It may be a small country but it’s packed with attractions, writes David Bowden
WHILE the Swiss flag is a big plus (the world’s only square national flag), Switzerland has many other fantastic attractions from snow-capped mountains to crystal-clear lakes, vast green pastures and many heritage towns and villages.
It combines a slice of German, French and Italian cultures. its trains are legendary and the best way to explore this land-locked, mountainous European nation. It is also the home to FIFA and many other international organisations.
Choosing the season is important with June to August (summer) the high season while it’s skiing in St Moritz, Zermatt (and almost anywhere) in winter. Hiking, mountain biking and swimming in the lakes and rivers are popular in summer.
Visit Zurich, Geneva, Rhine Falls, Lucerne, Basel, Gruyeres, Bern and the lakes of Lugarno to take in mountains, glaciers, forests and rivers that provide postcard-perfect panoramas in many parts.
Zurich has a cool art scene supported by a vibrant student community which means many bars, cafes, galleries and clubs.
Zurich West is the happening area where refurbished industrial sites create a chic grunge setting. Music lovers should plan to be in Montreux in July for the Jazz Festival (while there, check out the Freddie Mercury statue).
Interlaken provides the opportunity to take a classic railway journey up to the Jungfrau. Travel from Interlaken for a day’s alpine adventure in the Bernese Alps. On the way to the summit, the train travels past Mount Eiger and terminates at Europe’s highest railway station (3,454 metres above sea level).
HIDDEN TOURISM GEMS
Discover the best of Switzerland by train on the 1,280-kilometre long Grand Tour (www.grandtour.myswitzerland.com) but be aware as some train carriages don’t allow people to speak (look for the blue and white finger over the lips symbol). There’s a total of 29,000km of rail ferry and bus routes and a pass on the Swiss Travel System (www.SwissTravelSystem.com) is the cheapest way to travel.
Switzerland isn’t part of the EU so the currency is the Swiss France (CHF). The city of Biel (Bienne) is officially bilingual and is also home to the Omega Watch Museum. While not a cheap country, homestay accommodation on farms is possible (www.schlaf-im-stroh.com).
Walk the steep grape terraces of the Lavaux, admire the Alps from Visperterminen, take a heritage paddle-steamer journey on Lake Geneva and enjoy Italian dolce vita in Ticino. A journey to the summit of Mount Stanserhorn offers a ride on a historic cogwheel and funicular railway as well as the world’s first open-air cable car.
While Switzerland looks small, a week’s intensive touring will just scratch the surface. Details, log on to Switzerland Tourism (www.MySwitzerland.com).
Think beyond cheese and chocolate which are up there with the world’s best. Many well-known Western dishes have been refined in numerous Swiss cooking schools and taken to the world by Swiss chefs. Fondue, raclette (a cheese), alpler magronen (macaroni), fish from the lakes, bratwurst (sausage), meringue, polenta, rosti (potatoes) and veal are just some of the more famous dishes. Switzerland also has a thriving wine industry and many superb craft beers.
Population: 8.4 million
Area: 41,285 square kilometres (Malaysia is 330,803 sq km)
Languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh
The Competition: Switzerland is in Group E of the World Cup against Brazil, Costa Rice and Serbia.