Cheese. Chocolate. Watches. A few words that spring to mind when we think of Switzerland. Situated in the heart of Western Europe, with German, French and Italian speaking parts, it is an ideal place to experience a mix of cultures and drop-dead gorgeous scenery. You can eat a gelato one day, a rÖsti the next and finally try a pinot noir while flexing your skills in three languages, all without leaving the one country. So clichés aside, variety is what you will find in Switzerland. Although not its capital, Zurich is the pumping metropolis that keeps its finger just ahead of the pulse. Upmarket shopping, funky alternative hangouts and trendy bars and clubs provide plenty of entertainment. But even urban centres can’t ignore the magnificent beauty lying at its feet: large lakes with a mountain backdrop at every corner, Switzerland is an outdoor enthusiasts dream. From skiing, snow-shoeing and tobogganing in the winter to hiking, boating and climbing in the warmer months, the outdoors beckons. You can also get a view from the comfort of two rails, as the country offers some of the most scenic train journeys of the world. There are plenty of cable cars, too, that can take you to the mountain peaks without breaking a sweat. Although more expensive than other European countries, Switzerland can still be seen on a budget. Just use your muscle power to cycle on the well-marked bike paths throughout the country, hike the endless walking trails and carry your tent for the ultimate in budget accommodation. You can even stay in Zermatt, one of the country’s most luxurious of towns at a reasonable rate with a view over the Matterhorn. You don’t have to completely rough it to find a good deal, however; there are plenty of simple accommodations throughout the country and if you travel in the low season, you will have plenty of choice. ~ Megan Morlok
If there were a beauty pageant for European capitals, Bern would definitely be a serious contender for the crown. This well-known Swiss city simply oozes cosmopolitan charm, history and culture, and consistently gets high marks from visitors for all of the above and more. They praise its accessibility, unique attractions and impressive Alpine views, as well as its ample shopping and dining options. Simply put, Bern is a must for those travelling in and around the region.
It’s hard to imagine what a noted British poet, a famous film actor, a celebrated French fashion designer and the lead vocalist of the rock band Queen could possibly have in common. Yet, each of them – Lord Byron, Charlie Chaplin, Coco Chanel and Freddie Mercury – all resided, at one point in their lives, in and around the French-speaking region of Lausanne and Montreux, Switzerland. After visiting this vibrant and alluring locale, I can truly understand why these eclectic celebs and many others have chosen to call it home, even if just for a time.
It may not be the first place you think of when you hear the name Switzerland, but this not-so-little town has a lot to offer. It is a major hub for trains heading to bordering France and Germany, as well as having the Rhine River pass through its centre, so if you find yourself passing through, stop and see what it has to offer. Officially Switzerland’s third largest city, the population is supported by some large international pharmaceutical companies with many foreign staff living and working here. This, combined with the close proximity to France and Germany give Basel an international feel.
With a largely intact old centre, Basel has a lot of character and historic buildings to admire. Divided into Gross Basel and Klein Basel (big and small Basel) by the Rhine River, several bridges link the two sides. Traditionally the wealthier and more important side being Gross Basel, most of the sites are on this side. A large church, known as the Munster, perches on top of Basel and is distinctly visible from the Rhine. It’s possible to go up the tower to the top where you will get a spectacular view out over the city. A large market place (Marktplatz) is the heart of the city with a perfectly maintained city hall that is painted red with a brilliant gold roof that shines in the sunlight. On many days the Marktplatz has a market selling a range of cheeses, meats and fresh vegetables. The main shopping streets radiate out from this centre and on a busy day the streets bustle with shoppers, buskers and people-watchers taking it easy from the street-side cafes as they enjoy the scenes of the day unfold.