From Lugano, we took a day trip to Bellinzona. Bellinzona’s three medieval castles (Castelgrande, Castello di Montebello and Castello di Sasso Corbaro) and their fortifications are among the most important examples of medieval defensive architecture in the Alps. These fortifications are also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Living in Switzerland, we have castle fatigue. Poor us. We happily forego an opportunity to see castles if they aren’t great. My buddy Rick Steves’ has a list of Europe’s 10 best castles. I’ve been lucky enough to see a fair number of them and some others, like Windsor Castle, that didn’t make his list. You can’t swing a dead cat in Switzerland without hitting a castle or the ruins of one (sometimes they’re cooler than the ones still standing). As a UNESCO World Heritage site, Bellinzona’s castles were supposed to be pretty good and they were definitely worth the trip.
Castelgrande is Bellinzona’s oldest and largest castle. It overlooks the Old Town. They have built an ingenious elevator/stair system that allows to visitors access the castle from the rock underneath, from inside. It beats the old school method of scaling the walls. Castelgrande has a little museum with a cool video that documents Bellinzona’s history and the history of its castles.
The castles of Montebello and Sasso Cobaro are up the hill above the town. Although floods destroyed a large part of the medieval fortifications, large chunks of the immense wall remain. You can see them the photo above.
If you were to ask an eight year-old to draw a castle, they would draw Montebello. It looks like your stereotypical castle. We climbed the ramparts, posed on the drawbridge and enjoyed the wonderful views. Montebello’s interior buildings contain a museum with archaeological discoveries and artifacts from Bellinzona that date back to Roman times.
Montebello’s museum also had weaponry. I had to get a picture with the gun that was about my size. Who in the heck was large enough to fire this thing?
Magglio, the Luger and Sneaky Pete, got disbelieving looks and thumbs up from people when we told them we hiked up to Castello di Sasso Corbaro. It was a beautiful day and the views were even better. From there, you could easily see the mountain passes come together just north of Bellinzona and why it was so strategically important (click here for a panoramic view).
By the way, I wouldn’t have known to visit Bellinzona if it hadn’t been for a reader’s suggestion. Thanks! We welcome any travel suggestions.
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