Descending the Mountaintops into Lago di Lugano

We're coming into the next phase of our trip which is the "vacation" part, compared to the exploration part we've just spent two and a half weeks immersed in. It's been an interesting emotional roller coaster because we've literally be on this adrenaline rush, hyped up on endorphines non-stop since we landed in London 20 days ago. There have been so many exciting things to see and do! The trip began with a running start as soon as our wheels touched the ground-- one we had long planned and prepared for-- and seven weeks in Europe sounded like a fantasy come true. And it was. And it has been. But the so-called "valley" we're in right now is a unique sensation because suddenly our exploration and morning-to-night go-go-go mentality has temporarily ceased-- on purpose.

We built in these stretches of slow-going and rest because they were absolutely necessary. You just can't keep up a whirlwind pace of adapting to new cultures, homes, hostels, food, signs, maps, roads, currency, sights, tours and more for 47 days straight. Breaks are critical. However, going so fast and long for 18 days and suddenly stopping-- like hitting a wall-- has been something our bodies are struggling to work through. In the Italian Lakes District nonetheless. "What should we see or do today?" Oh yeah, nothing. "You mean I get to read this entire book for five hours if I want?" Yup. "We can wake up at 10am for breakfast?" Yup. "We can have dinner at 9pm and get home at 1am?" You guessed it. Does it sound heavenly? Probably so, but it's definitely taken some getting used to. 

When we decided to cut our trip short in Gimmelwald, I quickly jumped on Google Maps to see where our route to Lake Como (an airbnb we had booked months previous) would take us by. We had no idea where to stay instead of Gimmelwald, only that we needed to stay someplace else. Since the Alps are very popular in the summer months, all of the rooms were fully booked in neighboring villages, which meant we'd have to find someplace else on the way to Lake Como, which we had reservations for a few days later. Google Maps showed our route as primarily being barren and through the mountains, but we would eventually pass by an area called "Lugano." I had only heard of Lugano through my research for this trip, but decided against it originally because it is technically in Switzerland and not Italy. And besides, the world knows Lake Como through George Clooney's romantic Italian villa, so that was where I wanted to go. 

I consulted my trusty travel website "TripAdvisor" to research hotels and things to do in Lugano, and came across a highly rated and budget-friendly hotel called Hotel Moosmann, in a car-free town next to Lugano called Gandria. The reviews all said the same thing, "Basic rooms, amazing staff, incredible views. Get a lake-front room and you won't be disappointed." Timothy and I decided that hotel sounded perfect for two nights before Lake Como, and emailed the hotel to which we received a prompt reply back, "We would love to have you. See you tomorrow." 

The drive from Gimmelwald to Lugano was nothing short of spectacular. We climbed the Swiss Alps higher and with more windy roads than any elevation I've driven before, and went through tunnels upon tunnels upon tunnels in the middle of the mountains. These tunnels are by far some of the most efficient inventions the Swiss have come up with in such a mountainous and hostile terrain. You can easily get from one side of Switzerland-- through the Alps, nonetheless-- to the other side in four to five hours. The most interesting part of the drive, aside from the 7,000 foot elevation we climbed and then descended for over an hour, was the looooooooooonnnnnnggggggg tunnels we were in. The average length of the tunnels we drove in was 5km, which is about 3 miles. The longest one we drove was 16km, which was about 9 miles-- the length of Newberg to Sherwood (or some other city comparison of the same length). That was a very weird sensation to be in a tunnel for nearly 20 minutes! (We also could drive no more than 60km/h through those tunnels so the time in them dragged out even longer.)








When we finally arrived in Lugano, it was nothing short of paradise. I've never been to Thailand but from the pictures I've seen with the lagoons, steep forest-covered hills and sticky humidity, Lugano felt so ethereally similar. Our hotel (Hotel Moosmann) was exactly as the TripAdvisors had described it: Family-run, basic rooms, incredible views. Aside from having a balcony room on a cruise ship, I've never stayed any place like that hotel. Apparently it's been in business for over 20 years, but has been run by the exact same staff (the Moosmanns) the entire time. They keep their furnishings immaculate, run the place so efficiently, and even have a location adjacent to their hotel for guests to swim in the lake on floaties, shower off, and then lay out on chaise lounge chairs. The owners serve as check-in personnel, breakfast attendants, dining room managers and even find time to take a dip in the lake themselves. We never saw them resting and always saw them working. It made it very worthwhile to support their local business, especially since they had such a beautiful location for our two days. 

