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Lugano Prealps

The Lugano Prealps is one of the major mountain ranges in the Western Alps in northern Italy and the very south of Switzerland. The main feature of the Lugano Prealps is their location on three of the five famous lakes in this part of the world: the Lugano of the same name, as well as Maggiore and Como. All three lakes are an integral part of the landscape of the range, without which it is simply impossible to imagine, and vice versa—lakes without mountains. The highest mountain in the Lugano Prealps is Pizzo di Gino (2,254 m / 7,395 ft). The most prominent mountain is Monte Tamaro (1,961 m / 6,433 ft), which is better known for its breathtaking funicular leading to a height of 1,530 m (5,019 ft), from where it is a short walk to the top. In total there are 448 named mountains in the Lugano Prealps.

Lugano Prealps, Switzerland


As has just become clear, the name of the mountains comes from the name of the lake.

The word “Lugano,” in turn, most likely comes from the name of the ancient Celtic god Lugus, the patron saint of water. (The Celts were the largest tribe in what is now northern Italy before the arrival of the Romans.) From here also comes the Latin “lucus”—”sacred grove”, and “Lakvannus”—”lake dwellers”. By the way, the second little-known name of the lake, Ceresio, has Latin roots, too—from “Ceresius lacus”, which means about the same thing.

Lugano Prealps, Switzerland

Unraveling the etymological tangle further: the Indo-European root “lug” comes from “leug”—“black”, “to break”, or “to take an oath”, or “leuk”—“to shine”.

The modern name of the lake also did not find its form at once, but went through a series of transformations: Luanasco—Luano—Lugano (Lugan in Lombard dialect of Italian).

The word Prealpes in the name of the range predictably means that it is the beginning of the Alps. To the south of them is the Padan Plain, which covers all of northern Italy.

The Lugano Prealps in Italian and German, two main languages of an area, are Prealpi Luganesi and Luganer Voralpen, respectively.

Lugano Prealps, Switzerland

Geography and Landscape

Despite being called one of the main ranges in the Western Alps, it is one of the smallest in terms of square footage, far behind the neighboring Pennine Alps to the west, the Lepontine Alps to the north, to which it is connected by the San Jorio Pass (2,010 m / 6,594 ft); the Western Rhaetian Alps to the northwest; and the Bergamasque Alps and Prealps to the east.

Remaining on the geographical map, the core of the range is three above-mentioned lakes, beyond whose borders it does not extend. Lugano Lake is in the center, Maggiore on the left, and Como on the right. The range border also runs along the major Ticino River between the towns of Locarno to Bellinzona.

A separate line should be noted the so-called Triangolo lariano (Lario Triangle)—a peninsula of almost triangular shape, far into Como Lake (Lario is its Latin name), known primarily for the village of Bellagio at its northern tip, as well as Monte San Primo (1,681 m / 5,515 ft) mountain, which offers a magnificent view over the entire water body. Yes, the famous casino in Las Vegas seems to be named after it. Well, or you may have heard yourself that Hollywood actor George Clooney often lives in his villa here. Most likely he is not the only one, these mountains have long attracted celebrities, not just Italian ones.

Lugano Prealps, Switzerland

On the administrative map, the range is not equally distributed country-wise, the major part stretches over the Italian region of Lombardy in the provinces of Varese, Como, and Lecco whilst the southernmost part of a Swiss canton of Ticino, including in the districts of Mendrisio, Lugano, Locarno, and Bellinzona, makes up a small tip in the center of it.

Getting to the Lugano Prealps

The city of Milan and Malpensa International Airport are just one hour away from the area, which makes the Lugano Prealps a perfect destination for a day trip and a weekend getaway.

Lugano Prealps, Switzerland


The most important fact about the geology of the Lugano Prealps is that the area south of Lugano Lake is rich in various fossils around 220 to 180 million years old (Triassic and Jurassic periods). In particular, the largest deposits have been found at Monte San Giorgio (1,097 m / 3,599 ft), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can see them in the Museum of Fossils from Monte San Giorgio (Museo Dei Fossili Del Monte San Giorgio, Via Bernardo Peyer 9, 6866, Meride, Switzerland), located on the site.

