Festa delle Castagne – Chestnut Festival 2011… at Ascona…

While surfing the Internet for information about chestnuts … after our trip to Le Grammont where we had seen many chestnut trees and had even managed to bring some back home … I accidentally found out about the Chestnut Festival held every year in Ascona, a small lake town in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino. And it so happened that the festival was scheduled to take place over 2 Saturdays just a few weeks later … (just my luck! :)) So I told the hubby about it, and he agreed for us to go and check out this Festa delle Castagne (the Italian name) as he had never been to the festival, either.

However, since Ascona is several hours away by train from Lausanne, we decided to make it an overnight trip by staying at a youth hostel in another town called Locarno … so as not to have to rush through the festival and tire ourselves with the long train ride. Furthermore, this would also allow us to do a bit of exploring of Locarno. Although we had been to this small town twice before, we had not explored all that there was to see there as we had visited Locarno on day excursions … which after deducting some 10 hours of train journey (return trip) … had left us with only a few hours to really explore this town.

Fortunately for us, the bus stop for buses travelling to Ascona is located very near to the youth hostel where we were staying in Locarno … so it was really a convenient place for us to stay. So, after checking in and putting our stuff in our room, we then proceeded to make our way to Ascona, which is about 20-25 minutes away by bus … for our first look at the Festa delle Castagne, the Chestnut Festival, edition 2011.

And this was how it was (feel free to click on the panoramas for larger prints or to point the cursor on them to display background info)

Arriving at the small lake town of Ascona, in the canton of Ticino.

You can feel the influence of Italy not only in the relaxed atmosphere but also, of course, in the architecture of this small town – for instance, in the colours of the buildings as well as in the window decorations; thus the ones in trompe-l’oeil on the building on the right are quite similar to those we saw the following day at Como.

This was my second visit to Ascona … after several years. I remembered it as quite a pretty lakeside town … and it was!

It was really nice to be back … especially walking along the lakeside promenade … even though both times it was only for short visits. 🙂

Making our way down this slope … heading towards …

… the lakeside area. The yellow and orange colours of the buildings offered such a beautiful contrast to the blue and green of the lake and mountains across!

Our first view of the area where Festa delle Castagne was being held, along the lakeside … it was quite crowded, was it not?

Unlike the previous weekend we had spent in Aletsch when it was nice and warm, it was a bit chilly during our weekend in Ticino ... even though it was sunny and this canton generally enjoys the mildest weather of all the cantons/regions in Switzerland.

The climate here is more Mediterranean … so you can see palm trees growing in this region. But as you can see from the pictures above … everyone was covered up on that afternoon! Of course, the chilly afternoon did not stop everyone from enjoying the sunshine and socialising outside! 🙂

The harbour in Ascona, just beside the area that had been allocated to Festa delle Castagne.

Making our way to join the others walking through the lakeside promenade, only stopping briefly at a few stalls to see what they were selling. Our main target was, of course, to get to …

… here … where the chestnuts were being roasted!! Whereas back home in Singapore, chestnuts are usually roasted with coffee beans, for the aroma, here the chestnuts are roasted as is. Since Festa delle Castagne was the first time I saw people roasting chestnuts the traditional way, I therefore found it quite fascinating. 🙂

Especially when they starting tossing the chestnuts to make sure that they would be roasted evenly! Interesting. 🙂

Once the chestnuts are nicely roasted, they are poured into a wooden box (of the type used for keeping apples of potatoes here, says the hubby), from which the volunteers of Festa delle Castagne would be serving the hungry visitors who were queueing up.

And then another batch of chestnuts are poured into the metal container … and the whole roasting process gets repeated.

For those who are keen to get some chestnuts for themselves, they first have to queue to get the coupon (left picture), which cost CHF3 per pack of 100g … and then queue again to collect the chestnuts from these ladies (right picture).

A sitting area with a stall selling drink was just next to the first chestnut roasting area … but many simply enjoyed their freshly rosted chestnuts while standing or walking along the promenade.

Making our way slowly to the other end of the promenade, close to the core of Piazza Giuseppe Motta, as we enjoyed our chestnuts. I was quite pleased (especially for the organisers) to see the turnout at the Festa delle Castagne that afternoon.

A view of the Festa delle Castagne area as seen from the other end …

… and of people sitting down on the benches along the edge of the promenade, simply enjoying the beautiful lake view and the hot chestnuts.

The chestnut roasting area on the other end of the promenade.

The tossing … which was so fascinating to see (to me). It must have been tiring to do so frequently so as to ensure that the chestnuts would not get burnt.

And also making sure that the fire would be strong enough. While the first group seemed to be using more of thin sticks or twigs to feed their fire (left picture) … the second group (right picture) was using blocks of cut woods, instead.

The yummy looking chestnuts roasting nicely in the metal pan … but there were several that burst and jumped out of the pans while hungry visitors were queueing.

The queue for the chestnuts at the second chestnut roasting area … on the other side of the promenade.

To be frank, I was expecting several different groups roasting the chestnuts (of different variety, maybe?) all along the lakeside … as that was the impression I had had from the picture that I saw on the Internet. But sadly, this was not so. There were only two chestnut roasting areas from which we could buy the chestnuts … located at the two ends of the promenade, which bears the same name as the square further along: Piazza Giuseppe Motta.

Of course, we … decided to try the chestnuts from both! But they were actually from the same association lah! Hmmm .. oh well … you could say we did our part to help support the event! :)..

Since it was after all a chestnut festival … the chestnuts were thus used as decorations for a few of the stalls, as part of the decorative items on sale at others … and even used as an ingredient for the food products on sale. We should have bought the chestnut pasta during the Festival to try what it tastes like! Maybe next year lah, IF we go to the Festa delle Castagne again.

And in these pictures is what seems to be a group of chimney cleaners from the old days mingling among the visitors to the Festival (… unless they were meant to portray urchins … as chestnuts – which grow in abundance in Ticino – were the staple diet of the poor in this region until the 19th century, to the extent that they were nicknamed il pane della povera gente or the pauper’s bread). The scarf worn by the adult displays the two colours of the canton of Ticino: blue and red.

We decided to sit and eat our second pack of chestnuts on one side of the promenade while we enjoyed the lake view and did a bit of people watching … before making our way back to Locarno after that.

It was a nice little excursion to Ascona to enjoy the Festa delle Castagne. And as we made our way back through the beautiful streets of Ascona to catch our bus back to Locarno, this simple table top display caught my eye. The use of pumpkins (of all shapes and sizes) as decorative element is a favourite at this time of the year … to celebrate the autumn season!



2 thoughts on “Festa delle Castagne – Chestnut Festival 2011… at Ascona…

  1. Pingback: Looking for chestnuts at Bouveret … « Just Sharing…

  2. Hello,
    I enjoyed reading your account of this festival. I’m part of a Swiss-American non-profit club (TCSAA – Twin Cities Swiss American Association) that participates each year in the Festival of Nations in St. Paul, MN, USA. We do it all with volunteer work and don’t get any money for it. Would it be possible to use some of your photos in the booth where we explain about Swiss festivals? These pictures are great and would help us explain what the sagra delle castagne is. Thank you for your consideration,
    Mirjam Palmer


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