Ticino - Report by Matthew Teller www.selfcateringitaly.co.uk
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Ticino's stylish lakeside villages offer activities to suit all tastes in the sunny southern foothills of the west Swiss Alps. Report by Matthew Teller

Switzerland's Italian speaking region of Ticino occupies the balmy, lake-laced southern foothills of the Alps. It's a little slice of paradise, quite different from the Germanic Alpine regions to the north and lake districts to the south, in Italy.

The place is bewitching, and away from the three main population centres of Bellinzona, Locarno and Lugano, you'll find a wealth of activities to get you outside.

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Ticino's food is more risotto, pasta and polenta than cheese fondue or potato rösti, and rather than a weekend in the mountains the Ticinese might go to a sunny lakeside village to eat long, sociable lunches under vine-shaded trellises and sample fine local wines.

Behind the stylish resort of Locarno, on the shores of Lake Maggiore, a network of wild valley systems stretches high into the Alpine wilderness. Trekking Team, one of Switzerland's leading adventure sports operators, offers a full programme of all kinds of activities, detailed in full on their website at www.trekking.ch. www.selfcateringitaly.co.uk - holiday villas Italian Lakes near Lugano. Ticino

Gorge yourself on thrills

Canyoning is a favourite, and there are dozens of locations to choose from, centred mainly in the Centovalli and Valle Maggia systems. The easiest and most accessible canyons in the Centovalli can be explored with the help of Trekking Team in half a day, costing from around £50 per person (including guides and full equipment). More experienced canyoners can tackle tougher, full-day routes further afield, for up to £85 per person.

You could also take advantage of combination deals for a halfday of canyoning rounded off with one of Ticino's bungee jumps, off the Intragna rail bridge (see panel) from £80.

Swissraft is another local firm running canyoning, at a relatively easy site at Cresciano, near Bellinzona, and also at Intragna in the Centovalli, from roughly £70 for a full day; details are at www.swissraft.ch.

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Ticino hosted the World Mountain Bike Championships in 2003, and remains a classic two-wheel summer destination. One of the most memorable routes is the stunning full-day ride from the top of the Gotthard Pass, at 2,108m above sea level, downhill all the way to the Ticinese capital, Bellinzona - a distance of around 50 kilometres, dropping almost 2,000m in altitude.

For a small fee, the website www.bike-gps.com lets you download detailed trail data and GPS co-ordinates for dozens of bike tours throughout Ticino.

But perhaps the best way to sample Ticino's great outdoors is by Shanks's pony. You'll find details of hiking and trekking paths long and short all around the region by checking out www.ticino.ch.

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Best foot forward

One of the best paths begins with the cable car from Rivera, north of Lugano, up to Alpe Foppa, a shelf of meadow located on a shoulder of the mighty Monte Tamaro. Just by the cable car top station, to one side of a restaurant and hiking information centre, is the spectacular new church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, designed by the contemporary Ticinese architect Mario Botta. From the belvedere, a crucifix faces out over a majestic view high above the valley of the River Ticino. Beside the church, a trail marker points along a dramatic, isolated ridge-top route westwards towards Monte Lema, on the Italian border, roughly four or five hours' walk away, with a cable car and bus route link back to Lugano.

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More classic walks can be found at Robiei, high in the mountains of the Valle Maggia, above Locarno, and in the lonesome Val Malvaglia off the high route towards the Lucomagno Pass, where slender mule tracks wind to and fro.

Many tour operators also offer trekking routes in Ticino. Eurotrek, for instance, has a fully supported five-day trek starting from Airolo, at the foot of Gotthard Pass in the north of Ticino, all the way to Morcote, a quiet village at the southern tip of the Ceresio peninsula on idyllic Lake Lugano. It costs from £220 per person, including accommodation in midrange hotels, baggage transfer and a route guide. www.eurotrek.ch. Matthew Teller is author of the Rough Guide to Switzerland (£13.99, www.roughguides.com)

For more information, see www.ticino.ch.

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Monte Generoso

Despite the munificent-sounding name, Monte Generoso is a brute of a mountain - steep, sharp, craggy and unforgiving.

It rises to 1,704m above sea level, plum between the idyllic lakes of Lugano on one side and Como on the other. Generoso's summit marks the Swiss-Italian border.

Ticino's only rack railway climbs from the Swiss side, from a lakeside village named Capolago (easily reached by train or boat from Lugano).

The tiny carriages crawl their way up impossible gradients, depositing you at the Vetta (summit) station.

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For the views alone, this trip is worth taking. It's a steep, puff-inducing, 10-minute walk up from the station to the summit itself, from where the panorama extends out over a sizeable chunk of northern Italy.

There's no higher point between here and the Apennines, and the vista takes in everything from Milan to the Matterhorn.

There's some spectacular paragliding to be done from up here and several airy mountain-bike trails from Bella Vista, a midway station on the railway line, including a steep run directly down to Capolago (17km) and a more leisurely route that passes by way of Mendrisio (22km).

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Several walking trails also head out from the summit station down into hidden Italian valleys, but one of the best can be walked as a full-day adventure through the tranquil Valle di Muggio, the last valley in Switzerland, tucked into a fold of the border.

Thickly wooded, with seemingly inaccessible hamlets clinging to the valley sides, Muggio is a lovely, rarely visited backwater.

The trail passes through Muggio village before emerging alongside Morbio Superiore, near the rail interchange of Chiasso. A return train ticket from Capolago to the summit is £15.

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Full details of what's on offer throughout the area, including walking trails and mountainbike routes, may be found at www.montegeneroso.ch.
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Bungee like Bond

Ticino is Switzerland's bungee HQ - where the first bungee jump on Swiss soil was done, back in 1993. It remains a choice spot, with some of the airiest and most scenically impressive jumps in Europe.

The location of that pioneering jump was Intragna, a peaceful mountain village in the Centovalli - a ravine-like valley system extending west of Locarno that is penetrated by a magnificent narrow-gauge train line across to the Italian rail hub of Domodossola.

It's worth taking the train for the stupendous views out over this forested landscape. At Intragna, the line is carried over the Isorno gorge by a graceful iron viaduct, 70m high, from the centre of which you can fling yourself out into space - attached to a bungee cord.

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But Ticino's headline act is the - literally - breathtaking jump from the Verzasca Dam, located in the hills northeast of Locarno. At 220m, this is the highest bungee jump in the world in regular commercial operation. Some higher jumps have been made, but only as one-off stunts.

The scene - a vast concrete wall, plunging to jagged rocks on the valley floor below - may be familiar to James Bond fans: 007 performed this leap in the opening sequence of GoldenEye.

Just walking out onto the dam is enough to induce sweaty palms. The howls and shrieks echoing up off the valley walls, as leapers experience seven full seconds of freefall at 125mph, will either stiffen your resolve - or turn it to jelly.

At Intragna the first jump costs £50; two jumps in a day cost £80.

Equivalents at the Verzasca Dam are £105 or £155. Jumping at both locations in a single day costs £140. Both operate from Easter to the end of October, and there is "full-moon jumping" from the Verzasca Dam on one night each month.

Full details are at www.trekking.ch.

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