|The Centovalli railway|
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Locarno is the eastern terminus of the wonderful Centovalli railway, one of Switzerland’s most scenic rides. Little, clanky trains depart from beneath Locarno station into the spectacular Centovalli – so named for its “hundred” side valleys – most of the time winding slowly on precarious bridges and viaducts above ravine-like depths (sit on the left for the best views). The area is renowned for its natural beauty, and – with a walking map from Locarno tourist office – you could get out at any of the villages en route, pick up a trail and head off into the hills. There’s no lack of grotti, cafés and simple budget accommodation. One neat way to see the route is with the Lago Maggiore Express ticket, which combines the Centovalli line with a train at Domodossola south to the Maggiore resort of Stresa, then a boat back north to Locarno (Fr.42; 9hr total).
Tiny Verscio, 4km northwest of Locarno, is a lovely, utterly tranquil stone-built village which also houses the Teatro Dimitri, a highly acclaimed international mime school founded by Asconan local “Clown Dimitri”, a protégé of Marcel Marceau. The small theatre in a cobbled lane off the village square (091/796 15 44, www.teatrodimitri.ch), stages regular budget performances by students and professionals all summer long, and is also the training ground for the excellent Circus Monti, which tours Swiss towns and cities every year.
Some 3km down the line is Intragna – the graceful 70m bridge just before the village was the scene of Switzerland’s first-ever bungee jump, and remains a choice spot for leaping (see “Listings”, p.498). After the border at Camedo (passport needed), trains roll through rustic villages of the Italian Valle Vigezzo and ease down into bustling DOMODOSSOLA – in Italy, but effectively a terminus of the Swiss train network. Fast Swiss trains from here run west through the Simplon/Sempione Tunnel to Brig and on to Bern, while equally fast Italian trains head south to Milan. If you have time to kill between trains, head 200m west from the station into the old part of town, set around a series of attractively crumbling arcaded piazzas.
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