From Homeless to Highness: A Reunion with Cocoa the Kitten in Ticino, Switzerland

“Nearly all the best things that came to me in life have been unexpected, unplanned by me.”

-Carl sandburg

As I went to say goodbye to Cocoa, I found him basking in the afternoon sunlight and grooming his lustrous black fur. Occasionally, he would stop and gaze out the window at the Swiss paradise before him – a landscape sprinkled with palm, lemon, and olive trees framed by the brilliant blues of Lake Maggiore. When my eyes welled up with tiny tears, the pampered young feline reached for my hand, eager to play. I was pleased that he’d lightened the moment by wanting to get rough and tumble instead of sweet and cuddly. I chuckled as I wiped away the tears rolling down my cheek. “You lucky fellow,” I thought.

I realized that my sentimentality didn’t stem from a sadness about bidding farewell to Cocoa, rather I was touched that he’d literally gone from being in the trash to being treasured by a fantastic family. And in the process, he had introduced us to wonderful new friends, whom we otherwise might not have met.

From Trash to Treasured: Cocoa’s Journey from Ukraine to Switzerland

Nine months earlier, we met Cocoa the kitten just as he was being tossed behind dumpsters in the gorgeous city of Lviv, Ukraine. Stunned, Shawn and I picked him up, took him back to our hotel, and formulated a plan. We named the little guy Cocoa since he hailed from a city renowned for its chocolate and coffee houses.

After a few visits to Ukrainian veterinarians, Cocoa would stow away with us on a 1,000-km (600 mile) journey on trains, trams, and buses through four countries. Once back at my parents’ home in the German Alps, we set out to search for a loving home for the kitten.

A few weeks after beginning our search, my dear Swiss blog reader, Claudine Giovannoni, passionately stepped forward to adopt Cocoa. Shortly thereafter, Shawn and I went to meet Claudine and her daughter for the first time and handed him over to his new family. Cocoa, it seemed, was destined to go from one destination to another known for its chocolate.

When we’d first plucked Cocoa off the street, Shawn had prophetically said that the kitten would “someday make someone very happy.” After bidding farewell to Cocoa that autumn afternoon, we kept in regular contact with Claudine and her family. They would send updates as to how much more weight he’d put on, which family member he’d chosen to sleep with at night, and how he was getting along with his new feline brothers and sisters. One of Claudine’s lovely email exchanges detailed how “Cocoa has stepped forward as a true prince, climbing on the soft and warm bedspread… falling asleep in (her) arms while (her) daughter Sara Luna was practicing her violin.” From all accounts, Cocoa had gone from homeless to highness.

From the beginning, Claudine warmly insisted that we come to visit her family and Cocoa at their home in Switzerland’s Italian-speaking canton of Ticino. Nine months after handing Cocoa over to Claudine, we finally accepted this gracious offer, spending a glorious summer week at Claudine’s home. To say that we were touched by all the love that surrounds Cocoa every day is an understatement. We were equally moved by the kindness and hospitality shown to us by Claudine, her husband, Massimo, and children, Sara Luna and Emanuele.

