Building and buying

Tranquility and superb views of the hills of Malcantone

Adrian Bosshard

26 years ago, Nora, now 55, left the idyllic Ticino village on Lake Lugano where she grew up. A few years ago she returned – and she now lives in her own restored Ticino house with truffle dog Lola.

Nora sits on her balcony overlooking the slopes of Malcantone. Her dog, Lola, lies under her chair.
© Natascha Vavrina

In this article

Back to her roots

At the age of 29, love took Nora to the other side of the Gotthard. Four years later, daughter Sara was born and the family made their home on Lake Lucerne in the canton of Nidwalden. In 2008 the couple separated – and although Nora liked life in Nidwalden and in German-speaking Switzerland in general, she decided to return to Lake Lugano and the rolling hills of Malcantone with her daughter.

Nora grew up in the small village of Vernate, not far from her present home in Alto Malcantone. The Malcantone region in the hinterland of Lugano is a gently rolling and densely overgrown hilly landscape that stretches from Agno on Lake Lugano up to Monte Lema. It is said that the name “Mal Cantone” (bad canton) comes from the fact that in the past, crimes were often committed here and the remote area was used as a hiding place by robbers and smugglers.

Today, Malcantone is known above all for its picturesque villages, magnificent views of Lake Lugano and dense chestnut forests. That’s where Nora goes looking for truffles with her 5-year-old dog. But Lola’s truffle hunting is rarely productive – there are simply too few of the precious mushrooms in Ticino. Nora and Lola nevertheless like to roam through the forests, explore the villages and wander through the hills of their homeland.

Nora and her dog Lola are walking through an alley in a small Ticino village with old walls and round arches.

Gentle hills and picturesque villages are typical of Malcantone near Lugano.

A jewel from the ruins

After returning to Malcantone, Nora began looking for a house she could afford. It took a lot of patience until the opportunity finally came along in 2015. A good friend told Nora she was willing to sell her a house in Alto Malcantone with a view over Lake Lugano. “It was a dump that was impossible to live in,” remembers Nora with a laugh. On the plus side, the house had a small garden and a wonderful view, and Nora immediately recognized its great potential.

There is nothing left of the run-down house from back then. Nora now lives in a splendid 170-square-meter home spread over three floors. On the second floor – above the entrance and the large vaulted cellar on the first floor – there is a beautiful 60-square-meter room including a bathroom and a balcony with a magnificent view.

A large living room with an old fireplace and a modern kitchen occupy the entire third floor. Nora loves drinking a glass of wine on the balcony in front of the house in the evening, looking out over the landscape bathed in the golden evening light. At the very top of the house, there is a bright attic with a small bathroom and large panoramic windows. This is still her daughter Sara’s room. Sara now studies and lives in Zurich – but often visits Nora in Malcantone.

A bed stands in a large room with floor-to-ceiling windows offering views of the forest and the lake.

Nora’s bedroom offers a panoramic view of the lake – a priceless view.

There is a bright living room area in the foreground; a dining area with floor-to-ceiling windows can be seen in the background.

Warm colors, a wooden floor and lots of natural light: the living and dining area of the house is the ideal place to linger.

Making the original visible

The special charm radiated by Nora’s home is mainly due to the successful combination of old and new. After buying the property, Nora completely reorganized the floor plan. Wherever possible, Nora retained the existing substance. This is easily recognizable in the historic masonry, which is visible on one of the walls throughout the house. The work wasn’t easy. The bricks that are now apparent first had to be uncovered. Then the old plaster had to be removed and completely replaced with special restoration mortar.

Nora sits with her dog on the open staircase that leads up to the top floor in front of an unplastered historic wall.

Nora had the historic masonry exposed on one wall, giving the house a special charm.

The mixture of historical and modern elements continues harmoniously throughout the interior. Nora skillfully combines old wooden furniture with contemporary, high-quality furnishing elements, mostly made in Switzerland. She was also able to preserve the old fireplace, although the repair cost a tidy sum due to the strict fire protection regulations. The investment has more than paid off, considering the countless hours Nora now spends in front of the fireplace.

The living room with a sofa corner and old fireplace in the background.

A harmonious combination of old and new in the living room with its old fireplace.

Women’s DIY

When Nora was able to move into her house in September 2015, everything was exactly as she had imagined. But this was not by chance. “If I’d listened to the architects, I don’t know what would have become of the house,” says Nora, shaking her head. “They kept telling me I couldn’t do it.” She was advised not to leave the walls visible and unplastered, and to completely remove the original materials such as wood and stone.

“In the end, I just decided everything myself.” Nora took the reins and, together with the contractor and the workmen, determined the entire interior design herself – from the room layout to the choice of materials. It was worth it when you see how successful the harmonious combination of old, authentic elements and modern architecture has turned out to be. That’s what gives the house its very special charm.

The modern white kitchen with visible old masonry above the sink.

The successful combination of old and modern elements also provides a lot of charm in the kitchen.

“When I first saw the finished house, I was relieved,” recalls Nora. “Restoration work is often very difficult and costly for houses that are several hundred years old like this one.” Despite the extensive reconstruction, the costs remained within the planned budget.

Before buying the house, Nora never thought she would be able to afford it. It was only when she began to take a closer look at the subject that she realized that her dream of owning her own house by the lake could become true after all. She was able to take out a mortgage that was much less complicated and cheaper than she had thought. This enabled her to return to the place where she grew up.

Nora and her dog, Lola, in the enchanted garden of the Ticino house.

Nora bends down to pet her dog, Lola, in the garden.

A meeting place in the garden

A house full of charm with a wonderful view, healthy fresh air and peace and quiet: Nora enjoys her life in Alto Malcantone. But the most important thing is that she has good friends here, some of whom she has known all her life. She played with them as a child, when she used to spend time with her grandparents who lived in the village. But she also appreciates new acquaintances, such as the Basel neighbors with whom she shares a common garden.

In the warmer months of the year, the garden seating area, where many summer parties have been celebrated, becomes the meeting place for Nora’s circle of friends. Nora will no doubt spend many more wonderful hours in her bijou in Alto Malcantone – along with her faithful dog Lola, her daughter Sara, or the good friends she has here in the village.

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