Lugano Prealps, Switzerland

Ranges and Summits

The Lugano Prealps are part of the Northwestern Alps (Alpi Nord-occidentali)—one of the two main parts of the Western Alps (Alpi Occidentali) in the Italian classification of Alps SOIUSA, where they are number 11, out of 14 in the western part of the Alps and 36 in total. At the same time, it is the southernmost of the four easternmost mountain ranges of the Western Alps on the border with the Eastern Alps, along with the Lepontine Prealps, the Glarus Alps, and the Swiss Prealps.

In Italy, they are also often called Western Lombard Prealps (Prealpi Lombarde Occidentali) or Ceresio Prealps (Prealpi del Ceresio). Here, this is one of the three large parts of the Lombard Prealps covering the Lombardy region on the administrative map of Italy, on par with the Bergamasque Alps and Prealps, and the Brescia and Garda Prealps. However, you will not find the Western Lombard Prealps in SOIUSA.

Internally, the mountain range is divided into two large subranges, or rather parts—eastern and western — named after the two Italian cities with the corresponding largest mountain groups within them:

  • Como Prealps (Prealpi Comasche): Gino-Camoghè-Fiorina, Tremezzo-Generoso-Gordona, Triangolo Lariano
  • Varese Prealps (Prealpi Varesine): Tamaro-Gambarogno-Lema, Piambello-Campo dei Fiori-Nudo

Lugano Prealps, Switzerland

PeakVisor founder: "The highest mountain in the Lugano Prealps is Pizzo di Gino (2,254 m / 7,395 ft) in Italy to the west of Como Lake. Monte Tamaro (1,961 m / 6,433 ft) in Switzerland is the most prominent mountain. With a prominence of 1,407 m (4,616 ft), this mountain is "almost" Ultra, lacking just 93 m (305 ft) to get the title."

In addition to the aforementioned Monte San Primo, other equally important and famous mountains are the following:

  • Monte Bre (925 m / 3,034 ft)*, Monte Boglia (1,516 m / 4,973 ft), San Salvatore (913 m / 2,995 ft)*, Cima Pescia (835 m / 2,793 ft), and Monte Sighignola (1,312 m / 4,304 ft) in the very center of the range overlooking the town of Lugano. Like Monte Tamaro, the main one in the northwestern part of the range, the two of them, which I have marked with asterisks, also attract many travelers because they are accessible by cable cars and cog railways.
  • Monte Generoso (1,701 m / 5,580 ft), a higher and larger mountain located at a small distance from the above-mentioned peaks.
  • Monte di Tremezzo (1,700 m / 5,577 ft) is the gigantic mount on the west side of Como Lake above the town of Meñaggio, that you can't miss from Varenna, the most popular tourist town on the eastern shore where you can take a ferry to the base of the mountain (and also to Bellagio). But I really don't recommend doing it on weekends in the high tourist season—you just might not have enough room on a boat—that's how many people are here.
  • Monte Garzirola (2,115 m / 6,938 ft) and Camoghè (2,228 m / 7,309 ft) are the neighboring peaks in the north-east part of the range, which you can reach from Bellinzona, the capital of canton of Ticino.
  • Monte Nudo (1,235 m / 4,051 ft) and Monte Barro (922 m / 3,024 ft) are the highest extreme peaks in the western and eastern parts of the range, overlooking Maggiore and Como lakes, respectively. The latter is also the namesake nature park, Monte Barro Regional Park (Parco Regionale del Monte Barro), with a magnificent moderately difficult trail right across the summit. But the park is not the only one in the range; we'll tell you about the others immediately below.

Lugano Prealps, Switzerland

Best Hikes in the Lugano Prealps

For this section, I asked PeakVisor founder as a local to help me in this guide: "The area is a real paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. A mix of sunny south Mediterranean flair, three marvelous lakes, and epic Alpine landscapes would drive any mountain aficionado crazy. There is a dense network of well-marked hiking and MTB trails with numerous panoramic points and benches.

Here are the main ones, including the above-mentioned mountains and peaks that you can reach by foot, bike, and cable cars:

  • Hike to Monte San Giorgio, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a medium-length route through a mountain forest ending up at the summit with cozy wooden benches and one of the best views of Lugano Lake.

    Lugano Prealps, Switzerland

  • On Monte Generoso a recently renovated cog railway allows comfortable ascend to the summit with a dense network of trails. If you are not looking for easy solutions then there are several challenging yet well-marked routes leading to the summit from Swiss and Italian territories.
  • The route Monte Tamaro—Monte Lema (1,621 m / 5,318 ft) is very unique because there are cable cars on both ends of this long ridge allowing you to enjoy splendid views during the whole journey without stretching yourself to endure strenuous elevation differences.