Cocoa Cat Ukraine Switzerland
Cocoa was neutered the morning of our arrival. It is a simple surgery for boys, and so important in helping reduce stray animal populations. Following his morning surgery, we accompanied Claudine to the Centro Veterinario to pick up Cocoa. He recovered within hours, and was again quite eager to get rough and tumble with his humans. We wanted very much to get reacquainted and play with him that afternoon but had to follow the vet’s orders to let him relax for the rest of the day.
Cocoa Cat
Cocoa, on a lovely Persian carpet, looking as though he belongs in a gourmet cat-food commercial. No wonder we and Claudine have nicknamed him ‘Prince Cocoa’.
Conservatory Performance
Cocoa’s ‘sister’, Sara Luna, (left) is a talented violinist. The night of our arrival in Switzerland, we got to see Sara Luna perform at her conservatory.
Lake Lugano Boat Ride
Our first night, we had dinner in the town of Gandria, overlooking Lake Lugano. Claudine and her family live in the canton of Ticino. It’s Switzerland’s only canton located entirely south of the Alps. The official language there is Italian, whereas German and French are most often spoken in the country’s other administrative districts.
Ticino Olive Fig Trees
Olive and fig trees, Lake Maggiore and dramatic mountains mingle near the city of Locarno. Before visiting Ticino, snow-capped mountains came to mind when I thought of Switzerland. Ticino, however, has a much milder climate than the country’s 25 other cantons. It’s rare for temperatures to dip below freezing in Ticino, and it’s touted as being the sunniest part of Switzerland.
Cocoa's Family in Switzerland
Three-quarters of Cocoa’s human family: Massimo, Claudine, and Sara-Luna. Not pictured are ‘brother’ Emanuele, and 5 felines.
Hydrangea Switzerland
Ticino is known for its pleasant, Mediterranean-like climate. We encountered an unusual amount of rain showers our first few days there, which perked up the area’s lush flora such as this hydrangea.
Ticino Figs
Figs, glorious figs! During our earlier travels through Croatia, Albania, and Greece, Shawn and I had just missed the fig harvests, but yearned to someday pick some directly from the tree. In Claudine’s back yard, our wish was granted. We devoured some of these beauties right from the tree, and then carried shirt-loads up to Claudine’s house, where they filled the fruit bowl and enhanced beautiful breakfasts.
Ticino Mediterranean Climate
More Mediterranean delights: lemons and peaches in Claudine’s garden.
Ticino Olives
Fresh Figs and Raspberries Switzerland
This ever-evolving fruit bowl overflows with figs and raspberries grown in Claudine’s backyard.
Swiss Cheese Ticino
Claudine served up scrumptious feast after feast for us. Some foods were traditional Ticinese ones like risotto, polenta, and Fior di Latte gelato, but others reflected Claudine’s international flair and vegetarian preferences such as gazpacho and white fish & fennel. This extraordinary cheese selection accompanied our polenta dinner.
Ticino Switzerland
Having previously worked for Swiss Air, Claudine has mastered several languages and established connections worldwide. Here, we mingle with her family; her longtime friend from Ticino, Danilo; as well as new friends from Brazil, Ronaldo and Nina.
Emmanuele Piano
Cocoa’s ‘brother’, Emanuele, is a brilliant pianist. He performed for us many nights, and his songs still dance in my head, as if they were the soundtrack for our visit to Ticino. As a piano hobbyist, I’m eager to practice one of Emanuele’s pieces in particular, but I’m not sure I’ll be ever able to achieve his mastery of it!
Horse Care Ticino
Gentle Claudine greets a horse at her daughter’s riding school.
Horse Riding and Grooming Lesson
As part of their horse-riding lessons, Sara Luna and her peers learn how to properly groom and clean up after their horses. Here, Sara Luna attends to her horse for the week, 17-year-old Poker.
Claudine Giovannoni Il Segreto degli Annwyn
Claudine is not only a mother, wife, and civil servant, but also a published author. Her latest book, The Annwyn Secret, is being translated from Italian to English. I’ll have to practice my Italian before I can enjoy reading the signed copy she gave us. Claudine thoughtfully pressed and presented these four-leaf clovers inside the book, along with a sheet of homemade paper. Massimo had found the good luck symbols during one of our excursions together.
Cocoa the Cat
Getting reacquainted with Cocoa, nine months after we last saw him. Having grown up with dogs, I’m not too familiar with cat personalities, but Claudine said she was pretty certain that Cocoa remembered us. The poor guy probably thought we’d take him from his comfortable home for another epic adventure through Ukraine, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Germany. This was our first morning together, after he’d hopped up onto my lap, and extended his arms on my shoulders.
Cocoa Cat Playing with Toy
Cocoa eyes Sara Luna’s beloved toy, just seconds after Claudine had sewn it following his last play session.
House Cat Stray Cat
One stray, one adopted: Cocoa intently watches as a neighborhood homeless cat feeds on the patio of his home. Claudine and her family have adopted several of the strays in their neighborhood, spaying and neutering them. They also put out food for the less-fortunate felines.
Cocoa 2
Cocoa, constantly surrounded by so much love.

Locarno Ticino Switzerland

A Week in the Swiss Canton of Ticino

When we weren’t at their home and doting on ever-playful but affectionate Cocoa, Claudine and her husband whisked us from one Ticino attraction to another. A mini guide of our Ticino voyage follows, chronicling everything from gondolas that carried us to the top of Swiss mountaintops, to explorations of grey stone villages and a mystical island’s botanical garden. While these attractions were all stunning, it was the time spent with Claudine, Massimo, and the children that we will most remember. Cocoa is indeed living the life of a prince. Thank you, dear Claudine, Massimo, and family!

Mount Cardada & Madonna del Sasso

Despite grey skies and the occasional raindrop dancing from the sky, a cable car-ride to the top of Cardada Mountain offered the perfect introduction to Ticino and the adventures that awaited us.

