Friday, 21 January 2011

Lugano to Gandria Lakeside Running Route

Click here for route map
Length: 10.7 km (or 5.3 km one way, take boat or bus back), that's 6.6 miles for whole run

For another Lugano route, see Lugano to Paradiso Route.

Pictures by myself and

When I heard that I had to go back to Lugano for a business trip, I was really looking forward to it. I hadn't been there in almost 20 years, but my memories were nothing but pleasant: a beautiful old town perched on the north edge of an alpine lake (Lago di Lugano), with steep mountains rising all around, balmy evenings on the waterfront, watching teenagers in the lanterned little pedalo boats bobbing around out on the lake while the boat-rental guy worriedly paced around and occasionally yelled out over the water, hoping that they would bring the boats back before closing time. And long evening runs along the lake and up in the hillside neighborhoods of nearby Monte Bré.
View over Lugano, Castagnola in distance, photo by Rainer Sturm
This time I was there in January, not summer, with short days and freezing nights, so it wasn't quite the same. But the town hasn't changed much: elegant old streets oozing old-world charm, arcaded storefronts full of expensive Swiss watches, jewelry and chocolates. Grand hotels and grand cafés, the waterfront casino, the little cable-car to take people up the hill to the train station: who can escape such quiet charm?
Arcade in Lugano, photo by Rainer Sturm
This time, the mountains seemed even steeper than I remembered. While running, I had to watch my step in the dark, and try not to slip on the ice, but I enjoyed it anyway.

Lugano is pressed in along the lake by hills and mountains, so a run along the lake promenade is the logical choice. But there is a fairly loud street running along almost the whole waterfront, so it isn't as ideal as it looks. Only the beautiful, if smallish, Parco Municipio in the town center offers a quiet retreat from traffic noise. So, if you only have a short time to run anyway, you should just plan to jog a few laps around this green waterside oasis.

The park has everything a nice little town park should have: statues and fountains, giant sycamores, pines and sable palms, a winding lakeside shoreline with gorgeous views of mountains and water, an elegant old boathouse, pedalo boats, an adventure playground for the kids, the cantonal library and school. This is the kind of place I would prefer to be buried and spend an eternity.
Early morning view from the park
But there is another route that heads east out of town, which, after a couple of kilometers, provides a beautiful, quiet, natural trail along the lakefront, and ends in a picturesque village: Gandria.

Gandria was once reachable only by boat. Even today the town alleys are car-free, as the modern lake road runs up above the village itself. The footpath that we will follow was first carved out of the lakeside rocks in the 1930s, and is now a perfect spot for hikers and runners. Other tourists show up by the regular tour boats or drive there, parking above, along the road.

NOTE: another alternative run would be to run on Monte Bré. There are some neighborhoods along the mountainside with quiet streets, reached via the lake road. And like all Swiss mountains, it has a little red cable-railway (funicular) that goes to the top. You could do a run on top of the world up there around Bré village, and even run down, if you felt like it. One path leads down to Gandria. The funicular train goes every half-hour and costs 20 francs, round-trip, or 14 francs one-way.

The Lugano Gandria Run
The run follows the lakefront road for a few kilometers, then cuts off into a waterfront path, as the road serpentines its way up the hillside. We'll start right in the heart of town, at the Piazza della Riforma in front of the town hall, right at the lakefront.

Run across the plaza to the lakefront street, Riva Albertolli. There is no pedestrian crossing here, so take the pedestrian tunnel right there at the curb, coming up at the water side at the biggest pedalo rentals.These pedal-driven boats were made in the form of 1950s cars, and I've never seen similar ones anywhere.

Turn left and run eastwards, with the water to your right side. In just a few blocks, the road curves to the left around the casino, but keep running straight into the Parco Municipio. Stay along the water's edge, as the path curves to the right. The park ends in a point going out to the lake, abruptly halted by the Cassarate River, which flows along the east side of the park.
View from park, by Domsen
Take the path along the river, running away from the lake. You will pass a pedestrian bridge, going over to the Lido beach on the other side, but you can't run through the Lido along the water: you have to keep going inland to run around it, turning right on the first street, Viale Castagnola. You are now running straight towards the massive wall of Monte Bré.

This is the shore road again, with quite a bit of traffic, and it soon passes the Lido and the tour-boat operations. When you get to the ugly Migros supermarket (OK, what supermarkets aren't ugly?), you can turn right to run through a bit of shoreside park again, with a little marina, and get away from the cars for a minute.

