Exploring Switzerland in a FIAT 500

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Reading magazines by the sun-dappled lake with a Campari and orange in easy reach, that’s my Switzerand travel. All I want is sunshine and glamour.

I’m staying in the small resort town of Caslano, a short drive from Lugano and 45 minutes from Milan. It is quaint and quiet, a peaceful oasis from the hubbub of summertime Lugano. The drive between Lugano and Caslano is gorgeous with the shore of Lake Lugano nearly lapping the curvy roads surrounded by green hills dotted with terra-cotta tiled roofs. The Fiat 500 I’ve rented hugs the pavement as I take in the fresh air and scenery. The Italian border town of Ponte Tresa beckons with its fresh produce market every Saturday.

In Lugano, I visit the Hugo Pratt exhibit at the city’s Museo d’Arte Moderna. The show follows the world travels of Pratt, who interpreted his experiences through the famous Italian comic strip hero Corto Maltese, brilliantly combined with a recent reportage following the trail of Pratt and Corto by Swiss photographer Marco D’Anna and writer Marco Steiner. From Djibouti to Ireland to Buenos Aires, both Pratt and the two Marcos’ work captures the faces of people around the world and the romance of travel.

MORE THAN PIZZA AND PASTA

After, I dine at La Cucina di Alice, a new restaurant in Lugano that eschews the classic pizza and pasta fare de rigueur throughout the city. Alice tops her salads with fresh squid, makes her pasta with green tea, and smothers her pork in red raspberry sauce. I add a bottle of Prosecco to the mix for good measure.

To cool down from the beating Lugano sun, I head over to Lido Riva Caccia. Much smaller (and with significantly less small children) than Lugano’s larger Lido, Riva Caccia is essentially two wooden pontoons floating in the middle of the lake. The main one is tethered to the shore and has changing rooms, a full-service bar and restaurant, and provides ample room to have a drink and replenish the body’s vitamin-D supply. Overheated? Swim across to the other floating platform, lay yourself down and take in the view. Too hot again? Swim back.

A VIEW FROM THE TOP

The freedom of having a car provides me the opportunity to zip up through the Gottard tunnel to visit a few friends in Zurich. Rather than going through the hot, smoggy tunnel, I decide on a whim to go over the pass, which means driving over the Alps, not through them. An excellent decision, I have views of the entire mountain range. Even in the middle of August, a bit of snow still spots the ground.

On my way down, I stop in my favorite Swiss town Sisikon, a little outpost on the Vierwaldstättersee (Four Cantons Lake, it the touches all four founding states of the Swiss Confederation). I plan to live there one day.

SO MANY LAKES, SO LITTLE TIME

In Zurich, my itinerary of magazines, drinks, and sunshine continues. This time, the river is the Limmat. The Limmat is the main river running through Switzerland’s largest city, like the Hudson in New York. But this being Switzerland, the river is impeccably clean and the water is actually drinkable. Two bathing areas flank both sides of the river, one is for the hip and young crowd with grass to lay on and a graffiti-ed skate park behind it. The other side is for the slightly older and swankier crowd with lounge chairs, changing rooms, and a full service restaurant and bar. Both sides have no entrance charge.

Even if I live in San Francisco, I still think that Zurich’s Oki restaurant has the best ramen noodles outside of Japan. Located on Bäckerstrasse, this intimate restaurant fuels me for the rest of my tedious summer day.

Pre-dinner drinks are best had at Barfüsser, one of Europe’s oldest gay bars. The casual atmosphere of the locale, whose name translates into “bare foot,” is perfect to get my night going.

My friends and I take a boat from Bürkliplatz to the theater festival happening in the city. Theater Spektakel goes on for three weeks through August and September, featuring a number of stages for theater performances as well as excellent dining at the many food stands.

THE BEST GAY PARTY

Heldenbar is a weekly gay party every Wednesday night in the summer that is my favorite of Zurich’s many clubs (the city has the highest concentration of clubs in Europe). The bar is located on Sihlquai in a concrete shack, but the party is mostly outside along the banks of Zurich’s other river, the Sihl. A DJ spins Berlin-style “pop-trash” electro music and lights, tethered into trees, flash from all directions. I always try to get there a little earlier than usual, since the club fills up fast.

For an excellent Swiss breakfast, Kafischnaps, located on Kornhausstrasse, is just the place. The tiled walls and bronze light fixtures are all from a time past when the building used to be a butcher shop. It’s a friendly place with excellent muesli, orange juice and espresso to jump-start my day.

TRAVEL TIPS

SWISS International Airlines flies daily non-stop service to Zurich from all major U.S. cities, including New York (JFK and Newark) Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. A flight to Lugano costs about $100 more coupled an international ticket and takes 45 minutes. You can also reach Lugano by trains departing hourly from Zurich Airport. There is no need to worry about bags. SWISS in collaboration with Swiss National Rail will check your bags through to your final destination, even if you take a train.

To rent a car, I recommend AVIS. The maximum insurance package covers your speeding tickets.

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