Gliding above the hillside in the cable car, a carpet of chestnut trees eventually gave way to evergreens. I tried to look past the raindrops clinging to the window and imagine the lake and mountain landscapes bathed in Technicolor hues, not the muted tones before us. Still, the scene was beautiful in a way that is not often depicted in travel brochures. It was mysterious and refreshing.

Walking out onto an elevated walkway, Claudine pointed out the touristic highlights off in the distance, but also those that were important to her family: the car-less village where her husband, Massimo, grew up, and the islands where her children had just taken sailing lessons.

Riding the cable car back down to the village of Orselina, we stopped in to the Madonna del Sasso, a well-known pilgrimage church perched above the city of Locarno. Like much of Italy and Ticino, the complex has gorgeous frescoed paintings, many of which reminded me of the buildings in my parents’ village of Oberammergau, Germany. What left the greatest impression were the personal gifts left by church members over the centuries. These paintings lined the walls of the church’s interior and expressed families’ thanks for tragedies overcome or prayers answered. One painting featured a child falling out of the window; another showed a crashed 1930s vehicle precariously resting near the edge of a mountain roadway. I thought it noteworthy that these otherwise forgotten stories are still remembered today, thanks to these tokens.

Cardada Cable Car Locarno Switzerland
The Cardada Cable car took us from Orselina to the top of Mount Cardada, offering great views of Lake Maggiore, the city of Locarno and beyond.
Cardada Cable Car Locarno
Shawn and Claudine (left) and Locarno from above (right).
Cardada Cable Car Locarno Ticino
A canopy of trees as seen from above. We also spotted deer and squirrels foraging for treats.
Cardada Cable Car Locarno Switzerland

Cardada Cable Car Locarno Views
The sky opened up – just a bit – as we made our way onto this suspended platform (right). The next time we come back to see Cocoa and his family, we must return to this platform, for I suspect the 180-degree views are extraordinary when the skies are sunny and clear.
Cardada Cable Car Switzerland

Madonna del Sasso Orselina Switzerlland
The Madonna del Sasso Church in Orselina. It was founded after a Franciscan monk experienced a vision of the Virgin Mary in the 15th century.
Madonna del Sasso Orselina Switzerland

Madonna del Sasso Painting
Paintings in the church interior depict miracles. I’d seen silver & gold tokens in churches throughout the world, but nothing quite as personal as these paintings inside Madonna del Sasso.
Madonna del Sasso Claudine Tricia
Claudine and me.

The Valle Verzasca

Eins, zwei, drei,” chanted the Swiss-German crowd to a young man standing on a platform, arms outstretched, staring down at a jagged canyon 220 meters (720 feet) below his feet. He wore a nervous smile on his face, and hesitated to jump, despite the cheers and a boisterous countdown.

I couldn’t blame him for waiting. We’d come to the Contra Dam, in Ticino’s Verzasca Valley, to see the spot made famous by the 1995 James Bond film, GoldenEye, and I felt a bit uneasy just walking along the massive dam’s rim. In the opening scenes of the movie, actor Pierce Brosnan’s stunt double leaped off the dam, and in the years that followed, bungee jumpers flocked to the same dam for the opportunity to follow in Bond’s fictional footsteps. (You can do so too for about 255 Swiss Francs ($258 USD)).

Eventually, the reluctant jumper took the plunge, causing the spectators to applaud as he plummeted from the platform. His screams echoed through the valley. Soon, other adrenaline-seekers followed his lead, with one young woman notably making the leap without any hesitation or sounds.

Leaving the famous dam, we set off to explore one of the Verzasca Valley’s other most celebrated structures – the Ponte dei Salti. While the Contra Dam was constructed more recently in the 1960s, the stone Ponte dei Salti was built in the 17th century. The graceful bridge, comprised of a pair of arches, is often mistaken for being from Roman times, perhaps because of its architectural style and the fact that an ancient Roman bridge once stood there. It traverses the Verzasca River near the village of Lavertezzo, a spot renowned for its crystalline water.

We strolled the popular spot just long enough to capture it on film. Claudine and Massimo also collected a few pinches of herbs there along with a fistful of four-leaf clovers. When we left Ticino a few days later, Claudine presented these good luck-charms to us, pressed neatly among the pages of the book she’s recently authored.

Ponte dei Salti Lavertezzo Ticino Switzerland
The picturesque village of Lavertezzo, as seen from Ticino’s famous Ponte dei Salti.
Ponte dei Salti Roman Bridge Ticino Switzerland
The Ponte dei Salti, literally ‘Bridge of Leaps’ was reconstructed in the 1960s, but originally dates back to the 17th century.
Lavertezzo Ponte dei Salti Ticino

Ponte dei Salti Lavertezzo Ticino Switzerland
These emerald and turquoise waters are understandably popular with swimmers, but billboards nearby warn of the possibility of strong currents and other hazards.
Ponte dei Salti Lavertezzo
Massimo and Claudine (left) with the village of Lavertezzo behind them, and an industrious bee (right).
Lavertezzo Ticino

Bungee Jumping Verzasca Dam James Bond
The Contra Dam is one of Switzerland’s tallest, and is a popular spot for bungee jumpers. On the left, a jumper prepares to take the plunge. Within a second or two of doing so (right) he resembled a spider rappelling on its silky line.
Bungee jumping Verzasca Dam Switzerland
This female jumper exuded confidence when it was her turn to take the leap.
Verzasca Dam Switzerland
Three-quarters of those of us pictured here have never taken the bungee-jumping plunge. Shawn did so in high school and said the experience inspired a lingering fear of heights.
Vogorno Ticino Switzerland
Vineyards and calm blue waters frame the village of Vogorno.
Massimo Architecture Project
Massimo, an architect, stopped in Vogorno to show us the exterior of a traditional Ticinese home which he has been tasked to restore. From its painstakingly-mended roof, to its windows and doors, Massimo is striving to retain the building’s original character. The fresco shown here dates back to 1755.
Corippo Ticino Switzerland Landscape
Approaching the village of Corippo. With only about 12 residents, it’s said to be the smallest town in Switzerland.
Corippo Ticino Switzerland
Pausing for coffee, ice cream and a dessert inspired by tradition called Budino alle Castagne.
Corippo Ticino Switzerland Budino alle Castagne Dessert
The Budino alle Castagne (right), a sort of chestnut pudding and cream, was made with caramel pudding, chestnut flour, milk and candied chestnut. As Claudine explained, chestnuts have long been an important ingredient in Ticinese cooking, because they could be grown and harvested locally.
Ticino Flowers Woodcarving Switzerland

Corippo Ticino Switzerland
Many of Corippo’s homes are constructed from Ticino’s ubiquitous granite and are crowned with slate roofs.

Bellinzona’s Three Castles

Doing a bit of research before our Ticino adventures, I was especially intrigued by Bellinzona’s three castles, dramatically positioned at the meeting of several valleys. I envisioned spending a sun-drenched afternoon exploring them, but on the day of our visit, Mother Nature seemed determined to drench us in other ways. The resulting rain and cloud cover created a moody atmosphere, but Claudine, Shawn and I made our own sunshine.

Aside from their handsome beauty, what’s particularly noteworthy about the structures is their history. It’s believed, for example, that human settlements in the Castelgrande area go as far back as Neolithic times (5500-5000 BCE)! The structures that you see today generally date back to the 13th to 15th centuries.

Despite the beautiful scenery, the three of us were distracted by the day’s most important appointment: picking up newly-neutered Cocoa from the veterinarian clinic. As we awaited the appointed hour to rescue our little buddy, we dodged raindrops and drove from castle to castle, briefly exploring each of their grounds on foot.

Castello Sasso Corbaro Bellinzona
Known as the Castelli di Bellinzona, Bellinzona’s three castles were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000. Here is the Castello Sasso Corbaro, looking rather mysterious draped in a veil of fog. It has the highest position of the three castles.
Bellinzona view from Three Castles
Chestnut trees (left) and vineyards (right).
Castelgrande Bellinzona Castle
Castelgrande, the lowest of the three castles. Claudine once held an event there to celebrate the publishing of one of her books.
Castelgrande Bellinzona Vineyard
Vineyards on Castelgrande’s grounds. I can’t say for sure what grape is being grown here, but Merlot is Ticino’s most well-known wine.
Bellinzona Switzerland Castles
Pausing with Claudine inside Castelgrande. Montebello and Sasso Corbaro are visible behind us.
Claudine Bellinzona
Claudine (right) looking elegant, even in the rain.
Bellinzona Vineyard Architecture Switzerland
Viticultural and architectural details of Bellinzona.
Bellinzona Ticino Architecture
Despite the light mist and raindrops, we explored Bellinzona’s Old Town center on foot. Claudine and Shawn also helped point out lovely windows for my collage series.

