If the year is flying by for you, with months of hard work and tight deadlines at every corner, we’re right with you. With that in mind, we went looking for a place to escape and, oh boy, what did we find… writes Tatyana Leonov.
Looking for the ultimate escape? Or perhaps your next adrenalin-fuelled adventure? Want to get lost in an electrifying city? Or find yourself on a mountain peak? Thankfully, it’s not all chocolate, cheese and clocks in Switzerland. In fact, travellers can expect a cornucopia of experiences – adventurepacked options for thrillseekers; fine dining and wining for luxe lovers; art, history, and culture for the intelligentsia; and everything in between. Hop between four cultural regions without crossing a border and experience the many different facets of this wealthy nation.
Lake Geneva region – Best for luxe living
The alpine peaks, the glacial blue waters, the shoreline vineyards… Lake Geneva in the Lavaux region is the place to unwind and take in the beautiful bucolic surroundings. And the best way to slow down in this UNESCO World Heritage Site? With a glass of wine, a spa, and a magnificent view – all very easily attainable here.
Oh, and eating (well and very often) is a must, too. The region boasts 14 restaurants sharing a total of 19 Michelin stars, so you’re spoilt for choice – and locally caught fish are a specialty on many menus. Gérard Rabaey’s Le Pont de Brent in Brent-sur-Montreux, Bernard Ravet’s Ermitage in Vufflens-le-Château, Denis Martin’s Restaurant du Château in Vevey and Carlo Crisci’s Le Cerf in Cossonay are all divine. Bring stretchy pants and dine at them all if time permits.
Good food, of course, is even better when paired with good wine. Lake Geneva’s region is well known for its delicate white wines made from the Chasselas grapes, but you’ll also find great chardonnay, Aligoté, pinot gris and pinot blanc varieties.
If it all gets too much, many resorts have an opulent spa house with a splendid view. Five-star La Réserve is a particularly plush stay. Take a book – or another wine – and forget you ever had an urban existence.
Jungfrau region – Best for adventure
A mecca for hikers and adventure seekers, the Jungfrau Region boasts superlative mountains, vertiginous crests and cascading waterfalls. Hit the imposing peaks of the Bernese Oberland or try your hand (or better – your feet) on the splendidly majestic Finsteraarhorn.
Don’t fret if you prefer your adventures... less adventure- like. You don’t need to be a climber to enjoy Switzerland’s spectacular vistas, as cable cars, funiculars, and trains whisk you up thousands of feet to viewing stations and mountain- top restaurants. Take in the fresh alpine air on the Sphinx Terrace on the Jungfraujoch; a superb journey of ice, snow and rock, and fab viewing platforms of the Aletsch Glacier or Ice Palace. The line takes you through the Eiger and the Mönch peaks.
Lauterbrunnen Valley, with its 72 waterfalls and sprawling alpine meadows, is an enchanting place to base yourself and is home to a few villages (each cuter than the next). Don’t miss Interlaken. As its name suggests it’s stunningly positioned between two lakes, but more importantly, it’s the adventure hub and main transport access to the mountains and lakes regions. From here, you can do just about anything.
Lucerne region – Best for history buffs
Surrounded by beautiful Lake Lucerne and the scenic alpine mountains, historic Lucerne straddles the Reuss river – old town on one side and new town on the other. Thanks to the river, there are quite a few bridges, and one of the most special is the Chapel Bridge, named after the nearby St Peter’s Chapel. It dates back to the Middle Ages and is the oldest covered wooden bridge in Europe. Rebuilt after the 1993 fire, it leads to Lucerne’s famous landmark – the historic octagonal Water Tower.
There’s a heap of other beautiful historical sights dotted around picturesque Lucerne, including a town hall that dates back to the Late Renaissance, as well as Switzerland’s oldest baroque church.
For a faster pace, head up to the impending Mount Pilatus, a number of summits (the highest at 2128m) which watch proudly over the region. And like always, the Swiss know how to give good access, with the world’s steepest cogwheel railway taking you right to the top (November and May).
A super-short trip away, Engelberg-Titlis is a veritable wonderland, including the biggest snowboarder’s paradise in the country (at 3020m, it also sports a cracking view) and in Engelberg, a village perched below, a monastery where monks still live and work, brewing their own beer!
For a historic stay, book in at the Art Deco Hotel Montana. The extravagant hotel was built in 1910 and sits on top of a hill overlooking Lake Lucerne. The art-deco interior takes you back to another era, and the hotel-managed mini funicular takes guests down to the waterside.
