When is Italy not in Italy? When it’s in Switzerland.


The Italians were never very good at colonization. One practical outcome of this fact is how few places on earth have had Italian among their “official” languages. Outside the borders of modern-day Italy, Switzerland is the only other major country with Italian on its list of official languages – which makes sense in a way, given that the two countries share a border.

Sure, it’s common knowledge that part of Switzerland speaks Italian. But did you know that there’s a tiny part of Italy that’s totally within the borders of Switzerland?

Take out a map of northern Italy and you’ll notice the border between Italy and Switzerland goes up and down like a particularly volatile stock chart. One of the downturns in the border falls between two of Italy’s most popular lakes – Maggiore and Como. The small lake between those two, Lake Lugano, is part of Switzerland – and near the middle of that lake is a town called Campione d’Italia.

The small town of Campione d’Italia is what’s known as an “exclave,” in that it’s part of a county it’s not physically attached to. Practically speaking, however, people going from Switzerland into Campione d’Italia are unlikely to notice they’ve crossed any kind of border. The language doesn’t change, there’s no border guard, and the town is on the Swiss franc rather than the euro (although the euro is fairly widely accepted). The local phones are on the Swiss country code and even the local license plates are Swiss. You’d know the difference if you lived in Campione d’Italia, however – you’d be eligible for Swiss healthcare despite the fact that your (greatly reduced) taxes would go to the Italian rather than the Swiss government.

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In addition to tourism, the biggest contributor to the economy of Campione d’Italia is its casino – the Casinò di Campione. The casino dates back to the early 1900s, and is the property of Italy’s government. It’s because of the casino that the residents of Campione d’Italia can enjoy a mostly tax-free life, since there’s enough money coming in through gambling to pay for the town’s facilities. The town is also known as a “tax haven,” since it’s exempt from the usual European Union VAT.

Getting to Campione d’Italia
As the crow flies, the shortest distance between Campione d’Italia and the Italian border is a scant one kilometer, but the mountainous terrain means the trip is closer to 15km to get to the nearest town in Italy. The closest airports to Campione d’Italia are those around Milan – Malpensa (MXP), Linate (LIN), and Bergamo’s Orio al Serio (BGY). If you’d rather skip the necessary border crossing between Italy and Switzerland en route to Campione d’Italia, however, then look for flights to Zurich (ZRH) and plan for a bit of a road trip.

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Have you been to Campione d’Italia?

photos, top to bottom, by: the official Campione d’Italia website, Tschubby


10 thoughts on “When is Italy not in Italy? When it’s in Switzerland.

  • Sonja

    Sounds like the residents there kinda’ have the best of both worlds, don’t they? Thanks for the info – I never knew this!

  • Pola

    There’s also the bilingual coast of Slovenia and the towns of Koper, Izola and Piran (also known under their Italian names of Capodistria, Isola and Pirano respectively). I didn’t realize that until I talked to someone who was born there. 🙂 http://bit.ly/f68iOb

  • Spinster

    Sailed past Campione d’Italia about 7 years ago while taking a boat ride on Lake Lugano. Thanks for discussing this; it brought back some nice memories. 🙂

  • Mark S

    Nice article and interesting but you should have also mentioned that there is a spot in Italy that is not Italy. Of course it is the Vatican. Vatican City is actually considered it’s own country with it’s own laws and police force. It is the smallest country in the world and sits inside the city limits of Rome.

  • fd

    Last summer when I was coming back home from Germany I took a train from Zurich to Milan Central. I travelled across Canton Ticino( the Italian part of Switzerland). And on the train I saw blond and red-haired people who looked like Germans but spoke Italian (with a accent very similar to the norhtern Italian- Lombardy accent) And they read papers such as Corriere del Ticino, which is a swiss daily or the respected Milan daily Corriere della Sera. Then from Milan I took the train back home to Tirano, Valtellina. Dear Jessica, and everybody else, I suggest you visit Valtellina sometimes. It’s a valley surrounded by mountains in northern Lombardy, just a little northern than lke Come, some towns and villages are in the Valley ,some are in the mountains. They are all connected by the road Statale 38 . The largest is Sondrio ( 24,000 people). And the area is absolutely Italian. The spoken language (besides the dialects) is of course Italian, unlike the Bolzano in South Tyrol where both German and Italian are spoken.
    Jessica, given your love for Italy, I hope you’ll visit Valtellina some day. The town Morbegno (just 12,000 people but a point of reference for people from the neighbouring villages ) is particularly nice .And,since you like Cantine aperte, in september Morbegno features “Le Cantine”, tasting of local wines( there are many) as well as local dolci (sweets)like bisciola and so on and so forth.The event (Le cantine) draws crowds from all over Lombardy. Since you are also into Italian food, I reccomend you taste Polenta and Pizzocheri, while you are there.
    Mark, thankyou, let us not forget that Italian has now replaced Latin as the official language of the Vatican for a long time. When the Pope speaks to the crowds the world over in St Peter’s square on Sundays he does speak in many languages but he delivers the longest speech (by far) in Italian

    • Jessica Post author

      Valtellina sounds lovely, fd! I do hope to get there – and everywhere else, of course – someday.

      🙂

  • fd

    You might take advantage of the fact that the “Giro d’Italia” always includes Morbegno and get there on that occasion (provided you happen to be in Italy of course )

    • Jessica Post author

      I do love cycling, so yes, that’s another great excuse. I saw a Giro stage a couple of years ago, but that was down in Rome.

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