Switzerland: Postcard ... from Ticino

Forward-thinking. Progressive. Vegetabilist even. These were the inhabitants of Ascona in the Italian-Swiss canton of Ticino at the turn of the 20th century. Truly, this was the last resort.

Forward-thinking. Progressive. Vegetabilist even. These were the inhabitants of Ascona in the Italian-Swiss canton of Ticino at the turn of the 20th century. Truly, this was the last resort.

Set above the resort of Ascona, at the northern end of Lake Maggiore, is a wooded parkland called Monte Verita, the "Hill of Truth". It contains a peculiar collection of buildings. Dotted around the hillside are wooden cabins, not unlike Russian dachas. There is a flat-roofed house with exposed stonework at the first level and wooden cladding above, apparently built to a recipe of equal measures of Arts and Crafts style and European Rationalism, with just a dash of Frank Lloyd Wright. Dominating the site is a tall, narrow post-Art Nouveau tower.

This architectural fun-park owes its existence to the peculiar collection of people who colonised Monte Verita (previously known as Monescia) at the beginning of the 20th century. Henri Oedenkoven, the son of a rich Antwerp industrialist, and his wife, a Montenegrin piano-teacher, were the prime movers in the "Vegetabilist Monte Verita Co-operative" that bought the land in 1900. In pursuit of the "reform of life", the community committed itself to a vegan diet, naturism, the hygienic practices of outdoor life, free love and various other forward-looking measures, such as the removal of capital letters from the alphabet.

The vegetabilists, mostly northern Europeans, ended up in Ascona partly because of its mild climate. The crowd included Hermann Hesse, James Joyce and Isadora Duncan. The vegetabilists had their own theories, among them one that iron deposits underneath Lake Maggiore caused a (literally) magnetic attraction.

These days, Ticino is no longer a hotbed of social and artistic revolution, but the small canton, set between lakes Lugano and Maggiore to the south and the San Gottardo pass to the north, remains culturally and economically marginal. I hesitate to say that it represents a perfect combination of Italian and Swiss sensibilities, because that is the claim the Ticino Tourist Board makes, yet it's true. The ferries, for example, that criss-cross Lake Lugano run perfectly to time, even though the crews appear to regard chatting up girls and amusing children as their main responsibilities. On one memorable crossing they lifted kids up to a microphone, one by one, to announce the name of each stop through the ferry's public-address system.

In local terms, the capital Lugano is a big city, housing two out of every five inhabitants of Ticino. But even there the canton's dual personality is obvious. The parking controls enforce a strict Swiss regime, and shopkeepers are restricted to the same opening hours as Zurich. But within these constraints, life still ambles along in an Italian way. I once watched the driver of one of Lugano's promenade "trains" making an unscheduled halt, leaving his passengers to stare at the passers-by, while he sauntered across to a kiosk to buy a packet of cigarettes.

Life and Style
Social media users in Mexico who commented on cartel violence have been killed in the past
techTweets not showing up or loading this morning, users say
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker