We Had Fun Storming Bellinzona’s Castles

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.

Wear whatever you want, but I’d imagine that it is hard to climb the ramparts in these bad boys.

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).

 

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I Apologized for Saying Merci Beaucoup (Thank You)

It is sometimes difficult to explain the relationship between the Flemish speaking and the French speaking parts of Belgium to other Americans. Heck, I’m not sure I understand it and I have been trying to for decades now.
While I was in Belgium, we went to see the ruins of an amazing castle. It was both interesting and beautiful. If you want to read more about it, here is the link: http://www.montaigle.be/  Since it is in French, here is another link to see information about the ruins (this time in English) medieval-castle-ruins-of-montaigle.

I wanted a picture of all of us with the castle behind us and asked a passer-by exiting the castle if they could please take our picture (in French). They did so and I thanked them. When they found out I spoke English they switched to it immediately and so did I.  This is because they were from the north of Belgium and Flemish is their mother tongue.* They made it clear that they preferred English to French.

When they left, I reflexively said “merci beaucoup” without thinking and then, immediately apologized for having spoken in French. To make reparations, I attempted a “dank u”.

*I have always been advised when meeting Belgians who speak Flemish to speak English not French (one of their country’s languages and mandatory in school from an early age). I was told that they could feel slighted that I had chosen to learn one of their countries other languages before Flemish. I have always done so and found their English to be excellent.