The weird feelings set in emotionally when we realized we had absolutely nothing to see or do (on purpose) and literally the only things to do were to relax. Training your brain to do that when it's been constantly engaged and working hard takes some time to adjust-- especially in a foreign country. Looking ahead at our next two weeks is like, "Wow. Two weeks of relaxation sounds absolutely perfect and overwhelming at the same time." Sure, there are plenty of things we can see and do, but that was not the point of this phase of the trip. We definitely need to slow down (and so does our budget!!) and Italy is the perfect place to do that. 

We spent two days in Lugano laying out, reading, wandering the alley streets to discover hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurants, and not being disappointed once about our decision to leave Gimmelwald. Other than the fact that this hotel did not have AC either and was insanely hot (we would be soaked with sweat after being at lunch or dinner for less than an hour), I wouldn't change a thing and highly recommend a visit. Maybe just not at the end of July. ;) 

Another highlight was a restaurant we discovered on our last night in Lugano called Ristorante le Bucce di Gandria. It was raved about with exceptional reviews on TripAdvisor, but was only open a limited number of days and hours during the week. If you could get a reservation, you were lucky. Unfortunately I discovered this place at night when the owners of our hotel had already gone to sleep, so I couldn't get their help in securing a reservation and the only night they would be open was our last night in town. This restaurant didn't even have a website-- only a Facebook page-- and did not answer their telephone when I tried to call. So, I took my last chance and sent them a message through their Facebook page to see if we could get a reservation for our final night. No word... until 3am when my phone's Facebook Messenger app went off letting me know that they would be happy to have us for dinner and could confirm a reservation on the terrace for 8pm. Score!

The restaurant required us to walk up many, many flights of stairs from the village, taking in breathtaking views of Lake Lugano as we did so. When we entered the restaurant, the owner ran out from the kitchen and said cheerfully, "Are you Megan?" When I said yes, he excitedly led us to a beautiful table on the patio, brought us menus in complete Italian, and asked us if we needed any help with translation. We said we would attempt to try it ourselves, and while our Google Translate apps helped with a few words we didn't know, we were able to identify the courses we wanted without any assistance. Megan and Timothy 1, language barriers 0. 

Timothy and I ordered one course from each part of the menu (Italian menus are usually are broken into Appetizers, "Primi" [usually a pasta dish or risotto] and "Secondi" [which is typically a meat or fish dish], followed by "Dolci," -- dessert. :) Our first dish was a traditional Florentine soup with tomatoes, dried bread, seasonings and more. It was SO incredible. It is called Pappa al Pomodoro and was the best soup I have ever had in my entire life. After that we had a pesto risotto (not actually risotto, more like barley and farro but still very good), and then finally we had a pork loin with peas which was cooked to perfection. We ate for nearly three hours, and had the chef who cooked our dishes come out to deliver them each time. At the end of our meal, the chef came out to ask for feedback on the meal-- what did we like, what did we not care for, etc. and beamed with delight as we sung compliments to her for the entire experience. Unfortunately we did not get to try dessert as they were mostly out of the good stuff and since it has been so hot, the Semifreddo we REALLY wanted to try wasn't yet "Semi-freddoed" and needed another night in the freezer. That was okay, because we were full and relaxed and happy and knew that we would never forget this special restaurant. 

As we departed for the evening, the three staff members (only three own, run and manage the place-- the server and the two chefs) came out from the kitchen to shake our hands and sincerely thanked us for coming in. Literally. The best restaurant I have ever eaten in. If your travels ever bring you to Lugano, please stay at Hotel Moosmann to support their sweet family, and dine at least once at Ristorante le Bucce di Gandria. 

We lazily woke up the next morning after eating until 11pm, and since the hotel serves free breakfast on the lake until 11am for the late-risers like us, we were able to meander our way through the morning until we had to check out at noon. It was a perfect way to spend two nights and kick off our "relaxation phase" of our trip, and also learn what it means to slooooooowwww down and stop feeling like we have someplace to be, something to see or something to do.

We are, after all, on vacation. 

Literal views from our balcony. So tranquil. 

Picture-perfect!


The first restaurant we ate at, Ristorante Antico. Very good pasta!

Sunset views on the lake

I forgot the name of this restaurant, and while it had good food, we were SO HOT that we lost our appetite. 

Relaxing by the lakeside

Doesn't get much better than this!

A crazy, freak monsoon-like storm that engulfed our hotel for about an hour, later on that afternoon

The tiny streets and alleys of Gandria

The view from Ristorante le Bucce di Gandria

Course #1: Pappas alla Pomodoro. Delish. 

Complimentary breakfast by the lake each morning

Now, to do some laundry and read a book for a few hours. A luxury that is not lost on us. 

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