The Valle Maggia

The Valle Maggia, literally ‘magic valley’, is a captivating area replete with centuries-old villages, lanes carpeted with emerald-green moss, pristine waterfalls and fanciful frescoes. Hopping into Claudine and Massimo’s electric car, we silently motored into the valley, passing by stone quarries, pagodas fashioned out of granite posts and wooden beams, and roadside prayer shrines. Ever curious, I also marveled at the meter of the electric car, watching how our remaining energy reserves ebbed and flowed as the automobile glided up or down Ticino’s mountain roads.

The Valle Maggia has been shaped by the River Maggia, and life hasn’t always been as idyllic there. During the mid-19th century, food shortages and economic challenges caused many Valle Maggia residents to immigrate to North and South America and Australia.

We visited the town of Cevio just long enough to amble about and admire the peaceful town’s natural and manmade beauty. On the way back to Locarno, we popped into Punto Verde, a roadside shop brimming with antiques, traditional Ticinese food products, and handmade art made of the area’s ever-pervasive granite stone. At nearby Ponte Brolla, we marveled at the sheer cliffs and aquamarine waters, where daredevil divers go to show off their graceful athleticism.

Cevio Ticino Switzerland
Cevio’s campanile or bell-tower (left), and moss-lined stairs leading to caves, hiking paths and outdoor eating areas (right).
Cevio Pretorio Ticino
Cevio’s Pretorio, a magistrate court building. The structure dates back to the 16th century and is brilliantly decorated with more than 20 coats of arms of former ruling families.
Hydrangea Ticino
A delicate, ivory-colored hydrangea.
Twisted Trunk and Cairn
One Cevio bed & breakfast featured whimsical natural decorations, such as this rock cairn (right). Also, a few tree trunks were twisted from a young age, causing them to form swirls as they matured (left). In another part of the garden, smooth rocks dangled from the trees like Christmas ornaments, suspended on fishing line.
Cevio Ticino Switzerland
A pair of pears (left) and a centuries-old stone home, finished off with a ubiquitous Ticino fresco (right).
Cevio Grotto Ticino
Claudine poses at an outdoor grotto. These large granite boulders are said to have plummeted from the mountain, creating atmospheric eating and hiking areas.
Ticino Switzerland Waterfall
The drive from Locarno to the Valle Maggia offered glimpses of dramatic rock formations, waterfalls, and traditional stone homes and outbuildings. This bucolic scene is near the village of Broglio.
Ponte Brolla Cliff Diving Ticino
Teenagers do backflips at Ponte Brolla (left and right). Cliff diving championships often take place here.
Granite Ticino Wine Glass Holders
On the way back to Locarno, we stopped into a roadside shop selling granite garden sculptures, antiques, and traditional foods. Here, granite stones make innovative wine-glass holders.
Ticino Antiques
An Alpine-style chair, a granite stone vase and antiques (left), and spools of colorful wool thread (right).
Traditional Food Ticino Switzerland
Some of Ticino’s fare: salami (left) and honey (right). Our traditional food purchase, not pictured here, was a bag of polenta. Claudine served a hot pot of the polenta with a stunning tray of local cheese – absolutely delicious!
Ticino Cheese and Black Pepper
A fabulous soft cheese (left) dressed with a special blend of pepper for which Ticino is known (right).

The Brissago Islands Botanical Garden

We were craving the meeting of Switzerland’s azure lakes and flora, but not the crowds that so often cluster in lakeside towns.

“Why not explore the Isole di Brissago?” Claudine asked one afternoon. Claudine had thoughtfully accompanied us on all our Ticino excursions so far, but now she had to return to work.

Sara Luna and Emanuele, it turns out, had just spent several days on the Brissago Islands, learning how to sail. Their week sounded so idyllic that I had to smile when I recalled Sara Luna’s mention of wanting to spend time in Los Angeles instead of Switzerland. The grass is indeed often “greener on the other side”.

A short bus ride from Locarno transported us to beautiful but bustling Ascona, and from there all became more tranquil. As our ferry to the Brissago Islands broke free from the colorful port of Ascona, the clouds acquiesced, giving way to brilliant sunbeams. Lake Maggiore went from grey to sapphire, and soon the lake breeze was flirting with my hair.

Brissago’s botanical gardens proved just as alluring as the islands themselves: more than 1,500 types of flora coming from six continents, a bamboo forest cloaked in a manmade mist, a ‘Roman bath’, and an elegant villa towering over it all. Walking the paths, a blend of mint, sage, and oregano scented the air.

