We arrived in Bellinzona from Zürich at around 11:30 this morning to visit the UNESCO listed castles. Our first stop, a ten-minute or so walk from the main train station, was the Castelgrande which sits majestically above the town in the centre of the valley. Dating from Roman times as part of a fortress, the Castlegrande offers some of the best views of town and the Alps in town. This side of the Castlegrande is sheer cliff face - an impregnable wall of rock - so we took the lift to to the top. (Yes we did walk down the other side.) While the lift was only completed in 1991, the sheer face of the cliff leaves a full frontal assault of this side to imagination.
Rising from the Bailey above the walls and the city are the Black and White Towers. Walking up the towers and along the battlements that join them in the central castle, it's clear why the castle complex was built in this location. Fortified since Roman times, the Castlegrande sits in the centre of the valley atop a large rock formed while the glacier which once filled this valley retreated. During the Medieval period, walls leading away from the Castlegrande once ran down this rock into the valley and linked with the walls of the higher Montebello castle and through the Ticino river - controlling access through a range of Alpine passes.
A museum in the former armoury of Castlegrande gives some history of the Castle and displays of the archeological finds that have been found during excavations on the various castle sites. Following the museum, we commenced our walk down to town along the walls of the Castle and through some oldey worldey streets - which was an enjoyable way to get into town.
After lunch at a local trattoria, we headed up to the Castel Sasso Corbaro - we took a 10-minute cab ride up for 17CHF as we failed to find the number 4 bus. Castel Sasso is significantly smaller than Castelgrande and Montebello and, we discovered, open during the summer months only. And currently serves, in part at least, as a residence for the locals. We we walked down to the Montebello Castle which, along with valley views, was visible below us for most of the windy route. The valley view gives a pretty good impression of the difficulties that might have been encountered trying to get past a complete set of walls. En route down, one of the more "picture postcard" type of scenes is this Church and vineyard set against the backdrop of a snowcapped Alpine mountain.
The Montebello castle is also splendidly set and is surrounded by Vineyards. Ticino is noted in Switzerland for its Merlot production and I would get that these are, indeed, Merlot grapes being grown. Unlike the Castlegrande, which is protected by natural features, the Montebello Castle is surrounded by large, deep moats which provided its defensive features.
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Mark Sukhija is a travel and wine blogger, photographer, tourism researcher, hat-touting, white-shirt-wearing, New Zealand fantatic and eclipse chaser. Aside from at least annual visits to New Zealand, Mark has seen eclipses in South Australia (2002), Libya (2006), China (2009) and Queensland (2012). After twelve years in Switzerland, Mark moved back to London in 2012. You can follow Mark on Twitter or Facebook