While I was getting a bad manicure in Lucerne (is okay--you can scrape off polish on fingers) and Jan was finishing at the laundromat, he met a fellow who said not to miss this castle town, a short train ride from Lugano.

Great recommendation! At one time a key strategic area to help guard the properties and trade routes of princes and bishops of northern Italy in the Middle Ages, Bellinzano now boasts several fortresses that were never damaged in the world wars and look as if armored horsemen were about to enter the keep or cross one of the now-dried moats at any moment.

Visiting on a Sunday, we weren't sure we could access all the castles visible from the train, but we wanted to try. The tourist office at the station had no info for us; rather, they directed us to another tourist office in the center of town, about a mile away (so Italian; why make it easy?). The town has a friendly old square dominated by a nice Baroque church and several cafes. And, we discovered a quick walk to one of the fortresses--with an elevator! Scenic and atmospheric, but we longed for the larger fortresse we could see on the hills on either side of the town.

As luck would have it, a little open-sided trenino was waiting in the square, ready for a new load of tourists. We paid our few euros and Signore Mario lurched us through the rest of the scenic town, then roared up hairpin turns at an alarming speed to the highest fortress first, disregarding cars, bikes, hikers, and probably insurance policies. It seemed that guardrails were either non-existent or built as sort of afterthoughts. But it was all worth it. These are stunning relics of a formidable time of moats, castle keeps, towers, parapets, narrow slits in mighty walls for scouting the enemy and shooting arrows. The castles were in view of each other, though miles across the valley; you could imagine signals crossing from one mountain top to the other if unknown parties approached. Kids were having a great time.