In Ascona, we’d picked up some Mediterranean olives, a peppery Italian cheese, gluten-free bread and fruit, which we enjoyed on a rocky wall, overlooking the amphitheater of mountains encircling the mighty lake. Aside from a quintet of ducks, a gecko or two, and a contingent of ants craving our crumbs, it was a private picnic.

Imposing clouds on the horizon encouraged us to hop the next ferry, and we returned back to Claudine’s home just as raindrops danced down from the sky.

Ascona Ticino Italy
Ascona’s pedestrianized lakeside walkway is lined with hotels, cafés, and restaurants, as well as vendors. We caught our ferry to the Brissago Islands here.
Brissago Islands Ferry

Brissago Islands Ferry Ride Ticino Switzerland
Approaching one of the two islands making up the Isole di Brissago. The botanical garden, located on the Grande Isola, was opened in 1885. Because of the lake encircling them, the islands’ climate is quite mild, allowing non-native flora to thrive at this more northern latitude. The Isola Piccola, unlike the neighboring island that’s home to the botanical garden, has vegetation that sprung up naturally.
Lake Maggiore Brissago Islands Botanic Park
Catching a glimpse of the Villa Emden as our ferry prepares to dock.
Brissago Islands Botanical Garden Bamboo
The atmospheric bamboo forest.
Brissago Islands Botanical Park
The botanical garden is home to about 1,700 types of different plants, which are organized in distinctive sections based upon their region of origin.
Brissago Islands Botanical Park
A statue in the garden’s ‘Roman bath’ (left), and the ducks that watched on as we enjoyed our picnic (right).
Brissago Islands Botanical Garden

Brissago Islands Botanical Park

Brissago Islands Botanical Gardens Ticino

Brissago Islands Botanical Park Picnic

Brissago Islands Botanical Garden

The Centovalli

Imagine a village with a mere 20 residents, accessible only by cable car or by foot, with no cars, markets or shops.

Claudine’s husband, Massimo, spent many of his formative years in just this type of remote, but enchanting environment, in a tiny town called Rasa.

Tucked away in Ticino’s Centovalli, in a landscape where one valley opens to another, Rasa is located about 15 km (8 miles) from Locarno. The town is part of a route that has long connected Italy and Switzerland.

Hopping on a train that would take us through the Centovalli’s lush valleys and villages dotted with rows of grapevines, we disembarked at the Verdasio Station. There, a small but mighty blue and white cable car whisked us up to Rasa. Thankfully the cable car wasn’t full to the brim with passengers: there was just me and Shawn, a Swiss-German set of parents, and their wide-eyed little boy.

The youngest passenger seemed unfazed by the mature trees and burbling brook becoming more and more dwarfed below us. To distract myself from my aversion to heights, I exchanged pleasantries with the Swiss-German tourists, and snapped pictures of the ever-expanding panorama surrounding us. I couldn’t wait until we reached the top, though! Logically, I knew that the cable car ferried passengers up and down, a few times each hour. Still, it is an awkward feeling dangling from a cable high above a jagged and dramatic landscape.

Once we arrived at the summit of Rasa, it was, not surprisingly, another world. A few stone lanes wound through the village, past gardens brimming with zinneas, hydrangeas and spider mums. The church had just enough pews to accommodate the village’s residents, with perhaps a few spots for visitors. We struggled to find an open café, eventually discovering a quaint business that catered to visitors and hikers. There we enjoyed a beer and Latte Macchiato, and savored the pastoral views of pretty peaks before us. With no car or motorcycle traffic, tolling church bells were the only occasional sound. We chatted with a few part-time locals, with one woman expressing how imperative it was to be “very organized” if you live in Rasa, since everything you need to survive must be painstakingly brought up by cable car.

We spotted a few mountain goats who divided their time between soaking up the sunshine and nibbling on mountain grass. Fortunately, we’d foreseen the need to be organized and had packed our own snacks, which we enjoyed on a bench overlooking doll-house-sized villages below.

And then it was time to leave peaceful Rasa and its brilliant flora and weathered stone homes. Our trip was a glimpse into a somehow timeless way of life.

