The 400-year-old Grotto America, located on the banks of the Maggia river in the village of Ponte Brolla, not only offered homemade meals but also a glimpse into Ticino’s difficult past as an impoverished agricultural region. As I feasted on luganighetta con risotto (typical Ticino sausage served with risotto), I looked at old paintings and pictures on the walls that told the emigration stories of more than 30,000 Ticino natives who fled to California between 1850 and 1918 to escape the widespread poverty and unemployment in their homeland.
Antico Grotto Ticino, located in the town of Mendrisio was built more than a century ago. Its wine cellar is a hollowed-out calcareous rock that promises excellent conditions for storing large quantities of wine. Managed by Peter and Odette Raith, it was recently refurbished and has a menu featuring traditional recipes from Ticino, Lombardia and the surrounding area, such as luganighetta (grilled snails) with onions.
And from the outdoor terrace at the Grotto San Michele, which lies between the walls and vineyards of the medieval stronghold of Castelgrande. I took in the panoramic views over the roofs of Ticino’s capital city of Bellinzona. Slowly sipping a Ticino merlot, allowing its intense flavour to linger in my mouth, I came to understand that while the original purpose of the grotto may have changed, its social customs remain well-preserved.
For many locals, snacking on piquant Alpine cheese at a grotto while playing cards or boccia (a bowls game traditionally played at grottos), remains an ideal way to spend a Sunday. Favoured by both young and old, these ingenious structures, a blend of natural and human architecture, remain symbols of tradition, culture, conviviality and a sense of home.
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