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The Perfect Escape - LuganoEscaping the Dutch rain and cold has become a rhythm of life in Northern Europe for this expat. Some of my friends spend a month, six-weeks, or even longer in Spain, France, or traveling in South America.

Searching for sunshine and warm evenings of being able to have dinner outside. Or even just the joy of being able to walk outside without a scarf and gloves!

So when my great-good friend ‘Aitch’ was here in September, I couldn’t resist escaping the blustery fall weather for the last days of Indian summer in one of my top favorite retreats in all of Europe.

Good sun, good fun, good lake, good hiking, good wine….. Perfect :)



Aitch had never been to Amsterdam, so I was a bit torn. I wanted to show her all of my little world, but this spot on the shores of Lake Lugano is a must-see. And I was so wonderfully thankful for Aitch’s visit that I wanted to treat her.

Aitch is that friend who never forgets to call you back, who always accepts your dare to jump into fountains, who laughs with untold glee, and who has the miraculous gift of always – always- sending the most perfect care-packages that match my needs. Even when I didn’t know what I needed…

And her boxes have the uncanny ability to arrive at moments when one is raw and needs love and a hug. To walk up the steps and find a box with a Seattle return address on my welcome mat has been profound moments of joy and gratitude for me.

Castelo LuganoSo… What do you do as a nice gesture and a fun trip for a friend who knows you need new earrings even when you don’t yet?

Surprise escape trip to ‘Perfection.’

Also known as San Mamete, Italy.

For weeks, as we planned her visit, I’d just say ‘I’d love to show you some countryside. There may be a pool. Bring a bathing suit. Roads are slippery here in the wet. Bring good shoes that won’t slip on stone or cobbled streets.’

Castelo LuganoThe night before we left, I had to tell a little white lie and tell her our train was leaving at the horrid hour of 5:45am and that trains here have the same liquid rules for security as airports :)

I was DYING to tell her!

In the morning we were up and out the door perfectly on time. As we walked in the dark and damp to the train station, Aitch thought out loud that she maybe should call her hubby and kids back home since it was still evening on the US West Coast. I couldn’t let her get on an airplane without saying something to her man…. So on the train platform, while shaking out our wet hair and settling bags… I pulled out a boarding pass and nonchalantly handed it to her.

Ciocolato Wine Bar, San Mamete

Ciocolato Wine Bar, San Mamete

‘Here’s your boarding pass.’

‘Thanks. Trains have boarding passes?’

And then she saw the destination. Zurich.



‘By plane.’

The call to her hubby was full of excitement and exclamations of ‘I’m going to Switzerland!’



I stoically held myself back and just gripped the boarding passes for the second leg of our journey in my purse.

The reveal of the second part of the surprise was on the flight… Just before landing, while we still had access to the nifty Swiss Air magazine that had a map of Switzerland and northern Italy in it… I handed her boarding pass number two.


This was almost as fun as being at the actual location!

From Zurich we took a tiny little commuter plane to the airport in Lugano – one of the prettiest old school little airports around. There a driver was waiting for us to snatch us up and speed with us along the blue coastline of Lake Lugano. I love that you weave in and out of Switzerland and Italy as you are stunned by the views.

San MameteNothing like Swiss organization and Italian life style ;)

Twenty minutes later…. Rounding a corner between buildings hanging by their fingernails onto the edge of the lake, we turned into a little driveway that you would have missed if you blinked.


San Mamete viewSan Mamete has one little square with a cafe and a luscious little wine bar run by Samantha (see more here!), a little shop that sells fresh bread and necessities of Italian life like tomato sauce and prosecco and chocolate, another shop that sells sunscreen and newspapers and pens, a pharmacy, a church and… That’s it.

Oh, and one perfect hotel.


Aitch and I spent two nights making good our escape from Dutch rain- eating pasta under the vines growing over the patio, napping on the dock after a swim in the lake, hiking up to fairy tale castles and villages, talking non-stop, and sharing much laughter.

CasteloThe Perfect Escape.

San Mamete