Morcote, Switzerland: so near yet so far away, except on Sunday 14 September 2014

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Looking across Lake Lugano from Porto Ceresio on the Italian shores, the village of Morcote, Switzerland, looks enticing. So near, and yet so far away.

Easily an hour by road, almost all the way to Lugano, making a turn just before Paradiso.

By boat? Well, if you have one of your own, that’s not a problem. And, indeed, throughout the summer, motor launches flying the Swiss flag, come across to have a coffee, a drink, an ice-cream, or a meal on “our side” of the Ceresio, to give Lake Lugano its other name.

A public service, though? Well, from April to mid-October, the daily Lugano-Melide-Morcote-Ponte Tresa service, operated by Società Navigazione Lago di Lugano  (SNL), links Porto Ceresio (Italy) and Morcote (Switzerland), departing PC at 11.53, and getting to Morcote at 1203. But, there is no return service!

Not great for cross-border tourism, then.

For several years, the Porto Ceresio tourist office has talked of running a ferry on the occasional Sunday during the summer season, or at least while the said tourist office is open (2014: mid-June June to mid-Sept). But nothing has ever happened, as far as I know.

Until Sunday 14 September 2014, that is. Organized as part of the Fifth annual Old Timer Festival at Morcote, Switzerland, a 28-seater ferry plied the waters from Porto Ceresio, Italy, ten minutes each way, for 5 euro round-trip, right the way through to 5pm.

Even if people were not that interested in seeing the Old Timer Festival or even Morcote itself, just the idea of finally crossing that little bit of water was more than compelling.

The Old Timer Festival is arranged by the Club Nautico Morcote, and included the fifth International Seaplane Meeting, organized by the SPAS (Seaplane Pilots Association Switzerland). Nothing available on the 2014 meet, regrettably, but here’s are some details on the 2013 event. In German, but that was all I could find.

Speaking to the organizers, I was told that they had tried running a ferry service at the 2012 session of the Festival, using a larger craft, and it had not worked very well. This time, though, they were thrilled with the response. They were less thrilled when I told them that, at Porto Ceresio, there was not one single poster, or any other kind of information on this initiative. Indeed, we had found it by accident. We had come down for a Sunday lunchtime walk by the lakeside, as is our wont, since we live 10 minutes away, and had heard people talking about “il battello” (the ferry), and had seen other people hurrying towards the landing stage on Piazzale Luraschi. So we asked, and found out.

Which is one reason why I am writing this. I wanted to ensure that, next year, people know that this event is going on, and won’t miss out on a fun excursion. Here are some pictures, of the crossing from Porto Ceresio, and of Morcote and what was on show.

Coming back to the question of the ferry service, you can get back to Porto Ceresio from Morcote by public transport, and indeed it could make a fun one-day excursion. It involves taking the Autopostale 62.431 bus service from Morcote to Lugano and, from the little terminus opposite the main Lugano railway station, taking the Ferrovie Luganesi train to Ponte Tresa (Switzerland).  Turn right out of the station, and a 200-metre walk brings you to the bridge (ponte, in Italian) over the river Tresa (geddit?), and the Swiss-Italian border, to Ponte Tresa (Italy), then the N06 Giuliani e Laudi bus via Brusimpiano to Porto Ceresio. There are not that many connections, so you may like to consider going on to Varese, via the CTPI number 11 service to Ghirla, and then the number 1o to Varese.

Just to complete the circle, those wishing to get to Porto Ceresio from Morcote have an easier time of it since the boat leaves Morcote at 10.30 and docks at PC ten minutes later.  Problem is that the only return service is at 11.53, allowing just one hour in Porto Ceresio. Which is not a lot of time to stroll along the lakeside promenade, take a peek at the specialist food stalls that are a Sunday feature of this little town at the south-western tip of Lake Lugano, and have a coffee in one of the lake-side bars. A visit to the Appiani-Lopez Local History Museum is also out of the question, since it’s open from 14.30 to 17.30 on Saturdays from March to October.

So, assuming an arrival time of 10.40 in Porto Ceresio, the return trip to Morcote is a question of retracing the steps outlined above, N06 to Ponte Tresa and onwards. Just one proviso, don’t be misled if you see indications for a bus from Porto Ceresio to Riva San Vitale, which would link to the Como-Lugano train station. Yes, that would be a perfect solution. Were it not for the fact that cross-frontier bureaucracy (think: Rome!) has forced the service to start in Brusino Arsizio, just over the Swiss border from Porto. Maybe worth considering, if a 2-km walk along a winding, very fast road with no sidewalks, is appealing. The details here.

Update: the next Old Timer Day at Morcote is scheduled for early-September 2016. Details, including whether the Morcote-Porto Ceresio ferry will operate. will follow in due course.