There are not many Swiss cities that do not have a funicular of sorts. They were back in the days -and still today – a great way to bridge altitude differences in mountainous areas. A cute example of a picturesque funicular serving the public for over 100 years is the Locarno funicular. This funicular has been bringing locals and visitors to the Madonna del Sasso sanctuary since 1906.
It is easy to miss the ground station of the Locarno funicular. Anonymously cramped between tourist shops and a Mcdonalds, it is easy not to notice the funicular. But don’t do that, the views on the top of the sacred Orselina mountain are too good to miss out on!
Cash only and not part of Swiss pass
It is important to note that while the Swiss travel pass gives you free access or discounts to many funiculars throughout Switzerland – this is not the case for the Locarno funicular. However, if you have a Ticino ticket, you get 20% off on the regular fare of riding the Locarno funicular. Luckily, the fares are not that steep with a return trip only costing CHF 7.20 for adult riders. Children can ride the funicular for half that price.
Additionally it is important to mention that tickets can only be paid for with cash. Card payments are not accepted at the ticket booth.
The trip to Madonna del Sasso
As soon as the funicular departs (normally, the funicular runs every 15 minutes), you ascend from the streets of Locarno into the higher suburbs of the Ticino capital. You get an amazing view of the Lago Maggiore lake and the mountain tops across the lake. The ride, which doesn’t take more than about 5 minutes, soon has you gliding past palm trees and the first glimpses of the pilgrimage church. The Madonna del Sasso church is a popular pilgrimage destination and has been for hundreds of years. However, that doesn’t mean your visit has to have a religious purpose! Taking the funicular up to Madonna del Sasso is worth it for the breathtaking views alone.
Once you get out of the funicular top station, you have a few options. From here, you can take a cable car further up the mountain to Cardad and Cimetta. On this trip, however, we decided that the top station of the Locarno funicular was our end destination and we did not make the journey higher up.
There is a small restaurant at Madonna del Sasso which offers nice views over the church and the Locarno valley.
The Madonna del Sasso church and its surrounding
The Madonna del Sasso church is the landmark that is used on much of the Locarno promotional material. The main reason for that is its absolutely stunning location. The sanctuary has clear Mediterranean influences with the beautiful Lago Maggiore as a spectacular backdrop. It is hard to not be mesmerized by the beauty of this place.
The church grounds can be visited for free, but naturally you should be respectful when visiting. As this is a sacred place for many visitors, dress appropriately and mind your volume. There are services in the church every Sunday , these are all held in Italian but free to visit.
The museum also houses a small museum about the history of Madonna del Sasso. Entry to the museum is also free but they do welcome donations. Informational flyers are available in Italian, English, French, and German.
Once you have explored the church grounds of Madonna del Sasso, you can either walk all the way down to Locarno, or take the funicular back. There is a mid-station of the Funicular at Madonna del Sasso, but the funicular might not stop there if the car completely filled up at the top.
A must when visiting Locarno
Visiting the Madonna del Sasso church essentially is a must when visiting Locarno or Ascone. The short and convenient funicular ride up the Orselina mountain makes this for an activity that easily can be combined with exploring the rest of the region. Taking the funicular up early avoids larger crowds. For optimal views, it is best to visit the mountain on a sunny day.
You can find more information on the funicular here and about Madonna del Sasso on the official website.