Friday 24 April 2020

Lugano, Monte San Salvatore Hiking/Running Route

Click here for route map

And here's official map:

Length (several possibilities, see below): 14 km (8.7 mi) for variation 3, terrain: constant climb up, sometimes steep, gain 990 meters for route variations 2, 3 and 4!

Lugano, is a lakeside gem in Swiss Ticino. There is old-world charm in the winding lanes of the old town, with its arcaded shop-fronts and elegant parks. The town is like a hand-polished burl-wood box glistening unobtrusively at the corner of a massive oak desk.

Lugano offers two challenging mountain hikes/runs right in town. One up Monte Bre, that cone-shaped hill to the east, and one up Monte San Salvatore to the south, shaped like a sugarloaf when seen from town, but it is really a long ridge when seen from the east or west.
Monte San Salvatore as seen from Lugano
That's the one we'll be exploring today. Monte San Salvatore has long been a destination for people from the region: on its peak is a pilgrimage chapel, there for 800 years. Local people believed that Jesus stopped there to rest on his ascension to heaven, and many have hiked up the mountain to visit the site. There is a 600-meter gain in altitude from Paradiso.

And for us typical tourists, there are a lot more great reasons to join the hike ourselves: amazing views, vineyards, cliffs and woods, and even a few good hilltop restaurants to spend some time.

There are several possible variations to the run:
 1. Run to the peak and back, a hard 6.2 kilometers.
 2. Run to the peak, then on to Ciona village, then run back for a total of 9.6 kilometers (or take the 434 bus back, for a 5km run. You can find timetables here:
 3. Run to the peak, then on to Ciona and then to Carona village, then run back for a total of 14 kilometers (or take the 434 bus back from Carona, for 7 kilometers).
 4. Run to the peak, then to Carona, then down to the lakefront at Melide, for an out-and-back run of about 15.7km. From there you can take the S10 commuter train back to Paradiso or Lugano station (the S10 trains run hourly and cost just CHF2.30). Make online timetable queries here:

NOTE: There is also an inclined cable-car ("funicular") train that goes right from Paradiso for the 1600 meters up to the peak, for those who want to avoid the climb and just run along the nature-trail on the ridge at the top. The lower station in Paradiso is on Via delle Scuole. Passengers have to change to a different car at the Pazzallo station, part way up the mountain, to take the steeper section to the top for this 130-year-old train. The last train departs at 11 p.m. in the summer. It leaves every 30 minutes and takes 12 minutes for the whole trip, and costs CHF23 one way or CHF30 return. See their website at

Funiculare station in Paradiso, with peak
This route description will assume that you want to take the third variation: run/hike to the peak, then on to Carona, then run back.

I consider this route more of a hike than a run, but some people do try to run it for the whole distance. I walked the steep parts, which is hard enough in itself.

So, if you want to try this memorable mountain, let's get to the start. We'll start this at the turn-around spot of the Paradiso Run, where the lakeside promenade ends at the fountain. You can do the short run there from town, or maybe you're staying in one of the nearby Paradiso hotels.

Just across the lakeside road from the fountain is Via Bosia, which you follow past some businesses and the school, then under the railroad overpass. This is the local commuter line, the S10, which you can take back from Melide if you want to do the one-way run described in variation 4.

After going under the underpass, where the road does a hairpin turn, take the left-hand side-street going south, uphill, Via Guidino. There are nice villas in this neighborhood, but we'll soon turn right onto that marked hiking trail (look for the yellow signs with the destination name of "S. Salvatore").
Trail bridge
The trail first follows a stream and then some level fields to arrive at the cable-car tracks. Now the trail turns uphill to follow directly next to the tracks. You see that radio tower way up at the top? That's where we're going!

We'll pass a nearby abandoned restaurant and head past vineyards in the open country, already with a great view north to Lugano and the Alps.
Trail sign in the vineyards
At the Pazzallo transfer station, after 900 meters, the trail splits. The trail to the right follows fairly level terrain along the west side of the mountain. We'll follow the left-hand (easterly) trail, heading to the peak. Pazzallo is 500 meters high, so we've gained about a third of our total altitude towards the peak.

The trail soon dips into woods, and stays that way for the rest of the trip. But as we continue uphill, there are various nice lookouts over the vertical east side of the mountain, with cliffs plunging down to the lake. The trail zig-zags its way up to the peak past the Belvedere lookout, along the eastern cliffs. There are white-red-white trail markings painted on occasional rocks.
View of Lugano and Alps behind
After the 3-kilometer mark, we'll come to the peak area, with the cable-car station, the radio tower, the Vetta restaurant (with a panorama terrace) and the chapel. The summit with the chapel, at over 900 meters, is 60 meters higher than the station. The chapel is now a museum, and you can go up to the rooftop terrace for another great view, this time all the way to Monte Rosa, with Switzerland's highest peaks.
The chapel/museum
So, if you're doing the simple variation 1 out-and-back, you've made it to the top, and here's the place to turn around and head home.

If you're continuing on variations 2, 3 or 4, now take the Via San Salvatore trail downhill towards Ciona and Carona (the signs also point to Morcote, which is beyond those two nearby villages. The trail leaves right behind the Vetta Restaurant.
Wooded trail
We'll lose about 300 meters in height at first, heading down along the ridge, through woods. Then the trail is paved and flattens out before coming to scenic Ciona village at altitude 610 meters, at the 4.8-km mark.

This is a pretty little place, with its own little chapel and a restaurant with a shady terrace, the Osteria Grotto Ciona.
In Ciona: keep right!
Just past the restaurant is the road to the next nearby village, Carona. There is a parking lot there, and the bus stop (you can take the 434 bus back to Paradiso from here). For those people following route variation 2, this is the turnaround spot.

For those continuing on to Carona, just keep going straight on the soft dirt trail that continues on the other side of the road (Via Principale) and follow this level, shady trail until you come into the south side of Carona, merging into Via Nodiva.

Continue through the edge of this scenic village until you get back to Via Principale, where you continue heading south. There is another bus stop in town for the 434 bus at the post office, if you want to take it home.
View of peak from Parco San Grato
At the south end of town is a popular botanical gardens, the Parco San Grato. Entry is free, and it is an absolutely beautiful spot to run a little loop, with some amazing views of Lago Lugano and the peak.

So, now variation 3 ends and you run back home the way you came, totaling 15 kilometers. Or take the bus back, from the post office back in Carona village (just head straight up Via Principale to the center of town).

For those wanting to follow variation 4, there is a foot-trail (just south of the Santi Giorgio e Andrea church) that zig-zags down the east slope towards the lakeside town of Melide.

The Melide train station is at the main intersection, at the roundabout. It's right at the lakeside, with the Swiss A2 autobahn right behind it, which tunneled through the mountain. For about CHF2.30, you can take one of the hourly S10 trains back, one stop to Paradiso, or two stops to Lugano Central.

I think you have just run a route you will not soon forget! Now go enjoy a Aperol Spritz and a nice dinner in Lugano!

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