One thing I love about Switzerland are the mountains, but hiking those mountains with small kids might not be so ideal as you will most likely have to carry your sprout up that mountain you’re planning to hike. You probably wish there would be a better solution allowing the whole family to view the mountains in a fun and relaxing way. Well, what if instead of going up a mountain, you take a few steps away from it so you can see it in all its glory: Why not step on to the water!
From the various lakes in Switzerland you will most certainly have fantastic views on the mountains, the towns and villages and kids love boats! If you help them, even the smaller kids can steer the boat, the lakes are often quite empty, and they will feel like pirates or captains of large cruise ships, or at least this is how our son feels sometimes…
All along the lakes in Switzerland you can find several boat rental places, but I will focus on the one we always use in Lugano as we have gone boating numerous times with this company and we were never let down. The place is called Ambra (website in Italian, but Google Translate can help out) and you can rent (certain) boats, without a license, from 50 CHF per hour. You pay once you are back and you will have to pay cash. There is a cash machine conveniently located diagonally from Ambra or at the Post Office (see Parking) a 3 minute walk away.
The small harbor is found on Viale Castagnola 28, directly across from the Martini Lounge. This bar does not only provide you with the best address to enter in your GPS, but it also provides all of you temporary captains and sailors with a space where you can relief yourself before embarking your boat for a few hours or where you can fix up your Coupe-del-Vento post boat ride as Ambra does not have a restroom….and neither do the boats ;-).
Parking can be found next to the little harbor or a short walk away (see Parking below)
The boats are big enough to sit comfortably with at least 5 people and pillows to sit on are provided upon request. It’s possible to rent a boat that allows to create a small deck in the front of the boat where kids (and adults too of course) can lay down on the matching pillows.
The kind owner and employees of Ambra can provide the kids with life vests (clean and they look brand new and they available in different sizes) and they can tell you where nice grottos (traditional ticinese restaurants) are located across the lake. We love going to Grotto S. Rocco, Via San Rocco 3, 6823 Caprino (also reachable by car) and Grotto Teresa, Cantine di Gandria, 6978 (a few steps away from Swiss Customs Museum), across from the lovely old town of Gandria. Side note, we have never been to the Customs museum, but once you are there you could give it a try. Curious to hear what your experience was.
Usually we take the boat with some friends, for good company… and to split the rental costs. We sometimes start of by picking up some ice cream at the lake entrance of Parco Ciani. From Ambra just sail along the shore towards down town Lugano and admire the beautiful park on your right. Directly after the park you can moor the boat at the H shaped dock, which is located across from Lugano Casino (along the Riva Giocondo Albertolli). Once on land look to your right, past the giant chess board, and you will see a little ice cream kiosk, on warm days surely with a good line of people in front of it. I can’t speak to the rest of the flavors, but in my opinion they have the best Biscotto and Stracciatella ice cream. Last time I was there 1 flavor was 2 CHF, 2 flavors 5 CHF. Bring cash! Euros work too.
Bring your ice cream along and head back to the boat to cross the lake diagonally and to the right. Just aim for Campione D’Italia. It’s hard to miss this small Italian enclave when gazing across Lugano Lake: A huge, brown, ugly building, the Casino, is trying to steal the thunder from it’s beautiful surrounding. Luckily to no avail, the beautiful view of the cliff just before your reach Campione will take your breath and will make you pause for a picture and perhaps a swim (be sure to not pass the cliff to far towards Campione: It’s Italian territory and you are not allowed in it’s waters).
The view from this point on the lake on Lugano, Monte San Salvatore, the mountains in the back of it, the snow covered mountains in Italy, it all looks stunning and the view is unique as from land you usually cannot look this far unless you are on on a mountain top.
From the cliff we follow the coast line away from Campione (please keep at least a 20 meter distance to give the house owners some privacy) and we sail to a lovely and sunny picnic area right at the lake. The picnic area can be found not to far from Grotto Teresa: coming from Lugano or Campione, it’s a bit before the grotto and the perfect tiny harbor to moor your boat is just past the picnic area (also here, beware and don’t sail – too far – past Grotto Teresa as you’ll be entering Italy).
The picnic area consists of two grassy levels right at the water, with two stone tables and benches and a large stone grill which can be used by everyone, free of charge. Aside from some food to prepare, make sure to bring aluminum foil, as of course the grill has been used a lot and is exposed to the wrath of mother nature year in year out, coal and matches/a lighter.
Kids love grilled sausages, running and playing on the grass, discovering the forest and of course a swim in Lugano Lake on warm days. Adults and bigger kids can go in from the picnic area and climb back up the stairs, smaller kids can be taken to the little pebble beach next to where you moored your boat and throw some stones in the water or even go in the water if they like.
After you ate all your food and the kids are tired enough and you decide to head back to Lugano, be sure to use the city trash cans provided in the area to leave the place nice and clean for the next family to come here.
Ambra Boat Rental
Viale Castagnola 28 (Across from Viale Castagnola 35 – Martini Lounge)
Price: From 50 CHF per hour per boat
1. Left and right of Ambra, on Viale Castagnola: on week days maximum two hours, 3 CHF, but free on weekends)
2. Parking lot in front of the Casserate Post Office (Piazza Riscossa 16, Casserate),
3. Pass Ambro (on your right) and continue along the water till you see a small parking on your left (near Via Riviera 9, Castagnola)
Parco Ciani (Civivo)
By boat: H-Shaped dock in front of Lugano Casino along the Riva Giocondo Albertolli.
Underground parking garage on the corner of Corso Elvezia and Viale Carlo Cattaneo.
Best Ice cream in Lugano
Riva Giocondo Albertolli 1, next to park entrance at water
Monte San Salvatore
Info: Lugano Tourism
Never aspired to be a captain? Take the water taxi! Various companies offer a ride to the grottos across the lake:
Tel. +41(0) 91 923 57 33
Tel. +41 (0) 79 621 31 22
Tel. +41 (0) 79 671 62 88
Antonio Rezzonico (Motoscafi Riuniti)
Tel. +41 (0) 79 503 59 48
Flavio Grisoni ( Party Boat)
Tel. +41 (0) 78 784 13 33
Tel. +41 (0) 79 323 23 43
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