Popular as a Swiss grotto

“Popular as a Swiss grotto” is not a metaphor in any language – but it could be. With more Europeans staying put this summer, Ticino’s beloved local grottos are filling up.

The grottos in question are not caves, but local eating and drinking establishments with shady outdoor terraces, and good – often very good – traditional dishes. Open from March until October, they have long been an institution in Ticino dining culture, and in the hot summer months they’re ideal for keeping cool. This year, with locals hesitant to travel and wanting to stay outside as much as possible, grottos have been enjoying a record year.

Originally built for single families or small communities to store food in the days before refrigeration, your typical Ticino grotto sits outside of town, near a wood, or along a river, where peaceful coolness abounds. The menu is full of local and regional dishes: polenta in particular, but also local salamis and cheeses.

And of course, wine. As they transformed from personal storage to professional restaurants, the grotto of yesteryear may have only offered the local country wine. But now the best grottos (particularly closer to urban centers) boast extensive wine lists to let you taste the best of Swiss wines.

While every valley may boast a grotto, and there are many to choose from, here are three that come recommended by those in the know inside Prodir.

Grotto del Cavicc in Collina d’Oro

Nestled in the heights outside of Lugano, Grotto del Cavicc enjoys a world-famous reputation thanks to one man: Nobel Prize-winning writer Hermann Hesse. When the German-Swiss Hesse relocated to Montagnola, Switzerland at the age of 42 and in the middle of an artistic slump, he found inspiration in his new location far from his native Germany. He went on to write a run of his most novels and won the Nobel Prize in 1946. Presumably to give his writing hand a break, he would saunter over to Grotto del Cavicc for wine, bocce and good company under the linden trees.

Going strong since 1854, you can reach the Grotto del Cavicc on foot following the well-signed pathway, enjoy salami, goat cheese and wine from their extensive cellar, and cap it off with a visit to Hesse’s burial place in the nearby Gentilino Cemetery.

Grotto Pozzasc – Peccia

In Alta Vallemaggia, along a torrent running from Valle di Peccia, lies one of the area’s most enchanting grottos: Grotto Pozzasc. There’s open air seating on sturdy granite tables looking right out over the crystal clear waters of a pozzo, or pool, that historically drew first millners and then later restaurateurs.

Enjoy local specialties like polenta baked over a wood fire, tripe, mortadella and alpage cheese.

Grotto Bassa – Lumino

Drive just 5 minutes from Bellinzona and you’ll be in Lumino, where for more than 100 years the Franzi family has managed Grotto Bassa. They serve home-made grappas and their signature roast beef.

Whichever grotto you head to, think ahead and arrive early for the best seats along the water or the view. This summer, the grottos of Ticino are where the locals stay cool.

Photo credits:
Grotto Val Lavizzara: photo by Alessio Pizzicanella
Formaggio Alpe Salei Valle Onsernone: ©Switzerland Tourism
Grotto Val Lavizzara: ©Ascona-Locarno Tourism – photo by Alessio Pizzicanella
Grotto Ponte Brolla: ©Ascona-Locarno Tourism – photo by Alessio Pizzicanella