Roam Guide / Lugano, Switzerland - Chamonix, France
Christina Sandok is an entrepreneur, world traveler and modern hippie at heart. She is the founder of Style-Architects, a content creation & public relations agency and Style-Architects Weddings + Events, an event planning company. She was named "Business Owner of the Year Under the Age of 40" by the National Association of Women Business Owners. After building and selling both businesses, she completed a Functional Nutrition program and now spends her time cooking and plotting her next career move. Christina lives in Edina with her 4-year-old daughter (Amelia), husband (Craig) and their English Golden Retriever puppy (Basil).
Lugano, Switzerland to Chamonix, France
Lugano, Switzerland sits on the north shore of glacial Lake Lugano and is enveloped by the mountains that border northern Italy. The quaint city offers an off the grid glimpse into the fresh lifestyle and mediterranean culture of the area and is a quieter alternative to nearby Lake Como. Just beyond Lake Lugano you’ll find the extraordinary ski resorts of the French alps.
When to go?
Anytime is a good time to visit. There truly is something for everyone in each season, but if you are a skiing enthusiast of any kind you really must visit in the winter. We went at the end of December to visit family in Lugano then traveled as a group to Chamonix, France to ski Mont Blanc. The winter weather was beautiful and we enjoyed a comfortable mid- 30s to low 40s during the day.
How to get there?
We flew into Milan. Which I found pretty industrial, so it was fine not to have planned much time in the city. My uncle picked us up for the two- hour drive to Lugano. We rented a car when we arrived so that we had the ability to explore on our own. We deliberately booked one-way tickets so we could fly out of Geneva on our return. It is only an hour drive from Chamonix, our final destination, and it gave us the opportunity to explore another beautiful city for a few days. That said, if you were to follow this itinerary you can certainly make it easier and fly round-trip out of Milan, Geneva, or even Zurich.
Where did you stay?
In Lugano, we rented a spacious apartment overlooking the lake. Hotels in the area are expensive so home rentals are a great option. If you prefer a hotel, The Hotel Lugano Dante Center is beautiful and centrally located. The whole area is really safe and walkable and the people speak both English and Italian. For a more lux stay, outside of the city center, take a look at Villa Castagnola.
In Chamonix, we stayed at Les Rives d'Argentière in a six bedroom chalet. An exceptional property with panoramic views. A big splurge, but great for multiple families. The home included a personal concierge who arranged ski passes, lessons, spa services and dinner reservations for our group. We were also assigned a driver who got our ski equipment ready each day, warmed our boots and drove us to and from the ski hill. He even brought us our coffee each morning - it was delightful. Skiing in a foreign country, especially if you do not know the language, can be overwhelming. Having someone to communicate on your behalf, and get you where you need to be is huge relief. Our chalet shared a chef with a few other properties. He asked for preferences/allergies prior to us arriving and gave us the meal plan for the week. While there were no kids menu options, he was very accommodating and the food was tasty.
If you are looking for a truly relaxing European vacation, consider accommodations that take the stress out of the logistics.
What should we do?
My uncle lives here so it was a great opportunity to hunker down and live like a local. It’s an adorable small town on Lake Lugano, wrapped beneath the mountains so no matter where you go you are rewarded by gorgeous views. It’s easy to immerse yourself in this friendly and charming city. I suggest you grab a Cioccolata Densa (thick Italian Hot Chocolate) from Munger or Vanini, and walk the to the lake taking in the breathtaking view of the valley. On Tuesday and Fridays check out the Farmer’s Market in the city centre where you can browse local cheese and breads, smoked fish and preserves. If you are visiting in the winter don’t miss the Christmas market, when the old town is jammed with festive stalls filled with holiday knickknacks and sweets.
I also recommend you take an afternoon to visit the quaint town of Bellinzona, an easy 1/2 hour trip by car or train. Here you can tour the three Medieval Castles of Bellinzona, a UNESCO World heritage site and a stunning example of the countries medieval past. Take a short walk up the steps of the main castle, Castelegrande and take in the view of the Ticino region. If you are traveling to Bellinzona on a Saturday be sure to set aside a few additional hours to stroll through the market.
