Mon August 22 12:43 AM
Category: Switzerland
Bellinzona Switzerland
By: Eric Starling
Castelgrande, Bellinzona, Switzerland

August 21, 2011 - Bellinzona Switzerland

Arrival into Switzerland was one of the most stressful parts of the entire drive through Europe. The tiny road that hugged the cliffs of Lake Lugano on the Italian side of the lake were the smallest I have ever driven on, and if I wasn't narrowly missing the rock wall on one side I was narrowly missing oncoming cars on the other. As per most of the borders we crossed we emerged from a tunnel and drove into Switzerland where we finally saw some borders guards, they were standing around not paying any attention to the traffic going either way. Once into Switzerland we were officially in country number 5 on this European adventure.

The 3 castles of Bellinzona, Switzerland
The 3 castles of Bellinzona

As usual we didn't have enough time to stop in Lugano which is one of those cities that has an interesting blend of Italian and Swiss heritage and both cultures compete for influence in the town. Lugano is nestled in a beautiful location being surrounded by mountains and set on a large alpine lake that could take days to explore. We immediately headed north up the valley to the triple castle town of Bellinzona. A tip for anyone travelling through Switzerland by car, to drive on the main highways you require an Autostrada Pass which costs 40 Swiss francs. We did not get this pass right away and thus had to drive the side roads to ensure we would not get fined. You can buy these passes at the border, in post offices and gas stations. The Swiss are sticklers for rules and will punish you with heavy fines if your caught driving without this pass so its well worth getting it in advance.

Bellinzona Old Town, Switzerland
Bellinzona Old Town
Castelgrande, Bellinzona, Switzerland
Castelgrande, Bellinzona
Bellinzona Old Town Walls, Switzerland
Bellinzona Old Town Walls
Bellinzona Town
Bellinzona Town

We started Switzerland off staying in the historically rich town of Bellinzona. This town boasts 3 castles that at one time formed a barrier across the entire Ticino valley. This string of fortifications was built to exact tolls from anyone wishing to pass unmolested and to form an obstacle against confederate Swiss armies. Most of the building activity of these pieces of history were undertaken by the Duke of Milan in the 15th century. The town was the site of many battles and was a strategic spot to gauge who had more control over the larger surrounding region, several key alpine passes meet in the area around Bellinzona making it a key trading centre. If you held Bellinzona you controlled trade and thus power. All 3 castles survive to this day and these 3 fortresses are among the finest example of medieval fortifications in the alpine region. Also, unlike everything else in this expensive country, all 3 castles are free to visit! You only need to pay to go inside a separate museum in each castle, the walls, gates, courtyards and ramparts are all free access.

Castelgrande, Bellinzona, Switzerland
Castelgrande

The main castle is 50 metres above the town and is called Castelgrande (great name). The site on which it stands has evidence of being inhabited since neolithic times (5500-5000 BC). The Romans also built a fort on this chunk of rock realizing the strategic aspect of controlling the trade through this valley and it shows evidence of dating from around the 4th century AD. The current castle has seen a number of restorations with the main structure being started in the 13th century, enlarged between 1473-86 and then restored in the 17th and 19th centuries. There is also a large portion of an original wall that extends down into the town centre that is a great spot to stroll and view all 3 castles. Access to the castle can be either by the old cobblestone pathway or through an elevator cut into the base of the rock.

Castelgrande, Bellionzona, Switzerland
Castelgrande
Castelgrande, Bellionzona, Switzerland
Castelgrande
Castelgrande, Bellionzona, Switzerland
Castelgrande
Castello di Montebello, Bellinzona Switzerland
Castello di Montebello

The second castle is 90 metres above the town and is called Castello di Montebello. This castle was constructed in the 13th and 14th centuries and has also been restored several times. The defensive walls of the old town originate here still survive in sections running down into the town. The view from this castle is stunning with a full look over the valley and a perfect panorama look at Castelgrande. Access to the castle is from a stairway off Piazza Collegiata in the old town.

Castello di Montebello Backflip
Castello di Montebello Backflip
Castello di Montebello and Bellinzona Old Town
Castello di Montebello and Bellinzona Old Town
Castello di Montebello
Castello di Montebello
Castello di Sasso Corbaro, Bellinzona Switzerland
Castello di Sasso Corbaro

The third castle in this remarkable town is 230 metres above the town and is called Castello di Sasso Corbaro. This castle was designed and built in 6 months in the year of 1479 by an extremely skilled military engineer named Benedetto Ferrini of Florence. Its dominant position over the Ticino valley gave even more added protection to this string of fortifications. From the almost 5 metre thick walls you can see Lago Maggiore to the south. Access to the castle is on the same path to Castello di Montebello through a wooded area of the hillside.

Castello di Sasso Corbaro
Castello di Sasso Corbaro
Bellinzona Defensive Walls
Bellinzona Defensive Walls
Bellinzona Defensive Walls
Bellinzona Defensive Walls

This could be one of the more amazing towns we have ever visited and a must do if you are ever in the south of Switzerland.

Castelgrande and Long Defensive Wall, Bellinzona, Switzerland
Castelgrande and Long Defensive Wall