NOTE: When you then pass the Castagnola Hotel on the left side, where the road curves to the right, you'll see Via Pico leading off to the left. The funicular railroad to Monte Bré is just 200 meters down the street, if you want to head up the mountain. There is also a stairway just before the station, if you want to go up by foot.

You will now find yourself leaving Lugano. The houses end, and the road starts following the base of Monte Bré, going gradually uphill, with just an asphalt walkway next to the street. You might be wondering what kind of a stupid route this is, as a steady stream of cars buzz by you. But relief is on the way: after just half a kilometer, just before the road begins to serpentine its way up the mountain, a small street branches off to the right, Via Cortivo.
Hotel along the way to Gandria
Follow this street, which goes by some villas in the town of Castagnola, as it guides you back towards the lakeside. After half a kilometer, the street ends in a little parking lot, and the real footpath to Gandria begins.

From now on, it's straight through a quiet landscape of olive groves, a grotto, beaches and anchorages on the Sentiero di Gandria. The route is promoted as the "Olive Path", and there has been an initiative underway to restore the old, abandoned olive groves that once were plentiful in the area. Enjoy the beautiful waterfront views of the Italian mountains on the other side of the lake.
Gandria, photo by DoRe
When you reach the village, in just another kilometer, you'll definitely want to follow the twisted alleyways and stairs of this charming lakeside oasis. A nice beer or glass of wine is definitely in order to reward yourself for the run out of town.

Alley in Gandria
The way back is the same way as you came, unless you want to take a tourboat for a change of propulsion, cutting the total running distance to 5.3 km.
Gandria waterfront

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Prague Castle - Petrin Hill Running Route

Click here for route map
Length: 6.5 km (4 miles), terrain hilly

Photos courtesy of Thanks!

Prague Running Routes:
Old-Town / New-Town Run
Petrin Hill Run

For more running routes, see Route List.

Prague is, in my opinion, the most beautiful city in Europe. There is no other major city with such an intact collection of medieval architecture to astound you at every turn. The only problem is that it seems like every tourist in the world has discovered this, too. The old town is now fast in the hands of the tourist trade: local Czechs don't even hang out there any more. Every shop caters to the tourists, and the streets are packed with them.

Lesser town gate tower, by Tokamuwi
I remember my first trip there, in the late 1990s, when Prague was a paradise of great food and beer at cheap prices, discovered only by a small number of young Europeans and Americans who were living their own private dreams in the partially restored old town, working as waiters in the daytime, populating the lively, historic pubs at night. The next time I came back, three years ago, everything was beautifully restored, and too expensive now for backpackers or for the local townpeople.

But enough of my grouchy complaints: Prague remains a jewel, waiting to be explored. Chances are that you will spend a lot of time criss-crossing the winding old-town lanes during the day, so here is a route that will take you on the path less-travelled by, and that will make all the difference. (Robert Frost pun intended). We'll run on the other side of the river: up to the castle and its surroundings, then circle around Petrin Hill before running back down to the river again.

Charles Bridge, photo by Doris Prüggler
We'll start right in the middle of everything, right on the 600-year-old Charles Bridge (named after King Karl, who was also Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire during the short time of Bohemia's heyday). I know that the bridge will be sagging under the weight of the tourist masses, but somehow it's the perfect place to start anything in Prague. From the bridge, you have a view of both parts of the city and its strange gothic towers, with the water flowing beneath, the statues gazing above you, and the castle, our first objective, crowning the Hrad Hill over the Lesser Town (east side of the river, across from the Old Town).
View from the Charles Bridge up to the castle and St. Vitus Cathedral, by Ursula Münch
The Prague Castle Run
Turn your back on the Prague old town and run west along the bridge towards the squared gothic towers on the town walls straight ahead. You run through the gate and start going a bit uphill along Mosteka, with its beautiful shops. The whole way will be uphill now, until you get to the castle.

Running through the Lesser Town, by Tokamuwi
In 3 blocks, you'll be at an open square, Malostranske Namesti, with its tram station behind the giant St. Nikolas baroque church.

Keep running straight, with the church on your right. The street then turns to the right, going around the church, where you now see its impressive front facade and the Maria column in front of Lichtenstein Palace across the street.

Keep heading straight north as you cross the next street, continuing on Zamecka. The street ends after a block, and you'll see 2 ways leading off to the left: a street, Thunovska, and a stairway, both running parallel up towards the castle entrance. Take the stairs.

