February, 28 2020 ( Updated August, 20 2021)
Shrouded in a rich culture and endless lakeside beauty, it’s easy to see why the Ticino village of Morcote was voted the most beautiful Swiss village in 2016. Located 12.8km from Lugano and easily reached by car, bike or bus, there’s no excuse not to leave the city behind for the day and explore one of the most photographed villages in Switzerland!
A brief history of Morcote
With its origins dating back to the 10th century, when it was first recorded as ‘Murcau’, the village of Morcote provided a strategic location on Lake Lugano for trade between Northern Italy and the Swiss Canton of Ticino. This culminated in a castle being built around 1100, to protect and control trade on the lake. Until a dam was built in Melide (1847), Morcote had grown to become the largest port on Lake Lugano. Fishing, farming and shipping were to dominate the medieval-era industries of Morcote.
In 1422, the Duke of Milan granted the village special rights including tax, fishing, market and self-governance privileges. The Plague of 1432 almost spelt disaster, with only 7 families surviving. Morcote still provided a strategic settlement from which commerce could endure and flourish, and after a power struggle for Lombardy between Milan and Como, the region came under the control of the Old Swiss Confederation. Morcote was able to retain a wealth of privileges (including tax autonomy and exclusive fishing rights over the entire lake). As well as economic prosperity, the village also experienced a flourishing artistic renaissance, as a community of artists relocated there at the end of the Middle Ages. The parish church of Santa Maria del Sasso (originating from the 13th century) established its own self-sufficient parish in 1583. In 1862 disaster struck Morcote, when 7 houses slid into the lake. In the 19th century tourism became another major economy for Morcote, with wine production and handicrafts providing new commercial platforms throughout the late 20th – early 21st centuries. Today, Tourism still dominates this picturesque lake village. Read on to see why…
Discover an idyll of charm and romance
A place where you can truly leave the 'rat race' and trappings of modern life for the day, Morcote is a historical village that is famed for its endless natural beauty and charm. When you visit, you’ll see this Ticino beauty spot is more than just a pretty face; it is a resort village of two geographical halves. The first half of Morcote is characterized by a quaint lakeside frontage, lined with pretty flowering oleander trees, lake view cafes, gift shops and bobbing fishing boats. Along the lakeside, you’ll want to take your time and soak up the gentle pace. Walk under the shade of old pine trees and eye-catching arcades, which front the rows of picturesque merchant townhouses and regal landmark buildings, including the stucco-fronted ‘Palazzo Paleari’ and well-preserved ‘Torre del Capitano’ (Tower of the Captain), which today houses the Ticino Poster Museum. Just behind the scenic lake road, you’ll discover the atmospheric medieval heart of Morcote. Home to winding cobbled streets and meandering, ancient passageways you’ll easily want to get lost! Accompanying this endless charm, are also a host of must-see Morcote attractions...
The first Morcote attraction proudly offers a dreamlike showcase, of nature and design. Indeed, fans of world-class gardens can immerse themselves freely within the botanical and architectural splendour of Scherrer Park, easily whiling away a morning here. The ambitious transformation from a former rural house and stable block in 1930 to the paradise of today was the bold creation of St Gallen textile merchant, Hermann Arthur Scherrer. Left by wife Amalia to Morcote council in 1969 for the purpose of public enjoyment, visitors will enjoy taking a magical step into this timeless Eden. Adorned with exuberant world architectural styles, sub-tropical species and an exotic collection of cypresses, fragrant plants, flowering camellias, elegant palm trees and bamboo to name just a few, this unique garden attraction is not to be missed! The gardens also host artistic and cultural events throughout the year, so stay tuned on the local tourist site, for more information.
The second geographical half of Morcote hugs the lush slopes of Mount Arbostora. This elevated section is connected to the lakeshore by medieval passageways, secret cobbled streets and a scenic 400-step footpath, which offers a picturesque pilgrimage climb, past terracotta roof tops, various religious shrines and ecclesiastical structures (including the chapel of 'Sant’Antonio Abate', otherwise known as St Anthony the Abbot), to the scenic Church of ‘Santa Maria del Sasso’ (St Mary of the Rock). Rebuilt in 1462 and featuring 16-18th century frescoes, the church is a beautiful example of the Baroque and Renaissance style. The views from here are spellbinding and stretch far and wide, across Morcote village and the tranquil expanse of Lake Lugano, to the authentic, unspoilt Italian side.
Adjacent to the picturesque church, you will find the smaller octagonal-shaped Baroque chapel of ‘Sant’ Antonio do Padova’ (1676), which offers stucco and fresco work by local artists. The site is also home to a steep sloping cemetery, which displays local family memorials and tombstones of prominent global figures. The religious complex and tranquil lake view scenery promises a fascinating journey back in time, as well as the perfect moment for some escapism. Another local beauty spot is the ancient Morcote castle. Enveloped by the vineyard terraces of the celebrated local winery, the scenic walk up to this tranquil castle is more than worth it! The surrounding wine estate also provides a magical back drop for further sightseeing, romantic weddings and those all-important wine tasting experiences!