Switzerland is an unusual nation. It has no native language, yet it has fierce national pride. It is small and sits in the center of Europe, yet has remained neutral in wars for hundreds of years. It is also incredibly picturesque, with its ubiquitous alpine scenery and adorable villages. Relax and savor my tribute to this beautiful land.
1. Swiss Alps & Villages
The Swiss Alps and its Villages hold an allure unmatched in Europe, since there are not that many heart-stopping nature areas as one might find in the United States, Africa, or South America, for instance. Thus, the Alps are a major source of pride for all Europeans. Their ski areas are among the finest and most developed in the world, and the scenery in this “roof” of Europe is extraordinary. Switzerland seems to have the majority of the highest peaks, so tourists flock to this country in all seasons to experience the mountains.
One of the most scenic areas of the Swiss Alps is known as the Bernese Oberland, in central Switzerland, southeast of the capital, Berne (see #33 below). Villages in the area which might serve as a base of operations include Interlaken, situated between two alpine lakes, from which visitors can see the famous Alp, Jungfrau, or stroll the Hoheweg, with its hotels, shops and restaurants, the sleepy village of Gimmelwald, Grindelwald, a great place for skiing, Gstaad, Murren (take a cable car to Schilthorn, a mountaintop vantage point with a revolving restaurant and magnificent views), Lauterbrunnen, with its waterfalls, Thun, which has a romantic castle overlooking its lake and a two-tiered shopping area along the Hauptgasse (its main street), and, finally, Wengen.
Berne, the capital of Switzerland, is a beautiful, walled Medieval city. The Old Town is compact, pleasant to walk, and loaded with charm. It is, fittingly, a UNESCO World Heritage Site At one entrance to the town is the Bear Pit, a deep enclosure for the brown bears which symbolize Bern. Other significant attractions include the elaborate Glockenspiel (Clock Tower) which has parading figures on the hour (arrive early for a good view of the workings). The Munster (Cathedral) dominates the skyline. Note the carved scenes of heaven and hell above the main entrance. Streets are narrow and buildings exude a spirit of “old” with their dark gray stone.
Cross the river and climb the steep path to the Rose Garden for glorious views of the city and its rooftops on the banks of the Aare River.
Luzerne is a Medieval gem of a city on the banks of Lake Lucerne beneath imposing Mt Pilatus, certainly a gorgeous setting. Add in quaint, old buildings, and, most impressive of all, the Kappelbrucke (Chapel Bridge), and you have the makings of a major stop on the tourist route through Europe.
The Kappelbrucke, which dates to the early 1300’s, is a long covered bridge, elevated on pilings above the Reuss River. The entire history of Switzerland is traced in a series of triangular paintings under the roof of the wooden bridge. The pictures are numbered and, going and coming, offer a chronological look at the major events which shaped the country over the centuries. What a magnificent archive! Imagine how upset the townspeople were when much of their beloved bridge burned in 1993. However, it has been lovingly restored and continues to welcome tourists galore. Note also the picturesque tower (the Wasserturm), beside the bridge, which was once a prison.
Other buildings of note in the town include the Jesuitenkirche, a beautiful Baroque building, Spreuerbrucke, another covered bridge with gable paintings, the Rathaus (town hall) with its Swiss roof and Italian Renaissance façade, the castle (Museggmauer) with its 600 year old walls, and the Hofkirche, whose arcades house the remains of many of the city’s important families.
Zurich, Switzerland, bustles with business men and women during the work day, bustles with students at night, and bustles with tourists at all times. There is fantastic shopping along Bahnhofstrasse, and access to the lakeshore and associated boat tours at Burkliplatz. Religious attractions include the Grossmunster (Great Cathedral) with its twin towers that symbolize Zurich, and Fraumunster, a Gothic church with modern stained-glass windows by Marc Chagall.
Geneva, Switzerland, is truly an international city, exemplified by the presence of the United Nations European Headquarters as well as the headquarters of the World Council of Churches — certainly an eclectic mix.
It is located, picturesquely, on Lake Geneva with the glorious Alps as a backdrop. Its climate is mild, which adds to its popularity. A walk along the lakefront reveals one of the symbols of the city, Jet d’Eau, simply a water fountain out in the lake which rises to a height of 140 meters (400 feet).
Another city symbol revolves around the concept of time, watches being an important product here. Within the Jardin Anglais (English Garden), is Geneva’s famous Flower-Clock, a large watch dial made from thousands of flowers (the types vary with the season). The entire concept dramatizes Switzerland’s prominence in the area of technology and the attention to detail which is a hallmark of the Swiss people.
Other must-see sights in the city include St Peter’s Cathedral, begun in the 12th century but modified significantly over the course of its construction. Climb the church’s North Tower (157 stairs) for a fabulous panorama of the city. The Reformation Wall (100 meters long), a monument to Protestantism, is located in Bastions Park. Place du Bourg-de-Four, in the center of the Old Town, is the local gathering place. Elegant buildings surround the square.
The suburb of Carouge also makes for a lovely stroll. This town was specially designed in the 18th century and is a treasure-trove of lovely fountains, shaded squares, and stately homes.
A common base of operations for an exploration of the Alsace region and also for a river cruise along the Rhine is the Swiss city of Basel, located at a bend in the Rhine River where France, Germany, and Switzerland meet. Basel has a cute, little Old Town with a bright, red Town Hall and several interesting fountains.