One of the nicest nearby places to visit from Lugano is the small lakefront village of Morcote. If staying in Lugano this convenient day-trip destination can be reached in a 30-minute bus ride, or better yet, take the 45-minute scenic ferry ride on Lake Lugano, then after a leisurely visit return to Lugano on the bus.
Watch short video about Morcote.
Morcote is a lovely lakeshore village, made especially attractive by its arcades, called portici, along the waterfront sheltering restaurants and rows of shops. The village is charming and quite small, with a population less than 1000 people living in just one square-mile. It's an independent municipality with close ties to Lugano.
It is no surprise that when you get inland a block you run into narrow pedestrian lanes with the beautiful pebble paving. The presence of numerous architectural monuments in the area, the beauty of the old town center, the lake and the luxuriant Mediterranean vegetation are all unique features, which make Morcote a worthwhile destination. Tourism in Morcote is a very important resource for the municipality's economy.
The following information is provided on the Official Tourist Information website.
Today Morcote is a renowned tourism destination, amongst the most visited in Ticino for its characteristic alleys, the archways of the ancient noblemen’s houses and architectural gems such as the Church of Saint Maria del Sasso, a Renaissance-Baroque lodestone overlooking the village and home to valuable works of art. Another must-see stop if you want to revel in a breathtaking view is the monumental 404 steps winding their way from the cemetery to the view terrace.
The Lungolago di Morcote is the ideal place to stroll and relax in the sun, have an aperitif, dine by candlelight or browse the windows of the characteristic shops. It is the starting point for visiting the village and getting lost in the narrow streets.
The “Portici” – arches – of morcotesian houses, are considered among the most beautiful in the Ticino. They were built along the lakeshore between 1300 and 1500 and decorated using medieval columns and masonry from the abandoned homes of the original Romanic village.
They represented a public agora, a river promenade and the lake port; the locals met during civil and religious ceremonies, as well as during artistic events. Below the archways, even in the past, you had emporiums selling local products from the lake, fields, and forests; it was also a beloved spot for fishermen to gather, as they would set their nets out and mend any tears in them.
With its characteristic narrow streets, architectural monuments of great value and lush subtropical vegetation, Morcote is a village with an ancient charm in which it is easy to get lost. You can come across the ancient arcades, slip between one house and another and discover the ancient village.
Narrow and small streets wind among the ancient houses climbing with steep steps along the mountain side. Following the ancient cobbled streets here and there you find yourself in a small square, a vegetable garden, a fountain: at every step you catch a new suggestive glimpse. A unique and rewarding experience that offers images that will remain etched in the memory.
The 15 meters tall tower is one of the few examples of medieval architecture left in our village and dates to 1249. It was the stronghold’s second outpost, together with the small keep on the lakeshore, and had a garrison of five men. The upper part was demolished in 1767 because it was at risk of crumbling. It originally featured three rooms: the guardhouse on the ground floor, the commander’s office on the first floor, and the observation post with embrasures and loopholes on the top floor.
From 1845 to 1934 the tower's ground floor was occupied by the municipal police, the first floor was the office of the head of the military department, while the last floor was the municipal school for women until 1861, replaced by the Municipality until 1934. The tower’s facade faces the lake and looks out onto the street; above an arched door, there once was a large Cinquecento fresco spanning the entire breadth of the building.
In addition to being a beautiful village to explore, Morcote does have an added super-attraction, a very special “Garden of Wonders” on the hillside, Scherrer Park, just a stone’s throw away from the village center. This lush terraced park was created by Arturo Scherrer, a textile trader, passionate traveler and lover of art and culture.
The park-monument houses a rich collection of art objects from various countries and different eras, surrounded by lush vegetation and reduced-scale famous buildings in the Baroque, Rococò and Art Nouveau styles, and works of art of various kinds from all over the world.
You will stroll through an impressive world of subtropical flora including palms, camellias, wisteria, oleanders, cedars, cypresses, camphor, eucalyptus, magnolias, azaleas, oranges, lemons, bamboos and many species of plants fragrant floriferous.
The park was left to the municipality of Morcote by the widow Scherrer in 1965, with the explicit desire to open it to the public and is maintained as it was originally conceived by the Scherrer family, with further embellishments.
At the entrance, visitors are greeted by an ornamental Venetian fountain accompanied by a Byzantine lion perched on a Renaissance column. On either side of the steps that lead up into the park, two Baroque lions in white Carrara marble, flanked by azaleas, point the way. Passing lions, nymphs and fauns, visitors arrive at an avenue where they can admire the statues that represent the four seasons in a setting of azaleas and camellias; nearby a large cedar of Lebanon completes the magnificent picture.
Visitors then come to the grandiose Renaissance fountain in Carrara marble near the columns of a belvedere. We subsequently find the panoramic terrace where two sphinxes sit atop the entrance columns. From this spot visitors can enjoy a superb, almost Leonardesque view over the lake, Porto Ceresio and the hills of the Varese area. Statues of Venus, Juno and Jove stand guard amidst the azalea bushes. At the end of the avenue a thirteenth-century amphora appears, formerly used to store oil.
Turning to the mountain, we can see the Erechtheion, the second biggest temple in the Acropolis in Athens, reproduced in 1:4 scale in Vicenza stone and supported by magnificent caryatids. Above appears the Temple of the Sun, a Spanish-style structure, naturally in miniature. The garden that hosts it recalls the style of the famous Alhambra gardens in Granada, embellished by two Baroque-style fountains in natural Verona stone surrounded by low yew hedges.
Two statues dominate the park from above: one represents Mercury, the god of trade, the other a weaver, both symbols of Mr Scherrer’s profession. We continue towards the Siamese-style tea house, which evokes the mysteries of the Orient.
Passing through a bamboo grove, we reach the Egyptian temple of Nefertiti, watched over by two divinities: the lion’s head of Sekhmet and the falcon’s head of Horus, son of Osiris. The interior, together with the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti, are true copies of the originals found in Berlin, dating back to the era of Amenhotep in around 1375 B.C. The walls are painted in the ancient Egyptian style. The temple also houses the funerary urns of Mr and Mrs Scherrer. Set slightly apart and perfectly enveloped in a small oasis, we find the Arab house, which is the last of Mr Scherrer’s reconstructions.
Statues of Nubian slaves surrounded by lush vegetation line the steps leading down to the terrace of the Indian palace, modelled on Palazzo Salò in Brugine near Padua. Inside, just like in real Indian palaces, the walls are painted in the Moghul style. There is a bubbling basin in the garden, watched over by four elephants with their trunks raised, with three cobras ready to attack above them and the sacred cow of Mysore at the very top. On the left is a small pond with waterlilies, and next to it is a Chinese tortoise, which symbolises longevity.
Upon leaving the park, visitors can admire a typical fourteenth-century house in the Lombard/Ticino style, now used as a restaurant-grotto. This is a faithful reconstruction that Mr Scherrer wanted to include as a demonstration of his love of Ticino. it was reconstructed in 1930 with stones and materials sourced from an ancient dwelling in the Sassello district of Lugano, which was completely demolished to make way for the current buildings. The rooms, built around a courtyard with a well for the collection of rainwater, were embellished with a loggia and arcade on the top floor. The exceptional botanical setting of this “Garden of Wonders” is also characterized by more than fifty plant varieties, labelled with their scientific name.
Some of this information is from "Morcote The Pearl of Ceresio" by Adriano Antonini – Carlo Meazza, Macchione edition.