Why visit Switzerland?
Yet another quirky little European country, Switzerland is a wonderful combination of spectacularly bumpy landscapes, perfectly aligned fantasy, wooden villages (albeit with modern concrete monstrousities scattered around too), ancient lakeside cities and great efficiency.
Clichés of course but best Swiss experiences involve a combination of the following – viewing of incredible mountains and lakes, taking part in a variet of sporting activities (summer or winter) in stupendous locations, chowing down and drinking up in stylish, old but lively towns or quaint hillside villages.
Getting from place to place is a breeze via the precise domestic transport system – both buses and trains that are only overtaken for punctuality by Japan. Cycling is encouraged with thousands of kilometres of bike lanes both in and out of cities and easy rentals at train stations (if they haven’t run out). Cars drive ever-so correctly and parking is readily available.
In addition Switzerland is super-safe, many locals speak two or three languages including English and the country is loaded with terrific beers, rich food, amazing pastries and chocolate.
Montreux Palace Hotel and BB King in Montreux Pictures.
– Switzerland is not a cheap destination.
– don’t try anything remotely illegal, (such as crossing the road when the little man is red), this is a very law-abiding state with eyes everywhere (and discreet grey speed cameras that do not register with satnavs! ).
– Swiss people – about 65% Germanic – though extremely polite, are, like their climate, cool towards foreigners.
– climatic conditions change suddenly so forget weather forecasts and build flexibility into your schedule; if it’s sunny, go up a mountain; if it’s cloudy, rent a bike; if it rains, go shopping.
Best: June-September for summer activities and December-March for winter sports.
The Alps mountains (south)
*** The Jungfrau Region towards the country’s centre offers the highest and most scenic rail trip, connecting three peaks, the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau, though some argue that the Schilthorn cable-car is cheaper, quicker and more scenic.
**Murren and **Grindelwald towns are good bases for both winter and summer sports, but local hub *Interlaken is too frenetic and a bit too far from the snow action to be a good sports base.
***The Matterhorn is a gloriously peaky Swiss icon and the original model for Toblerone chocolate, while. . .
***Zermatt at the base of the Matterhorn (picture top of page) is a delightful car-free town where transport is either horse sleigh or electric bus; mountain views are no less than staggering and snow activities are nearly year-round though the skiing is a little strenuous for beginners. Zermatt is pricey but adventurous tourists can jump on the Gornergrat railway and head uphill to the hyper-active, low-cost Iglu Village and sleep in a romantic igloo! (Christmas to mid-April).
There’s a ravishing, day-long, panoramic Glacier Express train from Zermatt to St Moritz.
**St Moritz. Very posh, very beautiful, and very expensive, though St Moritz-Bad would be less bad for your wallet than snooty St Moritz-Dorf.
Engelberg in summertime. Photo by Mussklprozz.
Ticino, Italian region, south Alps
Warmer and culturally very different from the rest of Switzerland, Ticino sports palm trees, piazzas and pizzas along with the usual lakes, woody hills and medieval old towns. Prime targets are **Locarno and ***Lugano, both on lakes, with the latter offering more views, style and sights.