Rasa Ticino Funivia Cable Car Switzerland
In the Centovalli (literally ‘valley of 100 valleys’) we visited the village of Rasa. What makes the town remarkable is that it’s car-free – and only accessible by cable car. Claudine’s husband, Massimo, spent some of his childhood and teenage years here.
Rasa Ticino Cable Car Ride
During the ride, we were afforded stunning views, but I had butterflies in my stomach – as I often do when it comes to heights!
Rasa Ticino Cable Car Ride
At the Verdasio Station below Rasa (right), we met Renato, a Rasa resident and ceramic artist, along with his grandson (left). They were loading the cable car with ceramic-making supplies and groceries. We asked if they had to pay a fare every time they rode the cable car, and they explained that residents were given a key so that they could essentially travel whenever they needed to.
Rasa Ticino Cable Car
At the upper station we were greeted by blue hydrangeas (right). A sign (left) leads visitors to the cable car station. It is literally Rasa’s “lifeline.”
Rasa Ticino Switzerland Panorama
A short walk through Rasa, and we were treated to splendid overhead views of its skyline and the surrounding mountain peaks.
Picking Plums Switzerland
Shawn sneaks a plum or two from a tree brimming with the tasty fruit.
Rasa Ticino Switzerland
Rasa’s church bell-tower (left) and an artistic rendering (right) depicting a villager carrying a basket filled with grass to feed livestock.
Rasa Ticino Home

Rasa Ticino Switzerland Details

Rasa Raku Renato Domiczek Workshop
Rasa’s flag (left) and the gallery of resident artist, Renato Domiczek (right), who we met at the cable car. Renato specializes in making Raku ware, a Japanese style of pottery.
View from Rasa Ticino Switzerland

Rasa Ticino Switzerland

Our Video of this Experience:

Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

  • The canton of Ticino is located about 135 km (80 miles) north of the city of Milan.
  • To get from one attraction to another, we were either driven by our friends, or we used Ticino’s mass transit system. Ticino Discovery Cards allowed us to journey throughout Ticino at no additional cost. We also used the cards to obtain tickets for gondola rides, even to enter the Brissago Islands Botanical Gardens.
  • From saffron risotto to chestnut cake, here is a delightful collection of typical recipes from Ticino.
  • For more details about the canton of Ticino, see the Ticino Turismo website.


The Ticino Tourism Agency provided us complimentary Ticino Discovery Cards, which we used to independently explore the canton of Ticino.

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved. My husband, Shawn, created the video.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

39 thoughts on “From Homeless to Highness: A Reunion with Cocoa the Kitten in Ticino, Switzerland

    1. Darlene, you’re absolutely right that Cocoa is surrounded by beauty – not only in the landscape of Ticino, but also in the gestures of his new family. We’re grateful that he brought us all together!

    1. We couldn’t have asked for a better ending, Virginia, but in many ways, I feel as though this is really just the beginning of a lasting friendship. Here in our new home of Malta, there are many cats of all ages roaming the streets. You can imagine that the wheels are turning in my head, as I wonder if we can facilitate any more Cocoa-esque adoptions. :)

      1. You are now living in Malta. I am in the midst of an autobiography by Pamela Mountbatten. Malta was their family home in the early 40’s. She is Queen Elizabeth’s cousin and the book contains many insights to life in the royal family.

      2. Virginia, yes, we moved to Malta about one month ago as Shawn is doing a 1-year Master’s program here. What a coincidence that you’re reading a book that details life on the island! Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles and their spouses are supposedly coming here in a few weeks for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). It’s a much-talked-about event, and it looks as though I’ll be able to volunteer at it.

        I would love to hear what details you glean about Malta via this autobiography. We recently watched a documentary about Malta during WWII. History came alive even more when I met a woman the other day who was recounting tales of life here during the 1940s. As you might have seen in the book, the George Cross was awarded to the island to recognize the residents’ heroism. Once we get more settled in, I cannot wait to tell the stories of this island, but here is a short piece I did to highlight the smaller detail of Malta’s architecture. Wish you a lovely week ahead! :)

  1. I’m happy to hear about Cocoa. I was wondering how he was doing. I’m glad that he is living well.

    Your trip to visit Cocoa sure was interesting! Thank you for sharing.

    1. Gerard, it makes me smile thinking about all the people wondering how little Cocoa has been doing these past months. :) We couldn’t have asked for a better family match for him!

      So, I hear that NYC had been having unseasonably warm weather – is the hot spell continuing now?

      1. Tricia, the weather in New York has been beautiful lately. It’s very mild. I hope our winter is mild because the last two winters were very harsh.

        I understand the weather in Europe has been very mild too. Enjoy it.