Top of the stairs, by Xenia B.
The stairs are steep, so you'll have to decide for yourself if you just walk it or try to keep up a faster pace. There is a great view along the whole way up to the top. Eventually, the stairs will turn to the right and lead you right up to the entranceway into the castle grounds, with their honor guards and statues. And because there is no entrance fee, let's do a loop through it.
Castle entrance, by Tokamuwi
Just head straight through the first courtyard, then the next. You'll then find yourself staring straight at the St. Vitus cathedral. If you're decently enough dressed (OK, who ever is when they're jogging), you should definitely take a stroll through it. Otherwise, you'll just have to come back later.

St. Vitus Cathedral in the castle, by Tokamuwi
Continue heading east through the castle grounds, with the Hapsburg kaisers' palace on the right side. They ruled Bohemia from this fortress for hundreds of years, until their empire crumbled at their defeat in World War I. It's now the home of the Czech President.

When you get towards the back end of the castle, follow the lanes towards the left to lead you to the Golden Lane and its miniature half-timbered houses. Once you get to the end of the castle, turn around and run back out to the front entrance again, maybe going around the other side of the cathedral.

When you get back out to the square, with the castle to your back, you face the neighborhood that serviced the castle, with its scattered palaces of the Austrian and Bohemian aristocrats who felt they needed a residence close to the kaiser's.

Keep running straight, past Schwarzenberg Palace on the left and jog a few more blocks until you come to an open square in front of Ceminski Palace, now a government ministry. Turn right for a short look at the beautiful baroque church across the square, the Loreto, built by the Habsburgs as a gift to the Bohemians after their protestant uprising was crushed, and Catholicism was ushered back into the land with an iron hand.

Get back on the same street we were on before the detour to the church, and keep heading west. In just a block, you'll see Strahov Monastery coming up on your left. Its baroque church rises behind the row of houses along the street on the left. Stay on the left side, where the street splits into a lower part with the street car tracks, and the upper part rising on the left.

Strahov Monastery library, by Carina Döring
You'll see the ornate gate leading into the monastery grounds. This place houses one of the most beautiful classical libraries in the world, with its curiosity cabinets and old globes. Another place to come back to later!

I like to loop through the compact monastery grounds. You can then head out the small exit through the eastern wall  (towards your left when you first enter the grounds) and you'll find yourself looking out down the hill at the city across the valley. The whole hillside before you is a green parkland full of vineyards and fruit trees.
View from Petrin Hill, by Lars Paege
You'll see a path leading southwards towards the Eifel-tower-like lookout tower to the right on Petrin Hill. We'll follow the path, which is fairly level, with open lawns rolling down the slope to your left, and  wooded land rising to your right. This green area is one of the favorite getaways for Prague families.

Just keep heading towards the tower. Above, to the right, is the olympic stadium, and the thick walls of an old fortress that once guarded the hilltop. You could climb the tower: it has 300 steps and costs about 3 dollars, but I'll leave that to more ambitious runners.
The Petrin Hill Tower
Continue running straight downhill from here, towards the river. This area is more like a real park, with a network of paths, statues, bridges, and even an inclined railway for people who don't like to walk.

At the bottom of the park, you will come out onto Ujezd Street. Turn left and run the couple of blocks to Ricni, where you turn right and run the 100 meters straight to the riverfront park on Klampa Island. You have beautiful views of the gothic towers across the river and of the bridge from here. You could run straight through the park, with the river on your right side, back to the Charles Bridge at the other end of the little island.
View from the tower, by M. Gade
But we'll take one last little detour here to a special place, keeping to the left to run over the bridge across the millstream when you see the Kampa pizza place. You are now on Velkopievorske Namesti, and in just 50 meters, look to your right. You'll see a long yellow wall all covered with grafitti, poems, lyrics, flowers. This is the John Lennon Wall, started by protesters during the communist days, when John Lennon's lyrics were considered subversive, and people who were caught writing them were put into jail. The police regularly painted over the writing, and young people kept putting it back up. Eventually, the people won, and the wall is kept up to this day.

The wall actually belongs to the Knights of the Maltese Cross, and their gothic church and palace behind the wall are interesting in themselves.

Velkopievorske Namesti goes on to curve to the right and runs back into Mostecka, where you can turn right and run straight out through the gate tower again, and onto the Charles Bridge. Hope you enjoyed it!