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Ticino for everyone

In winter, Monte San Salvatore appears like a sleeping giant before Lugano

(Keystone)

Imagine going on holiday and finding you can't get into the hotel you'd booked. Picture yourself needing to call home, and not being able to open the door to the public phone booth.

Or, think of what it must be like to go to a restaurant and find you can't use the lavatory.

While it may sound like a nightmarish tale from some faraway destination, it's not. It's what people in wheelchairs face everyday, whether in their hometown or on holiday.

But canton Ticino, a magnet for tourists from Switzerland and abroad, is trying to make things easier for people with motor skills difficulties.

Four itineraries have been put together for the Lake Lugano region; a route meandering through the city itself, a boat trip combined with a ride up Monte Generoso, a tour of the town of Mendrisio and the Mendrisiotto (affectionately termed the Tuscany of Switzerland by the locals), and an excursion that takes in Lugano's Sugarloaf Mountain, San Salvatore.

Aldo Doninelli of Ticino's federation for the integration of people with disabilities suggests we visit Monte San Salvatore. His choice of excursion was determined not only by the breathtaking 360 degree view the summit offers, but also because of the cable-car ride.

Often such modes of transportation are utterly off-limits for people in wheelchairs, or with walking difficulties.

"I often notice anger and disappointment in disabled people who find they cannot reach a place they want to visit," he says.

"Although it's not a big percentage of the population, it's important to have facilities that are accessible. It's what makes the difference between frustration and comfort."

The manager of the 110-year old Monte San Salvatore funicular, Felice Pellegrini, is well aware of how much of a difference accessibility makes to the holidaymaker in a wheelchair.

But as someone who has long been involved with disabled people, he says the SFr100,000 he invested to make the cable car wheelchair-friendly wasn't just intended to increase customers.

"It's not a matter of quantity, but a matter of quality," Pellegrini explains. "It's important to have the opportunity to access the top of the mountain comfortably, after all, before we made the changes in 1998, people had to be lifted by hand into the cable car."

No helping hands are needed now, and at the top of the 912-metre mountain there is an alternative route to the steep steps that lead out of the cable car.

Doninelli says the itineraries drawn up with the Ticino tourist board are limited to day-trips because not that many hotels are wheelchair friendly.

However, the situation is changing. By law, new buildings now have to be organised to allow access to people with disabilities. Ramps for wheelchairs, and lifts for elderly people (or even just someone who has troubled going up steps) must be installed.

The investment for hoteliers, restaurateurs, and even shopkeepers cannot be underestimated. The cost of making even only minor adaptations to buildings can easily run into six-figures.

But as Pellegrini puts it, it need not just be something a businessman does out of the goodness of his heart: "You must not under-estimate the economic side of things.

"Most people with motor skills difficulties rarely travel alone. They move about with at least one other person if not an entourage of several family members. So they are often very good customers."

Doninelli hopes to be able to expand the four itineraries in the very near future. He says Ticino is catching up with other parts of Switzerland, which were perhaps quicker at making major tourist attractions accessible to all.

In the meantime, he is pleased that somewhere with as breath-taking a view as San Salvatore can be enjoyed by anyone who wishes to make the ascent.

"It's simply gorgeous - over there you can see Lake Maggiore, then further on Monte Rosa and Monte Bianco in the French Alps..." he gushes as we look out across the expanse of lakes.

"Look, to the south that's the Italian border. Imagine, on a clear day you can even catch a glimpse of the twinkling statue of the Madonna perched atop the Duomo in Milan!"

by Juliet Linley


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