly sneak away to their best-kept secret: a day by the swimming hole. These pozzi, as they’re called in Italian, contain magic of the most potent kind, strong enough to revive the senses and replenish the spirit. Amongst them, the Pozzo dei Salti in the rustic village of Lavertezzo has become a calling card for Ticino. Lavertezzo aside, crystalline bathing spots can be found all across the region, from the gateway of the Alps down to the doorsteps of Italy. From north to south, here are a few secret pozzi off the beaten track for you to explore.
Santa Petronilla, Biasca
For centuries, this small town at the entrance of the Swiss Alps played an integral role in transalpine trade. But lacking Ticino’s characteristic Mediterranean flair, Biasca is often overlooked, with most first-time visitors to Italian-speaking Switzerland flocking straight for the palm-lined promenades of more popular destinations such as Lugano and Locarno.
Only a handful of trains from Zurich make a stop in Biasca. From the carriages, it looks diminutive—a lonely, daresay, gloomy town with little to offer besides a crisscrossing waterfall. However, its tresses hide a treasure. Above the overhanging cliffs, lying just out of view, are two lofty basins. Separated by an ancient Romanesque bridge, these pools are fed by the jade-colored currents of Ri della Froda. With rooftop views overlooking all of Biasca as well as the three valleys of Blenio, Leventina, and Riviera, a swim above the tumbling falls of Santa Petronilla is a frigid but unbeatable experience.
How to get to the pools of Santa Petronilla
From Biasca’s train station, the pozzi of Santa Petronilla can be reached on foot in 30 minutes. Walk towards the Chiesa dei Santi Pietro e Paolo (Church of Saints Peter and Paul) before veering right, climbing in the direction of the waterfall.
Valle di Moleno
Just a ten-minute drive from Biasca lies a tributary valley of the Riviera, where the mountain waters run down steep moss-lined crevices before they join the large, serpentine river from which Ticino inherits its name. This is the Valle di Moleno.
Divided between the villages of Moleno and Preonzo, the valley is an earthly utopia. A few steps away from the perimeters of civilization is a stony gorge. Beneath the shade of dense green foliage, a collection of sparkling pools cascade and spill into one another, creating a swirling wonderland sheltered from the rest of the world.
How to get to the pools of Moleno
Moleno’s pools can be reached on foot from the village bus stop in about 15 minutes. Walk in the direction of the mountains until the creek bed comes into view. Descend down and follow the stream into the gorge. Alternatively, take the elevated trail to the right of the river, where a bridge leads to the upper section of the pools.
Mulin da Canaa, Breggia
The southern tip of Ticino is most famous for its atmospheric lakes: Lago di Lugano, also known as Ceresio; and Lago Maggiore, where the rushing waters from Biasca and Moleno finally reach their resting place. Most of Ticino’s rivers drain into one of the two, but not the Breggia. The Breggia River flows gently and unhurriedly on, adapting to the pace of la dolce vita as it enters Italian territory, where it sinks into the luxurious embrace of Lake Como.
The journey of the Breggia winds past some of Ticino’s most charming and forgotten corners. In the Parco delle Gole della Breggia (Park of the Breggia Gorges), it drifts in wisps through gullies of striated rock. These petrified formations, dating back hundreds of millions of years, are a geologic marvel. Between their layers, scientists have found fossils from the ancient Tethys Sea, evidence of underwater landslides, and sediment from volcanic eruptions and previous ice ages.
There are anthropologic remnants too: the former pastificio, a pasta factory turned brewery; the concrete ruins of the Saceba-Holcim cement plant, a worn gray golem sitting in a field of green; and the Mulin da Canaa, an old mill which remained in use until the 19th century, when a violent torrential flood brought about its sudden end. Flanking the mill on both sides are large slabs of limestone, tilted upwards by the birth of the Alps. They resemble a pair of cupped hands, catching in their palms an ever steady pour of cool, crisp water from the small fall nearby. On a sultry summer day, when specks of light dance gracefully across the rippling surface, they cast a vision of a somnolent, primordial Eden.
How to get to Mulin da Canaa
Although technically part of Morbio Superiore in the municipality of Breggia, the pools of Mulin da Canaa are best reached from Balerna. Take the bus from “Balerna, Bellavista” near the train station and get off at “Morbio Inferiore, Ghitello” near the visitor parking lot of the natural park. From there, it’s an easy 25-minute walk to the Mulin da Canaa. Follow the signs for “Parco Gole della Breggia” into the gorge and walk past the cement works. Upon reaching the barbecue area, look for a small path leading down to the creek, and follow it upstream to the ruins of the mill.
The grottos of Svizzera italiana
If you’re planning a multi-day trip across Ticino, consider spending an evening at one of the region’s many grottos or grotti. These taverns, usually family-run businesses, offer a bucolic blink into the rich culinary traditions of Italian-speaking Switzerland. Grotti are unique to Ticino and the neighboring area of trilingual Grigioni, more commonly known as Graubünden. Across the border in northern Italy, they go by a similar name, crotti. Both words likely originated from the Ancient Greek kruptós, meaning “hidden.”
In the beginning, Ticinese grottos were simply caverns that farmers used as cellars. In contrast to normal cellars, however, the grotto had a natural opening between its rocks which allowed for currents of cold air to funnel through. This created an optimal subterranean temperature for the aging of wine, cheese, and salami. On hot days, they became places to cool down and meet with friends. Gradually over the 20th century, they developed into small restaurants and taverns serving regional dishes, with some also providing room and board for travelers.