    Lugano Prealps, Switzerland

  • Monte Bre—Monte Boglia, another relatively short and easy uphill walk from the top station of Lugano-Monte Bre cog railway to the top of Monte Boglia rewards you with exceptional panoramic views.
  • On Monte San Salvatore, another popular destination for Lugano visitors, there’s a cog railway and several hiking trails for panoramic views seekers.

    Monte San Salvatore, Lugano Prealps, Switzerland

  • Hiking to Campo dei Fiori (1,227 m / 4,025 ft) has nothing to do with a square in Rome, close to Piazza Navona. It is actually a mountain with 879 m (2,883 ft) of prominence. Starting from Varese, the Campo dei Fiori ascent is 13.6 km (8.4 mi) long. The average percentage of elevation is 6 %. As you get higher the air gets quite crispy and fresh with a lot of trees on your way to cast conformable shadows should you travel on a hot day. The views are pleasing, despite the rather rough terrain from time to time.
  • Monte San Primo is a popular hiking destination in the very center of the Lario Triangle (Triangolo Lariano). On a clear day, one can see not only Monte Rosa (4,633 m / 15,200 ft) but the northern peaks of the Apennines. A famous “Trail #1 Triangolo Lariano” goes from Brunate to the village of Bellagio at the very tip of land in the lake and takes the whole day. But you have to leave at sunrise and come back at sunset. So I recommend splitting it in two for an overnight stay somewhere halfway in one of the mountain huts (rifugio), of which there are many.

    Monte San Primo, Lugano Prealps, Switzerland

  • Hike to Monte Nuvolone (1,092 m / 3,582 ft) is also very special because due to the mountain’s strategic location close to the center of the lake and its prominence it has one of the best views of Como Lake.
  • Corni di Canzo (1,373 m / 4,504 ft) is not one but several peaks reminiscent of horns (“corni” in Italian) near the town of Canso. They are surrounded by epic scenery and require a very little bit of climbing, a very tiny bit just to make the lunch feel earned. There’s the S.E.V. mountain hut (Rifugio S.E.V.) just at the base of the horns with delicious food and refreshing beverages.
  • Hike to Monte Grona (1,736 m / 5,695 ft) is another great route in the Lugano Prealps. It is a rocky mountain near Menaggio in the south of the range. A hike starts from the mountain hut of the same name, Menaggio mountain hut, with rare sections of very steep slopes and rocky formations that offer breathtaking unearthly views.
  • Monte Galbiga (1,698 m / 5,570 ft) is a mountain that is just a stone’s throw away from the Venini mountain hut. The summit features a panoramic deck with Lugano Lake views. In less than 10 minutes from it, there’s Monte Tremezzo.

    Monte Galbiga, Lugano Prealps, Switzerland

  • Hiking Monte Sighignola is also (and always) a good idea. A panoramic terrace just below the summit provides a spectacular view especially to the west, over the city of Lugano, Como Lake, and hundreds of other mountains, including the Monte Rosa range. For this reason, the site is often known as the “Il Balcone d’Italia” (“The Balcony of Italy”).
  • Sasso Gordona (1,410 m / 4,625 ft) is a huge rock with WWI fortifications built into it, so may be of interest to researchers of this section of historical scholarship. There’s a cozy CAI-run mountain hut right next to it.
  • Hike to Sasso del Ferro (1,062 m / 3,484 ft) is the last (but certainly not literally) in the list of the best hikes in the Lugano Prealps. It is also a launch platform popular among hang gliders. With the bucket lift to the top, this site is easily accessible all year round. There’s a cafe at the top of the cable car station with panoramic views over Maggiore Lake."

    Sasso del Ferro, Lugano Prealps, Switzerland

I should also note that many of these mountains and peaks lie within various natural areas in which you will find even more trails and interesting places to hike. These include the following largest parks, which are easy to relate to the names above. They are located in Italy in the southern part of the range:

In addition to these, there are also many small nature reserves scattered throughout the range, dedicated to particular landscape features and natural attractions. Sasso Malascarpa Nature Reserve, for example, is another interesting area in Lombardy from a geological, geomorphological, and paleontological point of view.