Zürich – Best for trendsetters
Switzerland is of course famous for chocolate, cheese and clocks. You’ll find the deluxe Sprüngli and Teuscher here – and anyone who knows anything about trends knows chocolate is always in. Europe’s fifth largest church clock face can also be found in Zürich’s St Peterkirche.
But if you can, forget the time and hang in Zürich West – the “new” New York of Europe. The once-industrial district is going through a cultural renaissance, and getting in among the vibe will be a definite travel highlight. The new 25hours Hotels design is a fun option for anyone who likes an atypical kind of room – colours, graphics and sharp lines are standard. Drop your luggage off and then spend your day checking out art in quirky boutique stores.
When you get hungry, head for Les Halles, an eclectic, casual eatery with delicious mussels and fries, plus a tapas menu. Then find a pop-out [pop up?] bar and join the hipsters mulling
over wine talking politics and love. To eat like the locals, try bratwurst and rösti (bangers and grated potato, yes please) or Züercher Geschnetzltes (veal pieces in a creamy mushroom and white wine sauce).
Although Zürich West is funky, the whole city is infectious. In the evenings, the lakeside and riverside pools are transformed into sophisticated waterfront bars – think groovy tunes, tasty drinks and seasonal food. Rimini-Bar
on Schanzengraben is one of the best – plush sofas, oriental cushions and scrumptious spit specialties for when you need a bite to eat.
Been – Best for... everything
Earlier this year, Lonely Planet listed Switzerland’s capital as one of the top 10 European destinations to visit, and in 2012 (2013 results have not yet been released) it also made the top 10 for quality of life (Mercer 2012 Quality of Living Survey).
So what’s so good about Bern? Simply... everything. The charming cobbled streets and historic limestone buildings make for a fairytale-like backdrop, and it just feels right to get lost in a city so deeply steeped in history.
In the beautiful 15th-century UNESCO World Heritage Site Old Town, you can visit Albert Einstein’s former house, then max out all your credit cards in the world’s longest historical shopping street, the Kramgasse (Grocers Alley).
Busy market stalls liven up beautiful squares, and in the evenings the Bern buzz is intoxicating – pop into a historic pub and grab a drink under an ancient arched ceiling, or head to one of the many restaurants and ask for the local dish. Two popular options are Berner Platte (pork ribs, beef tongue, smoked bacon and sausage simmered in broth and then served over sauerkraut, beans and chats) and Berner Rösti (shredded potatoes pan fried with bacon, onions and butter).
Basel – Best for culture
Located at the frontier between France and Germany and tapping directly into the Rhine, Basel has grown remarkably suave – but still has a thrilling eccentricity. It’s also a bit of
a cosmopolitan business hub thanks to the busy convention centre that has some trade fair or another running most months.
Basel is an ultra fashionable destination for those in the know on anything artsy. In fact, Basel hosts the glamorous Art Basel festival each year (June) and the contemporary art scene has put Basel on the global art map.
Basel is also home to over 40 museums – many of those art and design museums – in an area of 37 kilometers squared! The Vitra Design Museum ranks as one of the world’s most important design museums and is housed in a rambunctiously modern building by Californian architect Frank Gehry. The Kunstmuseum Basel is home to the largest group of works by Hans Holbein (as well as numerous other collections, including some world-famous displays). And for laughter and play (who says culture aficionados don’t have fun?) Museum Tinguely is designed to encourage both adults and children to let go and discover. Dedicated to the life and work of sculptor and artist Jean Tinguely, the kinetic art sculptures are a quirky-cool must-see. Want more? For super serious art buffs, a trip to the fabulous Beyeler Foundation is just 20 minutes from Basel.
Cost of travel
Switzerland is not a budget destination, but what you generally get is of a high standard and this includes everything from food (expect to pay CHF 20 for a casual two-course lunch and around CHF 50 for a three-course meal) and drink (around CHF 8 for a beer or wine and CHF 4.5 for a coffee) to accommodation (an average-priced hotel room will set you back CHF 100+).
With its remarkable public transport network, which extends to more than 26,000 kilometres across the country and into every corner there is to access, you can pretty much go anywhere you want to go – and on time! There are fast trains if you just need to get from A to B, as well as scenic routes. The Glacier Express and Bernina Express travel at slower speeds and have large, often partly panoramic windows if you want to gawk at the beautiful scenery (which let’s be honest, if you’ve got time is the way to go). The Swiss Pass is an economical way to travel if you’re covering a lot of ground – you can go all over the country on a single ticket! You can buy the pass in options of four, eight, 15 or 22 consecutive days, or a month pass, giving you access to 75 cities, plus a stack of other discounted offers like free admission to more than 470 museums, which is a nice bonus.