Having lived in Switzerland for several years I came to know the country well. The Swiss jokingly would say that we knew it better than they did, having seen places and attending events that they never knew existed.
Switzerland is a destination to be enjoyed in all seasons. The Alps make up a majority of the terrain, so if you’re a skier or a hiker it’s a dream come true. Or, if you simply love the outdoors and breathtaking scenery, it’s a destination that certainly should be on your ‘bucket list’.
The Swiss Travel System makes moving about the country easy. All modes of transportation, whether by train, boat, postal bus, cable car or funicular, are all so well integrated that you can seamlessly travel throughout Switzerland. From the moment your flight lands in Zurich or Geneva you simply collect your luggage and proceed to the train station located within the airport. Or, you have the option to check your skis and/or luggage at a US airport and they can be forwarded to your final destination in Switzerland. You don’t even have to retrieve them at the airport in Switzerland! And with a Swiss Rail pass simply just go. It works like a “hop on, hop off bus” throughout Switzerland. Children under 16 travel for free with a parent. Even young adults and seniors receive a discount. This is truly a relaxed way to travel while seeing the most of the incredible scenery of Switzerland.
Switzerland is a country focused on the outdoors and appeals to all of the senses. Ecotourism is highly valued, with Switzerland having one of the smallest carbon footprints per capita in the world. The lakes are clear and pure, recycling is prolific and there are even ‘quiet’ cars on the trains for those that want to take in the sublime scenery without a lot of background noise.
A suggested itinerary for first time visitors to Switzerland might include any or all of the following locations:
Lucerne – only an hour train ride from Zurich airport, Lucerne is a convenient spot to spend a few nights. This historic city sits lakeside and is surrounded by mountains. You can cross the river over the iconic Chapel Bridge, take a cruise across the lake, climb Mt. Pilatus via cog railway or cable-car, or simply stroll through the Old Town touring the ramparts and viewing the Dying Lion monument. Lucerne is a town of beauty, history and culture.
The Berner Oberland Region – You can use Interlaken as a base for exploring this region and for forays into the Alpine villages of Grindelwald, Wengen and Lauterbrunnen. Visit “The Top of Europe”, the highest point in the Alps accessible by train. Experience the summit of the Jungfraujoch, or have lunch at Kleine Scheidegg to be awestruck by the Eiger (Ogre), Monch (Monk) and Jungfrau (young woman) mountains standing majestically in front of you. Feel the power of the water as you explore Trummelbach Falls in Lauterbrunnen, the largest glacier fed waterfalls in Europe or the Aareschlust allowing you to walk through the glacial canyons. For those that come to ski, there are trails for all abilities. Ski the Lauberhorn World Cup run down to Wengen, or the long wide open slopes above tree line down through glades and mountain villages. And for non-skiers, there’s always the 15 kilometer sled runs! In summer, hike at your own pace from hut to hut where all trails are precisely marked. You don’t need to be a mountaineer to enjoy the pristine peaks since many are accessible by train or cable-car.
Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) Region – the cities of Montreux and Lausanne sit upon palm tree lined shores beneath snow capped mountains. Montreux is known for the famous summer jazz festival and Chateau Chillon, while Lausanne is a beautiful university town and home to the Olympic museum. Day trips from this region might include the medieval town of Gruyere known for its’ cheese, Gstaad the home to the rich & famous, and Chateau D’Oex host to the world renowned hot air balloon festival. Across the lake and into France you will find the ancient town of Annecy, Evian known for its’ spring water, and of course Chamonix.
The Valais Region – the most notable landmark in the Valais is Le Cervin, more commonly known as the Matterhorn. Zermatt is the car free alpine village that sits at the foot of the Matterhorn and is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. You can ski into Italy for lunch , visit the Glacier Palace at the Kleine Matterhorn or you can catch the train to the Gornergrat to take in the panoramic views. The nightlife and people watching in Zermatt are a sport unto itself!
The Lakes Region – Lugano, Locarno, Ascona, these towns are heavily influenced by their proximity to Italy..this is George Clooney country!
The food, wine, climate, and culture all make this a magical area of Switzerland. Hike the valley of Val Verzasca, take the funicular up to the church of Madonna del Sasso for stunning lake views or simply lie by the lake and enjoy a bottle of the regional wine, some local cheese and a fresh baguette! C’est les vacances!