Switzerland is a world capital of one of humanity’s great indulgences: chocolate. At the same time it epitomizes discipline and punctuality with its watches and trains. You can battle nature’s elements to ascend some of the most challenging mountains in the world; or simply ride a train to get a great view of it. It’s a land of flower-filled mountain meadows and sophisticated cities, world economic and science summits and the art of blowing the ludicrously long alpenhorn used to call cows.
The beauty of its Alps define Switzerland. It’s not just their snow-capped peaks, it’s also their tumbling waterfalls, lush, green valleys and awe-inspiring vistas. But there’s a softer side--picturesque Alpine villages with little cottages adorned with flower boxes and the tinkling of cowbells in mountain pastures. It is packed with famous peaks; the Bernese Oberland is home to three major mountains, the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, alone. But it’s not all mountains--there are palm trees in some parts of Switzerland and it’s as famed for its beautiful lakes as for its mountains.
Switzerland is made up of 26 regions, or cantons, some of which speak German, some French, some both and one that speaks Italian. In general, the west of Switzerland is Francophone, while north and center are Germanic, and include the capital of Bern, and Lucerne and Zurich. The south speaks Italian.
It’s a year round destination--a mecca for hiking, biking, boating, hang-gliding, you name it, the sport is here -- for summer. Winter there’s skiing, both downhill and cross country, climbing, glaciers to walk on and cities to enjoy. Flowers start blossoming in early spring; fall colors are mellow. Its resort towns are icons like St. Moritz, Grindelwald, Zermatt, Verbier and Davos--and have long been the getaway for the the rich and famous. Its major cities are destinations in and of themselves. Geneva has quaint old town, beautiful lake (you can catch and fish and have a chef prepare it for you that night) and great shopping. Zurich, too, has a beautiful old town as well as a much more urbane and sophisticated side.
There’s more to dining out in Switzerland than chocolate and fondue--although both are great. Swiss cuisine incorporates much of its neighbors and its multiple heritage-French, Italian and German. One thing about the Swiss, however, is that they are passionate about their food, so you should try regional specialities, recognizing that they’ll feature the best of local produce, be it fish, sausage, meat, pastries, cheeses, tarts or other foods.
Switzerland is easy to get to; both Zurich and Geneva are major air gateways and the airports are integrated into the much vaunted Swiss rail system. Both cities are also linked by high-speed rail to nearly a dozen countries. But what you really must do in Switzerland is enjoy its great transportation system. Traveling by train in Switzerland is very picturesque. You can take the famed Glacier Express, a vineyard express and even a chocolate train. Trains connect you to major cities and to remote villages easily and conveniently. There’s also its postal bus system and lake ferries to travel about on.