Switzerland is a mountainous Central European country, home to numerous lakes, villages and the high peaks of the Alps. Old Towns within its cities contain medieval landmarks like capital Bern’s Zytglogge clock tower and Cathedral of Bern. The country is also a destination for its ski resorts and hiking trails. Banking and finance are key industries, and Swiss watches and chocolate are renowned.
Dialing code: +41
ISO code: CHE
Currency: Swiss franc
Population: 8.081 million (2013) World Bank
Official languages: French, German, Italian, Romansh
Look past the silk-smooth chocolate, cuckoo clocks and yodelling – contemporary Switzerland, land of four languages, is all about epic journeys and sublime experiences.
The perfect antidote to rural beauty is a surprise set of cities: capital Bern with its medieval old town and world-class modern art, deeply Germanic Basel and its bold architecture, shopping-chic Geneva astraddle Europe’s largest lake, tycoon-magnet Zug and uber-cool Zürich with its rooftop bars and atypical Swiss street grit. Beard cutting or stone throwing, Paul Klee art or hip club gig: what a euphoric journey indeed.
Lake Geneva’s southern shore has been home for a decade and it still tickles me pink that journeys by train or plane begin with a soul-stirring 20-minute boat ride across the water, sometimes aboard a nippy little ‘commuter’ boat at dawn, sometimes on one of the magnificent belle époque steamers that I often see twinkling after dark from my kitchen window. Lakes, mountains, urban chic: Switzerland delivers every weekend with yet another uplifting activity and, being someone who’d rather be outside than in (call me and my kids ski fiends, paddle-board mad, hiking kings and queens), it suits me down to the ground.
Switzerland’s hallucinatory landscapes demand immediate action – grab boots, leap on board, toot bike bell and let spirits rip. Skiing and snowboarding in Graubünden, Bernese Oberland and Central Switzerland are winter choices. When pastures turn green, hiking and biking trails abound in glacier-encrusted mountain areas and lower down along lost valleys, glittering lakeshores and pea-green vineyards. View the natural grandeur from a hot-air balloon or parachute, or afloat a white-water raft. Then there’s those must-do-before-death moments like encountering Eiger’s chiselled north face up close or reaching crevassed ice on Jungfraujoch (3454m). Most extraordinary of all, you don’t need to be a mountaineer to do it.
The magical jade green waters of the Verzasca river flow peacefully over smooth polished rocks, passing under the picturesque double arches of the Ponte dei Salti in Lavertezzo.
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