The Best of Switzerland
It may be a small country, but Switzerland packs a punch with its incredible alpine scenery, medieval architecture and relaxed pace of life. Here are just a few of the many reasons to visit.
Mountain playground With its abundance of geographic treasures, Switzerland is a country whose beauty can’t fail to impress. The southern canton of Valais boasts a particularly feature-packed topography, including almost 50 peaks over 4,000 metres and the ski resorts of Zermatt, Saas-Fee, Crans-Montana and Verbier. But leave the crowds behind and head to one of the canton’s less well-known natural wonders, the mighty Aletsch glacier, the longest iceflow in Europe. After taking the cable car up from Betten on the valley floor it’s possible to walk along the cliff edge with the awe-inspiring glacier down below you, carving its way through the mountains. If the weather’s good, you can even spot the famous Eiger in one direction and the Matterhorn in the other.
With so many lakes in Switzerland, you’re never far from a body of water to swim in, sail on and sunbathe by. One of the most beautiful has to be Lake Lucerne in central Switzerland, which provides a wonderful backdrop for the pretty town of Lucerne at its western end. Explore the quaint city centre with its traditional Swiss German architecture, 166 public water fountains, cobbled streets and 14th century covered wooden bridge, before hopping on a paddlesteamer across the lake. Arriving in Vitznau, jump on Europe’s oldest mountain railway up to Mount Rigi for far-reaching views across the lake and surrounding mountains.
Natural sights aren’t Switzerland’s only attractions. Many of the towns and cities have wonderfully preserved medieval centres, such as the capital Bern, which is UNESCO protected. Spend an afternoon wandering through the city’s cobbled streets under the Lauben (traditional covered walkways). Admire the beautiful Zytglogge, a 16th century astronomical clock, and take in the view of the city’s red rooftops from the 110m-high spire of the ornate cathedral. In summer you can cool off by jumping in the squeaky clean, vivid green river Aare for a float around the city.
First-timers to Switzerland may be pleasantly surprised to find out that this is a wine-growing nation. The Swiss hardly export any of their wine, preferring to keep it to themselves – and who can blame them? For a fabulous Swiss wine experience head to the stunning Lavaux region on the shore of Lake Geneva, where you can amble through the terraced vineyards, stopping off at caves (wine cellars) in villages along the way to sample local chasselas and pinot noir. Best of all, come in late May for the caves ouvertes weekend, when wine growers throw open their cellars for as much tasting as you like.