And yet, just in case this is not enough for you, the two nearest larger ones are Val Grande National Park to the west and Parco delle Orobie Bergamasche to the east of the mountain range in the neighboring the Pennine Alps and the Bergamasque Alps and Prealps. Both parks are Italian. To the north of the range, it is Beverin Nature Park (Naturpark Beverin) in Switzerland.

Parco Naturale Regionale Campo dei Fiori, Lugano Prealps, Switzerland

Skiing Near the Lugano Prealps

For skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts, there are no ski resorts in the Lugano Prealps, except the three very small ones with less than 1 km (mi) of slopes and several ski lifts.

However, this does not mean that you can't ski here at all. The nearest major resorts in the neighboring mountain ranges are nearby. These are at least Mottarone on the western side of the Maggiore Lake with more than 15 km (mi) of slopes and more than 5 ski lifts, and Piani di Bobbio on the eastern side of the Como Lake with more than 35 km (22 mi) of slopes and more than 15 ski lifts.

To the north of the Lugano Prealps, there are more resorts and they are also larger: Piana di Vigezzo, Bosco Gurin-Grossalp, Carì, Nara-Leontica, Valchiavenna, and others.

Monte Tamaro, Lugano Prealps, Switzerland

Check the nearest ski resort to the Lugano Prealps on the larger Ticino and Lombardy ski resorts maps in the World Mountain Lifts section of the site. It includes information about open ski lifts / slopes near the Lugano Prealps in real-time with opening dates and hours. There are also year-round cable cars, funiculars, cog railways, aerial tramways, and all other types of mountain lifts.

Tourist Information

Before or after the hike, visit one of the official information points in the Lugano Prealps located throughout the mountain range. Here is the central one in Lugano:

Lugano Center Info Point

Piazza della Riforma, 1, Palazzo Civico, 6901, Lugano, Switzerland.

Monday to Friday: 9:00 am to 12:00 pm, 1:00 pm to 5:30 pm, Sunday and holidays: closed


The official tourist sites of Ticino and Lombardy:, and

Monte Tamaro, Lugano Prealps, Switzerland


I suppose you should have no problem finding lodging while hiking in the Lugano Prealps.

As in all other parts of the Alpine system, and in the mountains in general, the main type of temporary accommodation here is hut. It is only worth specifying that in Italian they are called "rifugio" and in German "hutte". Some of them we have already listed in the guide, the rest are easy to find on the 3D map in the application.

In the central part of the system in the Lugano area, you will also find all other kinds of accommodation: B&Bs, rooms, and apartments on Airbnb or, campings, and others.

I also agree with the founder of PeakVisor and also recommend the incredibly well-developed, comfortable, and relatively inexpensive (true, in Italy, but not in Switzerland) accommodation. But also in the latter you can find good options of up to 100 euros per night for two people if you go hiking in the off-season or in less touristy places.

Anyway, spending a night or two in a classic rifugio/hutte or family-run B&B is not only about comfort and cost, but a great addition to the experience of hiking in nature, which will allow you to know the region better through the communication with locals.

village of Muzzano, Lugano Prealps, Switzerland

Cities and Resorts

In the guide, you have already learned about the main cities and resorts in the Lugano Prealps. Let me tell you a little about their capital, Lugano.

It is not so much a large (75.93 sq km / 29.32 sq mi) as it is a busy, always moving city of over 67,000 people (2019), part of a larger urban agglomeration of over 150,000 inhabitants, much of which are Italians and Swiss who speak Italian. In other words, we could call it "Little Italy" within Switzerland, by analogy with "Little Austria" (Trentino and Tyrol) in Italy itself.

However, to name even the main architectural and cultural attractions of Lugano I would need a separate guide, the size of this one, no less. So I will just say that the municipality is home to 17 sites of different origin that are part of the Swiss Inventory of Cultural Property of National and Regional Significance — a very important thematic list for the country, as the name implies.

Lugano lake in Switzerland

In particular, these are the whole city of Lugano and several districts and villages in the namesake municipality; two libraries; the Cathedral of San Lorenzo and two churches (Santa Maria degli Angioli, and San Rocco); three museums, including the Museo cantonale di storia naturale di Lugano; and many palaces: Palazzo civico, Palazzo e cinema Corso, three Palazzo Riva at different streets, and villas such a s Villa Favorita.

Some of them you come across on the way while walking, some you need to look for on purpose. But there are plenty of them for an interesting time in the city and its surroundings.

Lugano lake in Switzerland

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