Big John Storms the Castle of Montebello

Lying east of the Ticino River at the foot of the Alps is the Swiss village of Bellinzona. There are many things that make this city a fantastic place to visit. There’s its abundance of orchards and vineyards, its thick forested hills, and sprawling green alpine pastures. There’s Bellinzona’s fascinating Roman history, as well as its undeniable Italian influence and its proud Swiss heritage. Yet, out of all the things that make Bellinzona a must-see place, there is still something else that really makes this place stand out on a map. The thing that makes Bellinzona such a fascinating place is it has, not one, but three magnificent castles all within the boundaries of its city! The Castelgrande, the Montebello, and the Sasso Corbaro have been a part of the UNESCO world heritage sites since 2000.


The Swiss city of Bellinzona shares much of that old world charm with its Italian neighbor.


The Old Town of Bellinzona

In admiring these old piazzas, with their ancient churches, romantic villas, and stone gateways, I have to ask, “could there be anything more beautiful?”

A large archaic wall still protects this fortified city.


The Sasso Corbaro Castle can be seen atop the hill.


The beautiful chapel of San Sebastian Church is the prominent structure pictured in this backdrop.


Rebecca needed to first zip up her coat before she could truly enjoy exploring “medieval life”.


The looming walls of Montebello Castle

Due to our limited time, Rebecca and I were only able to explore the grounds of one castle. We chose to examine the middle one – Montebello.

Montebello Castle, (also known as the Small, New or Middle Castle in the 15th century, as Schwyz Castle after 1506, and St. Martin’s Castle after 1818) is located to the east of the town center. The structure was built around 1313 AD.

If you’ve read my entirely true story, Life is Good when you’re the King Of Bruges, you would totally understand why Big John always feels at home inside of castles.


Rebecca, who can be seen here shivering in her boots, is trying to find a way to close the main castle doors. We are in a real castle and all she is worried about is stopping the draft from coming in!


The grounds around the castle were simply beautiful.


Check out the arrow slits in the walls for firing off those crossbows!


I’m no detective, but something tells me that the glass in those upper windows might not be the original panes.


Geez! I take her to a drafty castle… in the Alps… in the dead of winter, and all she can do is complain about being cold!


This water fountain was probably constructed around the same time as the Black Death Plague. For that reason alone, I chose the swish and spit method of castle water fountain usage.


Those external electric lights are over 700 years and they still work… I’m joking! I obviously have no idea if they still work.




In the 19th century, Montebello Castle fell into disrepair until renovations were started in 1903.


She’s looking for a bathroom with modern plumbing… Did I mention she’s pregnant with our baby girl?


Whomever built this castle must have been very progressive to think of gender-neutral facilities. At any rate, I’m glad she found that bathroom or we’d be ending this tour rather abruptly!



Who knew? Even medieval castles were expected to comply with code and install handrails on stairs and landings. I’m glad to see that people were so safety conscious back in the dark ages.


This view of Castelgrande was captured from the ramparts of Montebello. 

The fortifications at Castelgrande have been around for a very long time, dating as far back as the late 1st century BC. Until the 13th century, Castelgrande was the only real fortification in Bellinzona. During its history, this castle was referred to as the stronghold of the city.

The exterior walls of Montebello extend all the way down the mountain where they connect with  the walls of Castelgrande.



She thought she was being stealthy, but you see I caught her as she stole away to the warmth of our car.


I was going to ask Rebecca if she wanted to have a picnic on one of those tables overlooking the city; but that was before realizing she had already driven down the mountain and left me far, far behind. 


Castle life can be seriously lonely at times!


Unlike Castelgrande, Montebello Castle was not protected by the natural mountainous terrain. To provide for the security of its walls, Montebello Castle is completely surrounded by deep moats. 


Just to set the record straight, and to avoid having to sleep out in the cold, Rebecca never left me at the castle. Although she was hungry, cold, and very much pregnant, she stuck by my side like a real trooper. She is and will always be my faithful sidekick in all of our little adventures. As always, thank you for visiting Big John’s Adventures in Travel and please visit my site again real soon. I hope this post has inspired you to pack those bags and find a little adventure all of your own making.


Happy travels,

Big John

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The Lake Como Region of Italy

As Rebecca and I drove across the Swiss border into the Lake Como region of Italy, the clouds darkened  and it began to rain. Lake Como, in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, is a posh resort area known for its splendid scenery, set against the backdrop of the Alps. Lake Como has been a popular retreat for the extremely wealthy since Roman times. The actor, George Clooney, fell so in love with the area that he purchased a multi-million dollar mansion in the lakeside community of Laglio. Unfortunately for us, we encountered a dreary, wet and windy afternoon when we entered into Lake Como and our visit there was a very brief one. Along with scattered showers, the heavy clouds brought in a dense fog that limited our visibility and made any picture-taking a real challenge.

