It’s always been a personal goal of mine to try something new on my birthday; whether it be taking a trip or trying a new experience. This year, I celebrated my birthday with a trip to Monte Generoso. Having been contacted by their marketing team a few months ago, I was more than eager to visit this natural wonder, steeped not only in cultural history (125 years’ worth), but also home to one of the most breath-taking panoramic views you’ll see in Ticino.
Monte Generoso certainly lives up to its name, and in more ways than I could have imagined. This majestic mountain is located on the border between Switzerland and Italy, spanning between Lake Lugano and Lake Como. A 30-minute ride on the Monte Generoso railway will get you to the summit (at 1,704m altitude), which includes two restaurants, an art gallery, and a conference room in the recently designed Fiore di Pietra, Mario Botta’s latest architectural gem. Not far away are various other features such as a bear cave, ice pits, a science observatory, and, of course, hiking trails beyond your reach.
The train ride definitely set the tone for what would be a memorable day. When we arrived at the station in Capolago, we were instantly greeted by Viviana, their media and marketing manager, who was quick to make us feel at home while she regaled us with stories of her upbringing, family life, and adventures on Monte Generoso. A friendly railway assistant showed up almost immediately and got us ready for our journey, as a small lift was pushed out and scooted over to the front of the train. I was rolled in gently on my wheelchair, and the metal contraption was manually hoisted up to the entrance. Almost before you could say “Swiss cheese,” I was rolled inside and propped in a corner, my eager friends by my side. And so our journey began, past flora and fauna, as our ascent dazzled us with a world untouched and seemingly forgotten. It’s a world where nature prevails in its entirety, and we are but the spectators of its force. Outside this tiny electric engine that could, the contrast of the ravenous mountains engulfed us. The landscape of peaks and lush greenery lulled the senses, reminding us that we were in a place unburdened by city life. The crisp air inflamed my nostrils, and it was literally like a breath of fresh air.
When we finally arrived at the summit station, another railway assistant emerged, all smiles and pleasantries. The Fiore di Pietra (Stone Flower) towered over us, bearing the unmistakable imprint of Mario Botta. After a lengthy tour of the gallery, two restaurants, and a conference room, we were given a taste of the 360° view that Viviana so proudly boasted about on the train – and she had every reason to. Standing atop of the Fiore is a symphony of colors and beauty waiting to be absorbed. Up there, you feel an insatiable blend of longing,
joy, and reverence for all things not man-made. For those brief moments, everything seems truly possible. All my abstract hopes and dreams became a reality, and like those mountains, seemed as powerful and tangible in their making. We stood there silently, each fixated in our own solitary undertaking of this moment; each intent on creating a magical memory for ourselves. Like a penny in a wishing well, I released my inner most desires into the heavens like a kite soaring in the wind, and I smiled.
A first-class culinary delight followed the tour, as the head chef and waiters welcomed us to the Ristorante Fiore di Pietra. The hours pleasantly droned on, as the wine was plentiful and the courses were exquisite, each presented with warm, artistic decor. The feast ended on a high note, as the head pastry chef presented me with a birthday cake that was almost too beautiful to eat.
We of course dug in greedily and happily anyway. We walked (and rolled) off the scrumptious lunch, looking over the nature trails in the distance, and the science observatory, home to the largest telescope in Ticino. While I couldn’t do the bear cave or ice pits, or even take on the trails, I was still happy I could get this far in the wheelchair. With this sense of gratitude, our journey ended.
The train back to Capolago was filled with a newfound rigor and a familiarity that clearly meant we had all shared something special together. As we looked out the window a fresh breeze tousled my hair, and for a brief moment I felt the parallel of this train’s journey with my own. Over the years my life has taken me to places beyond my understanding and so often beyond my reach, but like this little engine that could, my own ascent has also proven uniquely rewarding. Like this little vintage train on its way to more promising things, my story has also given me much to be grateful for – and I truly am.
So often people talk about the inaccessibility of Switzerland, and yet they forget the efforts being made to progress and do away with this heavily imposed stigma. They forget there are places out there intent on creating a space that a disabled traveler could enjoy as well. While there are some activities I couldn’t take part in, I was still able to make it up to this natural wonder, deciding to instead enjoy what I COULD take part in.
But Monte Generoso isn’t just what it is for the beauty surrounding it: it is what it is for the people that welcome you there, cradling you with smiles and attention. It was the service from start to finish that I remember the most on this lovely trip. They say a big part of what makes an experience is the group of people you share it with. It’s most certainly true that we walk away from something just a little more touched by it, when the people that we share it with are focused on giving the best of who they are. I can’t thank my lovely friends, Viviana, the railway station crew, and the restaurant staff enough for the kindness they showed me that day.
Thank you again, Monte Generoso. You certainly lived up to your name in more ways than one.
As for my next birthday treat; well, I see hot air ballooning in the near future. 🙂