      2. Thanks for the good weather wishes, Gerard. We’re lucky in that we recently moved to Malta, where the weather is said to be relatively mild for most of the year. We are curious to see what our first winter here will be like though.

  2. I really enjoyed your descriptions, pictures and film… an absolute professional, touching and poetic encounter! I do share your same feelings, and our friendship is going to last forever…
    And about the adoptions from Malta… I guess it should be a good way… well maybe by boat to southern Italy? and then back up to Switzerland by car? :-) <3
    I shall share your post on my blog as well (I'll do it tomorrow… for today I'm "over" and I need a good sleep. Massimo is since last Wednesday in Puglia/Italy and with the kids and cats actually there is some work to do… My eyes are closing down…)
    Love & kisses :-D claudine

    1. Ah, Claudine, none of it could have been possible without you. Thank you for your kindness, generosity, and love.

      It sounds as though ‘Cocoa & the Band’ may have another feline family member then? I like your idea of the the new addition coming by boat to Italy, then overland by car. You’d have quite the international cat family then – several from Switzerland, and others from Ukraine and Malta?!

      Wish you some peace & quiet in the days ahead, since it sounds as though you’ve had your hands especially full. Please give our greetings and hugs to Massimo & the children.

    1. Thank you, Mekala. The story certainly unfolded in ways we couldn’t have imagined when we first laid eyes on kitten Cocoa. Wishing you a lovely week ahead, and thanks for your nice words.

    1. Carol, yes, Cocoa’s ‘Luckiest Cat’ title holds true, even one year later. :) I’m thrilled that he introduced us to his family, and also to a part of Switzerland that we otherwise might not have known about.

  3. Wow, this is something beautiful. You’ve touched so many lives within this post it is amazing… It looks like Cocoa is loving life as much as life is loving him ~ nothing quite like seeing a family mesh so well with a pet. And then these photos are amazing Tricia, happiness and enjoying time together with life. Cheers to a great week ahead ~

    1. Randall, you’re right to notice that one life (Cocoa’s in this case) can start a chain of so many meaningful connections. I do think that Sandburg’s words ring true, and that often, “the best things in life are unexpected…unplanned”. Here’s hoping that the planned & unplanned aspects of this new week will reward you with happy moments too. :)

  4. A wonderful post with stunning photos. I was reminded of the places that I visited with my family when I was young teenager. Thank you!

    1. I’m pleased that this post brought back fond memories for you, Vera. Piemonte and Ticino certainly make up a stunning part of Europe. Do you recall some of the activities you did in Ticino as a teenager – hiking or swimming perhaps?

      1. Hiking on easy trails, admiring the pine forest and smelling it heady scent, and … oh how good it was! drinking from rock springs – fresh, sweet, cold water spurting from cracks in the rock walls. Our swimming was on the Ligurian coast every Summer.

      2. It all sounds quite picturesque, Vera. We too would like to return to Ticino so that we can hike some of the area’s trails. When we were in the car-less village of Rasa, I was particularly intrigued by the prospect of trekking there. Perhaps we could hike up, and then take the cable car down from Rasa.

    1. I agree Vera, that not all challenges are solved in such an idyllic fashion such as this. Witnessing the love demonstrated by Cocoa’s family does encourage me to do good, though! I wish we could clone the Claudines of the world. :)

      1. Sigh… As a devoted animal and cat lover I am grateful or what you did for that lovey little creature.

  5. Wow! What an incredible journey this was! I love your comparison of the bungee jumper to a spider. I remember your original post about the kitten, and I’m glad he has such a happy life.

    1. Marilyn, perhaps it’s a fitting comparison since it marries two of my fears – spiders & heights! I’m glad you enjoyed the Cocoa reunion tales; when we picked him up that autumn day in Lviv, I could never have imagined then that he would lead us to new friends in beautiful Ticino. Hope you’re well – are you in Mexico now?

  6. As a cat person I loved his story of finding a good home. Amazing post, I enjoyed all the photos and descriptions… and your attention to detail.

    1. RMW, thanks for your kind words about part II of Cocoa’s story. I didn’t include his kitten photos in this post, but my, was he ever irresistible as a little guy! Here’s wishing you and your felines a lovely weekend.

    1. Caroline, “It always amazes me how we make friends in the most unexpected ways.” So true! A year ago, we could never have guessed that the sweet kitten behind a garbage can in Lviv would increase our circle of special friends. Here’s wishing you a wonderful weekend, filled with special stories of your own.

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