Bellinzona is a historic Swiss town with castles that seem to have been revived from the fairy tales. The town of Bellinzona is the capital of the canton of Ticino in Switzerland. The three famous castles were declared as UNESCO WORLD Heritage Sites in 2000. The town is situated at the foot of Alps in the east of the river Ticino.
Bellinzona is full of rich historical buildings, old houses and courtyards. The town has beautiful churches and decorated patrician houses. Most of the architecture in the city is of Italian style. The town still has an Italian ambience to it with very friendly residents. There are numerous restaurants, cafes, boutiques and shops in the town for your travel, food and relaxation needs. The town is located near the wonderful resorts of Locarno and Ascona.
History of Bellinzona
The history of Bellinzona begins with Romans who build their first castle here in the first century. The castle became a fortress in the Middle Ages. Bellinzona became a Swiss Federation in 1516. Before that, it was a bone of contention between the Swiss and Dukes of Milan. The location of the town has always been important as it serves as a gateway to Italy for those who travel from the North. It is also a key location for those who want to go to the Alps from the South.
11 Tourist Attractions in Bellinzona
Castelgrande of Bellinzona
Castelgrande is undoubtedly one of the best castles in Europe with fantastic views. The castle was built in the 1st century by Romans. The castle has gone through several renovations between the 13th and the 16th century. The beautifully maintained castle now serves the same views since the 16th century. The castle also houses a museum where you can learn more about the history of Castelgrande and the Neolithic village. The museum also displays decorated ceilings of Albergo Della Cervia and Casa Ghiringhelli.
There is a working elevator to take you to the top of the castle, however the walk to the top is much more beautiful and fascinating. There is also a restaurant at the castle near the museum.
Castello di Montebello
Another wonderful castle in Bellinzona is Castello di Montebello. This castle is higher than Castelgrande and is partially surrounded by vineyards. The castle was built and occupied by the Rusconi family. It was acquired by the Ghiringhelli family in the 18th century. The castle was modified to become a museum in 1974. The museum exhibits a rare 13th century Baptismal font. The museum also displays a collection of military and ceremonial objects.
There is also a chapel in the castle which is dedicated to Saint Michael. The chapel was built in the 17th century. Because this castle is higher, the views are better than the Castelgrande. You can see up to the Lake Maggiore. Best way is to reach the castle by foot from Piazza Collegiata while enjoying the fresh air and the beautiful views.
Castello Sasso Corbaro
Castello Sasso Corbaro is the only castle from the three which is not connected to the walls of the town. This castle is the highest castle out of three hence the views are even better. The castle was built in 1479 within six months. The castle is around 230 meters above the beautiful town of Bellinzona, perched atop a rocky terrain. The castle was occupied by three different families and was finally retuned to the state when it was turning to ruins. The castle was superbly renovated, and it survived.
There is a mini train that can take you to the castle. The area between parking and castle serves as a beautiful picnic spot. There is another museum in this castle as well which exhibits the history of the castle and some interesting objects. This castle like other two, is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Trenino Artu of Bellinzona
This is a wonderful train service that offers a combined tour of the three famous castles. The train can carry 36 people and takes 1 hour for the tour of all three attractions. The tickets are available at the Ticino Turismo. The tour starts from the historic center and takes a 15-minute stop at each castle. Tourists love this ride because of the presentation, environment and the scenic views from the train up to the castles. This is one of the favorite attractions for the kids who visit Bellinzona.
Palazzo Civico di Bellinzona
The town hall plan was developed between 1921 and 1923 by architect Enea Tallone. The old town hall building that dated back to the 14th century was demolished in 1924 and the construction of the new town hall started. The inauguration ceremony was held in 1929, three years after the construction completed. The entrance of the palace is beautifully arcaded which takes you back to the age of Renaissance buildings. The wooden roofs and narrow windows create a wonderful medieval feeling. The Palace also reflects Haematstil architectural style which is a Swiss-Italian patriotic construction style.
Cheisa Collegiata dei Santi Peitro, Paolo e Stefano
This is an ancient church in Bellinzona which belongs to the Parish of Ticino. The church is famous for the beautiful artwork inside it. One of the main attractions is the artwork of Fontana Trivulzio, an aquatic plant which dates to 1465. A triangular Tympanum consisting of three statues representing the Madonna and two angles is also a fascinating part of the church. You will be stunned by the wonderful sculptures of David and Solomon. The church displays a variety of fresco and decorations.
Other attractions in the church include the phoenix, rising from the ashes and a pelican feeding its little ones. There are also wonderful sculptures of Saint San Stefano and San Lorenzo.
San Bernardino Pass
San Bernardino pass connects two beautiful Alpine valleys i.e. Hinterrhein and Mesolcina and is one of the most spectacular high altitude passes in Switzerland. The pass is located between Bellinzona and Thusis. Initially the route connected Thusis and Splugen in 15th century and was known as Via Mala. A road was built in the 18th century. Kingdom of Sardinia also took interest in the development of this route and between 1821 to 1823 the road was highly developed to improve the trade routes.
The San Bernandino road tunnel was completed in 1967 to facilitate the traffic and the pass was shutoff for the winter seasons. The pass is only opened from May to November and is one of the best scenic routes in Switzerland. Heavy traffic is not allowed through this pass and hence this is a superb tourist attraction for the visitors especially who want to cycle on the pass with the amazing views of the lush green valleys along the road. You can reach to the top of the mountain and can enjoy breathtaking views of the Alps and valleys of Switzerland.
Verzasca Dam | James Bond Attraction
The Verzasca Dam is a wonderful structure that is built in the Verzasca valley very near to Bellinzona and the town of Locarno. The whole area around the dam is popular for hiking, trekking and mountain biking. The bungee jumping spot at the Verzasca Dam is the most famous tourist spot in this area. It got its huge fame from the 2002 James bond movie “Golden Eye”. The opening scene of the movie has a bungee jumping scene from this same spot. The stunt was awarded as the best stunt ever in a poll by the Sky movies channel in 2002. The area has several sports attractions surrounded in the picturesque green environment.
The Verzasca river is also a famous tourist attraction spot for nature lovers and for families who love to picnic. The beautiful emerald green river flows actively and wobbling through the rocky cliffs. If you are an adventure lover or a James Bond fan, this valley is a must visit for you.
Per Bacco Festival
Per Bacco is a fascinating annual wine making festival of Bellinzona. The festival is mostly scheduled between the 31st of August till 3rd of September for four days. During the festival the streets are filled up with crowds of people enjoying the best wine tasting experience along with the live musical concerts. Visitors can witness the centuries old Swiss and Italian traditional wine making processes. This is a rare festival and should not be missed if you are here in these dates.
Teatro Sociale of Bellinzona
This is the only 19th century theatre in Switzerland and is famous for hosting some of the best internationally acclaimed musical concerts and shows. This Neo-Classical structure was designed by Von Mentlen. It has a similar construction style to La Scala theater of Milan. You will love the amazing shows in the wonderful grand ambience.
Valleys near Bellinzona
If you are planning to visit Bellinzona, I would recommend at least a 3-days stay which will also include your visit to the nearby valleys in canton of Ticino. Like the Verzasca valley, its river and dam, there are some other wonderful valleys enveloped in lush greenery and panoramic views, only a few miles away from Bellinzona. The region is very famous for sports and adventurous events. The valleys of Centovalli and Valli Maggia are famous for Canyoning adventures. The world mountain bike championship was also held in Ticino canton in 2003. There are many tour operators who can provide you with a huge variety of adventure activities in the region.