Story: 130 years old but not feeling it

Where sheep predicted the weather

The rails, the clattering convoys, the tourists’ questions and the excited children. The ascent to Monte Generoso is a unique experience.

1,704 m a.s.l., alpine pastures and footpaths, a railway celebrating its 130th anniversary, the oldest working steam train in Switzerland and the world-famous Fiore di pietra. Monte Generoso dominates southern Ticino and is packed with history and experiences. Let’s discover some of them.

THE CHARACTER

Egidio Maglio, Chief railway operator of the Ferrovia Monte Generoso for almost 40 years

Egidio Maglio, Chief railway operator of the Ferrovia Monte Generoso for almost 40 years
Steam trains are like coffee: it’s already apparent in the morning whether or not it will be a good day depending on what the smoke coming out of the funnel is doing.

Not steam, diesel or electricity, but pure passion. 

When talking to Egidio Maglio it’s immediately apparent that this fuelled his almost fifty years of work on the trains that travel every day from Capolago to the peak of Monte Generoso. “We were one big family and I was married to the railway.”

When he looks back at his memories and talks about the trains that travelled along the tracks, his eyes light up: the models created for this railway line built in 1890, the explanations about what saturated steam is, the transformations of the coaches in the workshop overlooking the lake, the good relations he had with his colleagues.

“I was always the first to arrive and the last to leave. Even today, every morning I have a coffee in Capolago and greet my former workmates.” 

Whether it’s an orange and blue electric train or the steam train built in 1890 (and still running today, the only one in Switzerland!), the ascent up Monte Generoso is a unique experience. Egidio Maglio, who has worked on, fixed and manoeuvred this rack train for thirty-six years, is well aware of this.

For a few years after retiring, he took up the hobby of driving the steam train that occasionally runs along the tracks.

This mountain witnessed the very start of tourism in the region, when the British visited Ticino on their European Grand Tour, along with Italian royalty and aristocrats.

Once the train got stuck, so we all got off and had to lift and move the coach by hand.

There are all sorts of hiking trails that allow visitors to explore Mendrisio, Castel San Pietro and the characteristic Muggio Valley at the foot of Monte Generoso, where traditions still live on today. It’s also possible to explore Switzerland’s southernmost alpine path, arriving from Rovio. And we have to mention the food. You certainly won’t go hungry in the Generoso area.

Don’t miss Piera’s ossobuco in Scudellate, or the cheese made by Marisa near the top. “I got to know some fantastic people at the top. I felt really at home.”

A train is a place where you meet and get to know new people. Egidio has met countless new faces. “Once the train derailed and got stuck. I had to get the passengers off and ask them to lift the coach together (it was quite light and there were a lot of us) so we could put it back on the tracks. They saw it as a fun experience.”

Pro tip
From November 2019 more than 13,500 sleepers, more than 17 kilometres of rails and racks will be replaced for a total of almost 19,000 quintals of steel.
It’s 54 km as the crow flies from the gold statue of the Virgin Mary on top of the Duomo in Milan, which can been seen sparkling from the top of Monte Generoso.
Back to the Belle Époque. Historical itineraries with a steam train from 1890 are organised in the summer.

“I remember the time there was a very well-known meteorologist from Ticino on the train. It was a lovely sunny day. He was accompanying a school group and wanted to go paragliding the next day. However, on our way up I told him it would rain and he didn’t believe me.”

“The next day the weather was bad and he asked me with great surprise how I knew that it would rain. Thanks to the sheep, ‘I replied. The sheep?!’ If they take shelter in the tunnel it means it will rain the next day.”

The Fiore di Pietra by architect Mario Botta was built just a short step from the top of Monte Generoso in 2017. The octagonal building is formed by eight petals enclosing a central space.

The arrangement of the petals defines a group of five-storey towers that seem to open slightly out to close again on the upper floors (hence the name of flower of stone).

"If the sheep are in the tunnel, rain is on the way."

SHARE

Monte Generoso occupies a place in many people’s hearts: those of the local residents known as momò, of the many guests who have taken stunning photos from the top and, naturally, of Egidio. While it’s true that he worked there for years, he also met his wife there. We can therefore say that this mountain is part of his family.

“My grandchildren love Monte Generoso. They’re not so keen on trains, but they play happily with building blocks. I’m fairly hopeful,” concludes Egidio with a broad smile.

TIPPS FOR YOU


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