The scenic 90-minute drive from Milan, Italy, to Lugano, Switzerland, is one of Tom Hough’s favorites. The small two-lane road winds through several picturesque northern Italian towns before ending in Lugano, a city of 53,000 on mountain-rimmed Lake Lugano.
“It’s beautiful,” Hough says. “One Sunday when we were driving in we passed rows and rows of bicyclists. It was a unique sight.”
Hough’s visits to Lugano are prompted by his company’s joint venture with Trasfor SA, a Swiss company that designs and manufactures custom-built, dry-type transformers and inductors. “We make some of their designs of unique products for the rail industry,” Hough explains. “They had contracted with the city of Los Angeles to build [transformers and inductors] for 100 railcars. The contract required that a certain percentage of manufacturing be performed in the United States. That led to Trasfor looking for a U.S. partner.”
In addition to that contract, MTC Transformers also has a joint venture with Trasfor for cast resin-type transformers. “That was affected by the drop in the dollar versus the euro and the franc,” Hough says.
When they do get the chance to visit the Trasfor plant, Hough and his wife, Candi, enjoy roaming through Lugano. The city, south of the Alps near the Italian border, is surrounded by mountains. Even though the mountains are snow-capped in the winter and spring, the climate in Lugano is moderate.
Hough and his wife use water taxis on the lake to visit sites around the region. “You can go to different museums and restaurants in little towns around the lake,” he explains.
One of the most picturesque towns on the lake is Gandria, where stone houses rise up majestically from the water’s edge. Besides sightseeing, the lake offers opportunities for sailing, windsurfing and water skiing. Visitors also follow the magnolia- and camellia-filled footpath through Belvedere Park, which runs along the side of the lake.
The countryside around Lugano offers cycling routes and walking trails with views of the mountains. The Houghs like taking the funicular (a mountainside railway) to the top of Monte Bré. “The view is unbelievable,” he says. “It’s a unique trip.”
THE CITY’S ECONOMY
Lugano, the largest city in Switzerland’s Italian-speaking Ticino area, is the country’s third largest financial center. The city is home to private independent banks such as Corner Banca SA. Companies headquartered in Lugano include IBSA (Institut Biochimique SA), a privately owned global pharmaceutical company, and Ilapak, manufacturer of industrial wrapping machinery. Also based in Lugano is Universitá della Svizzera and the Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence, a research facility. In addition to finance, manufacturing and education, many of the jobs in Lugano are linked to tourism.
WHERE TO EAT
When they visit Lugano, the Houghs often have a difficult time picking a restaurant because they have so many choices. “You can get Swiss, French or Italian food,” Hough says. “There are just so many restaurants.” They have discovered Grotto Della Salute which serves Italian cuisine and offers outdoor seating.
One of the local favorites is the 205-year-old Grand Café at Porto where the food is prepared with an Italian touch. Many dignitaries and celebrities such as Clark Gable and Sofia Loren have frequented the restaurant over the years.
WHERE TO STAY
The Tresa Bay Hotel on the shore of Lake Lugano is one of the Houghs’ favorite hotels. “The hotel is very European,” Candi Hough says. “It has a swimming pool that you have to reserve. You can reserve it for your family for a half-hour at a time.”
The Houghs also frequent Hotel Lugano Dante Center in the old town section of Lugano. “It’s very elegant,” Tom Hough says. “It has a small number of rooms, which we like.”
Other popular resorts include Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola, also on the shore of Lake Lugano, and Villa Principe Leopoldo atop Golden Hill. The elegant Villa Castagnola, once a mansion owned by a Russian family, has a private subtropical park and magnificent lake views. Villa Principe Leopoldo was also a mansion before it was turned into a high-end resort.
Hotel Eden Roc features marble floors, furnishings and paintings designed especially for the resort. Located in Ascona on a bay at Lake Maggiore, the hotel has its own yachting marina where you can rent a yacht and explore the area.