A fleeting glimpse of Lake Como from the highway.


Lake Como, the third largest lake in Italy, is 28.5 miles long and 2.8 miles wide at its widest point.


Listed as one of the deepest lakes in Europe, Lake Como has an average depth of 505 feet.


Due to poor weather, much of our exploring was done through the windshield of our car.



American authors Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway have both visited and written about the Lake Como area.


Among the many noted lakeside communities surrounding Lake Como are, Lecco, Bellagio, Tremezzo, Menaggio, Varenna, and the village of Como itself.



Many movies have been filmed in this area from Ocean’s Twelve to Casino Royale.


Lake Como is the birthplace of Villa Culture inspiring the likes of Leonardo de Vinci.


Rebecca steps out the car to get a better view of Lake Como and the surrounding area.


At the Cemetery Bellagio, Lake Como Region, Italy




The Hotel Villa Aurora in Lezzeno offers their guests a spectacular view of Lake Como, Comacina Island, and the Villa Balbianello.


Many of the shops and businesses in Bellagio appeared to have closed their doors during the winter months. Arriving in the late afternoon, Rebecca and I were practically the only tourists to be found on the nearly empty streets.


While exploring the streets of Bellagio, Rebecca is on a mission to search out some delicious Italian cuisine.


Companies such as Taxi Boat Varenna offer luxury taxi boat rides around the lake.

Being here way outside of tourist season, the streets were nearly deserted around the lake. During the warmer months, these fascinating boat tours allow countless visitors the opportunity to learn about the local Italian history; all the while admiring the breathtaking views of Lake Como surrounded by the majestic snow-capped Alps.

With the sun setting quickly over Lake Como, Rebecca and I made our way back to our car and soon put this beautiful landscape in our rearview mirror. Although the weather was less than desirable, we still enjoyed our short visit along the shores of Lake Como. Perhaps we will return one day when the sun is shining and streets are crowded with festive people. For now, thanks for visiting Big John’s Adventures in Travel. I hope this post motivates you to pack those bags and set out on an adventure all of your own making.


Happy travels,

Big John

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The Medieval Charm of Lucerne, Switzerland

On the shores of Lake Lucerne, within sights of mounts Pilatus and Rigi, lies the charming medieval city of Lucerne. Out of all the places that Rebecca and I visited within the Swiss Alps, this German-speaking village was probably our favorite.


A shout out goes to Pius Hofer for providing us these gracious accommodations through Airbnb.

Our little Alpine adventure began here in the upstairs apartment of this charming farmhouse. Even though we were close to the city, we were far enough removed to enjoy the peace and serenity of the Swiss countryside.

This skylight in the livingroom brightened the apartment and offered an amazing view of the surrounding Alps.

We awoke to a light snowfall on our little farm outside Lucerne.

A view of the garden outside our kitchen window.


The view from our balcony was phenomenal!


The historic Chapel Bridge (“Kapellbrücke”) in Lucerne, Switzerland

The Chapel Bridge was built for pedestrians to cross the Reuss River when traveling to and from Lucerne. Having been erected in the year 1333 A.D., this is the oldest surviving wooden bridge in all of Europe. The tower pictured just behind the bridge, pre-dating the structure by about 30 years, has been used as a torture chamber, a prison, and a hold for the town’s treasury.


Rebecca is all bundled up at the Chapel Bridge in Lucerne.


These ancient painting inside the bridge’s interior depict colorful scenes of the local history.


These pictures, taken from inside the Chapel Bridge, reveal Lucerne’s fascinating riverwalk.


A view of the Lucerne on the Reuss River.


Rebecca wore her red boxing gloves just in case we ran into some riffraff along the river.


The tallest structure seen in this photo is the Jesuit Church, opened in 1677.


Medieval Lucerne is full of both Romanesque and Gothic styles of architecture.


Big John poses for a colorful photo at this neo-Rennaissance water fountain .

This fountain, named the Fritschi, was built in 1918 and is said to have been built over the body of a legendary 15th century character. Knowing that, I’m glad I didn’t take any sips of the water.


Inside Kornmarkt (Old Town), Lucerne


Lucerne is one of the major marketplaces for Swiss watches, with dozens of different brands to offer its visitors.


This recently renovated church, St. Peter’s Chapel, was built in the 12th century. It is the oldest place of worship still operating in Lucerne.


The Mr. Pickwick Hotel and Pub offers its guests a fantastic selection of British cuisine and beers.


More of Lucerne’s medieval charm can be seen adorning the walls of the various structures and businesses.


The restaurant, Fritschi, situated in the old town of Lucerne serves traditional Switzerland meals.



Rebecca is all smiles at the Lindt chocolate shop in Lucerne.

This shop boasts a literal wall of flowing chocolate!


Lucerne offers diverse restaurants and pubs for every variety of visitor to its city.