Rtip: If weather permits, take a hike up Monte San Salvatore. The trailhead is easily accessed from the city center and the view of Lake Laguano and the Alps makes climbing the steep trail worth every step. If you aren’t in the mood for a hike you can take the funicular up and down the mountain for the views and a drink.
First of all, this is the cutest little stinkin’ ski town — idyllic and untouched, classic France combined with Swiss culture. We skied Mont Blanc, primarily Argentière while Amelia took ski school at the Panda Club — which is entirely french speaking but didn’t keep her from enjoying her time on the slopes. Prior to us arriving it snowed about 43 inches so the conditions were ideal, some would say ridiculous. For lunch we stayed at the mountain and ate at Accueil (the french word for home), the food and wine were fantastic and the atmosphere was cozy, this is also a hotel in an exceptional setting. At night we would head back to our chalet to eat dinner, play board games and relax with family. We did however find time to go into town to eat and shop. I can’t say enough about this charming , authentic European town- you can linger there for hours and we did.
“We are generally homebodies so we like to be cozy ‘at home’ on our travels too. We want to feel that balance of normal, drink wine, start a fire, put on cozy socks and pretend we live there.”
We ended our trip with a few days in Geneva where there is a really clean, lux Swiss feel. We just spent our days window shopping high-end retailers and walking the city. It was so easy to get around on the train system.
What should we eat?
In Lugano, and Europe in general, they really take time to make and enjoy food. We ate together at home most evenings, one exception being Principe Leopoldo. Truly the nicest restaurant I have ever been to. We were not dressed correctly for the occasion, having just been touring the castles but no-one seemed to mind. A truly incredible and memorable 3-hours of food and wine pairings in a stunning dining room with sweeping views. The restaurant is in a hotel which is breathtaking, but not priced for the faint of heart.
Another more casual restaurant that came highly recommended is Bottegone del Vino, a hidden gem right next to the city center. The menu varies, the desserts are fantastic and the service is wonderful. Or stop at another local favorite, Grotto del Pep and try their delicious Swiss Barbecue.
In Chamonix, we mostly ate on the mountain for lunch and back at the Chalet with family for dinner. However, there were a handful of times when we toured the town and ate out. I enjoyed a cappuccino and croissant at Moody Coffee Roasters. We also had a magnificent lunch at Josephine —this place is so adorable and cozy we lingered for hours. The views of the mountain coupled with the charm of the French village is a sight to see. Another must eat is Cool Cats outdoor bar and terrace. They offer upscale hot dogs from local butchers, decadent frites and a fantastic Vin Chaud (seasonal). You pick your specialty sausage, local bread and your toppings. Hot dog cheers.
What should we drink?
When the thermometer drops, tuck inside a cafe to sip Cioccolata Densa (hot chocolate) in Italy or a Vin Chaud (mulled wine) if you’re in France.
Rtip: Nostrano Rosso is a red wine typical of this region. Order it if you see it.
Tell us something we don’t know?
The Swiss are efficient and conscientious about recycling. They also build time into their schedules for buying and preparing fresh ingredients to eliminate unneeded packaging. Their commitment to reducing waste is pretty incredible, and Switzerland is considered one of the best countries in the world when it comes to environmental advocacy.
“The garbage receptacles are the size of a shoebox, and because they mainly buy fresh produce, they only need a dorm size refrigerator”
What should we bring with us?
I always carry a massive water jug — the biggest hydro-flask you can buy — to share with Amelia when we travel. And while I don’t normally allow my daughter to indulge in multiple chocolate croissants — I literally wrote an article for Prescribe Nutrition about healthy travel with kids — on this trip, I found balance by bringing a Bento Box and filling it with fresh veggies, cheese, olives and other protein options to make sure she was getting the nutrients she needed and staying healthy on vacation. For myself, I always take a scarf to wrap up in on the plane and use when the temperature drops. Other essentials include a great neutral bag, sunglasses and a moisturizer to help combat dry skin in the cold mountain air.
Click here to see everywhere Christina suggests you put in your Alps itinerary.