Even Big John, an international man of mystery, sports a scarf from time to time.


The restaurant, Valentino, is housed in the famous “Hotel Linde”. The Italian diner serves its patrons a “special class” of spaghetti and pizza.



Rebecca finds imported Thai food at the Hotel Krone.

So, after exploring the city for a few hours it was nearing lunch and Rebecca and I were famished. While in the Old Town we happened to come across a menu displayed in the window of the Hotel Krone. To our surprise and delight, the hotel restaurant listed both red and green curry on their lunch menu. Anybody that really knows Rebecca, knows how much she loves Thai curry. Without a second thought on the matter, we quickly entered the establishment and found us a seat near the window. The hotel restaurant, although beautifully arranged, was deserted inside with the exception of a single woman working inside of a small kitchen at the back of the room.

Shortly after taking our seats, the woman emerged from the kitchen and took our order. It wasn’t that long after that we observed the same woman exiting through the front doors of the hotel and go scurrying down the street. Rebecca joked that she was probably going to get our food from some place else. I had a good laugh at the thought of it.

Not fifteen minutes later we observed the woman through our window as she returned to the hotel carrying numerous styrofoam containers. The woman reentered the hotel, walked straight through the lobby and disappeared into the kitchen. Shortly thereafter, when she approached our table carrying our hot platters of Thai curry, she hadn’t the faintest look of suspicion on her face. Although the food was a bit pricey, it was very delicious and the atmosphere inside the hotel restaurant was nice, quiet and clean. After enjoying our meal, the only questions in our minds was where had the food come from? It certainly wasn’t prepared in their small kitchen in the back.

Our great mystery didn’t remain unsolved for too long. After finishing our meal at the Hotel Krone we walked just a few hundred feet when we came across the Asian takeaway pictured above. I entered inside and asked the lady working there if she had just prepared an order of Thai curry for the Hotel Krone. The woman smiled, said that she did, and asked how we enjoyed the food. I told her that we enjoyed the food immensely. However, I informed her that the next time we had a craving for Thai food, we would get it directly from the source for a much cheaper price.


The Weinmarkt fountain in the Baroque Square of Lucerne


Rebecca strikes a pose at a Lucerne lamppost.


More photos of the Baroque square in Lucerne.



Big John standing on the steps leading up to the Church of St. Leodegar.

The Church of St. Leodegar is a Roman Catholic Church built from 1633 to 1639 on the foundation of a Roman basilica that had burnt to the ground in 1633. This church was one of the few built north of the Alps during the Thirty Years War and one of the largest  of German late renaissance period.


These fascinating statues, guarding the doors of this church, are just a small part of Lucerne’s medieval charm.



I have no idea what one might find inside of Lucerne’s Ass-Bar!



Despite their ancient appearance, all water fountains in Lucerne are deemed quite safe for drinking.


It wouldn’t be right to travel all the way to Switzerland and not sample as many chocolates as possible.


Lucerne has quite the selection of refreshing ciders and delicious lagers. 

I would recommend the Eichhoff lager even without the cool squirrel imprinted on each can.


I’m so sorry that I missed the wedding of this beautiful couple!


My little “Swiss Miss” is already making friends inside the city!


I just love these old cuckoo clocks and hope to own one someday.


Bucherer stores are located in some of the best-known and most beautiful shopping and downtown areas in Switzerland. The main Bucherer house is located in Lucerne.


This five-star-hotel, the Schweizerhof Luzern, is situated right on the shores of Lake Lucerne and only a stone’s throw from the city centre of Lucerne. It has been managed by the Hauser family for over 150 years. 


The Hotel Chateau Gütsch, pictured on this hilltop above the city, is a 19th century fairy-tale castle.

This grand hotel offers visitors a beautiful view of Lucerne, Lake Lucerne and the alpine mountains of central Switzerland.



Just another example of the beautiful water fountains one might discover while roaming about in Lucerne.



A glimpse of Lucerne’s ancient walls and towers can be seen on the hill pictured in the background.


Rebecca enters through Lucerne’s medieval  city walls.


Big John at the Lion Monument in Lucerne


The Lion Monument, or the Lion of Lucerne, was designed by Bertel Thorvaldsen and hewn from the rock in 1820–21 by Lukas Ahorn. It commemorates the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the height of the French Revolution.


On the busy docks of the scenic Lake Lucerne


Hustle and bustle amidst the splendor of Lucerne, Switzerland


The Reuss River Needle Dam in Lucerne

This picture of the needle dam is probably one of the best pictures I took while visiting Lucerne. If you agree, then I guess I saved the best for last. I hope you enjoyed visiting my post as Rebecca and I explored the medieval city of Lucerne. For more of our adventures in Switzerland, please click on the following link to Zermatt and the Matterhorn. Explore this and much, much more at Big John’s Adventures in Travel!


Happy travels,

Big John

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