There are countries you love for their eclectic music, historical landmarks, modern innovations or even their verdant environment, all of which are both attractions and sources of livelihood.
And then there are countries you love for their cold weather and the feeling they give you of being close to home such as, say, the landlocked country of Switzerland in West Central Europe.
Flanked by France to the West, Germany to the North, Austria and Liechtenstein to the East and Italy to the South, Switzerland’s history dates back to 58 BC when the Roman Empire defeated a local Gallic tribe and eventually annexed the area. The country, like many others, has also experienced political turmoil, with surrounding countries constantly threatening to embroil it in armed conflicts throughout history. Nevertheless, Switzerland has fought for its independence and neutrality, and maintained its noninvolvement throughout both World Wars, despite its strategic position.
The country continues to prosper, with economic, agricultural, and trade developments popping up left and right. And due to the country’s stability, many international organizations such as the UN’s Economic and Social Council, the International Labor Organization, the World Health Organization, and the International Red Cross have built their headquarters within its borders.
There are many more reasons to visit the country, and all of them will definitely make your stay an exceptional one.
Here are but a few:
Preparing for the great adventure
The grandest of entries into Switzerland awaits the passengers of the Glacier Express, as it ferries travelers from all over the world throughout the country’s many wonders; coursing through valleys and villages, ascending mountains, crossing viaducts, and running alongside majestic bodies of water on its journeys. While one of the most well-known express trains in the world, the Glacier Express is also believed to be the slowest, as it connects the two major mountain resorts of St. Moritz and Zermatt and travels for at least 14 hours to complete its circuit.
The train travels from St. Moritz Station in Graubünden and passes through the Albula tunnels and the Landwasser Viaduct, the most emblematic landmark of the journey, to reach the city of Chur. From there, the train goes through the Oberalp and the Furka section. The Mattertal line is the last phase of the journey as the train travels through the eponymous valley and arrives at Zermatt station.
After you disembark from the train, it would be wise to set course for Geneva, as it is the second most populous city in Switzerland and contains the largest share of its French-speaking population. The St. Pierre Cathedral, the Museum of the International Red Cross and the World Trade Organization Headquarters number among the 82 buildings in the city declared Swiss Heritage Sites of National Significance.
However, the most appealing of the various attractions in the city are Lake Geneva; often used as a site for high-performance yacht racing, and the Jet d’Eau; one of the largest fountains in the world, which blasts water up to an altitude of 140 meters.
Camping for a family bonding
Fun with the family is an integral part of traveling, and for this reason, the country offers camping sites for travelers of all ages to enjoy. Switzerland’s alpine lakes are a sight to behold, especially during the summer when nature’s bounties are reflected in the pristine waters of the lake. The Lake Silvaplana in the Engadine Valley of Grisons and the Weggis Lake in the Lucerne district are two of the best sites to visit during the season.
Lake Silvaplana is popular for its water sports, with windsurfing, kite surfing and dinghy-sailing offered as recreational activities every season. Families will also have a good time strolling around the Julier Pass, where broken pieces of a Roman temple and cart tracks can be found, as well as visiting the gothic churches built in the municipality of Silvaplana, the village from which the lake’s name was taken.
The municipality of Weggis, on the other hand, became internationally famous in 2006, when the Brazilian National Football Team stayed in the area for the FIFA World Cup in Germany. The village, whose name translates as “Place of the Ferrymen” in Celtic, is known for its prime camping grounds and its neighboring lake, the latter of which has given it a reputation as the most picturesque of sightseeing destinations in the country.
Buddy day out
Asking for directions and information are inevitable when traveling to different parts of the world. Thus, interacting and communicating with the locals are always part and parcel of the adventure. It is quite fortunate that the Swiss are a very friendly and outspoken people; ready to answer your questions and even accompany you for a while.
This is most evident in the Bundesplatz, which is located in the capital city of Bern. The government plaza, is bustling with tourists and locals alike having picnics and basking in the sun. It sits right in front of the Swiss Parliament Building or the Bundeshaus; both are part of the UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site that encompasses what was once Bern’s medieval city center.
Another popular, but less crowded place for an afternoon walk and picnic is in front of the Credit Suisse Bank situated in Zürich, the largest city in Switzerland. Originally established in 1856 to fund the construction and maintenance of the country’s railways, the bank has since contributed to the development of the country’s currency system and entrepreneurship funding.
For travelers seeking solemnity, the Jesuit Church situated in the Lucerne district of Switzerland can provide the calm and stillness that you need. The structure was the first and largest Baroque Church to be built in the country for the Jesuits.
What could be more fun than to have a day trip visiting these historical and majestic sites with your best buds; both taking in the culture of Switzerland and having the best time of your lives?
Alone time for adventure seekers
For the solo but sporty travelers, seeing the Swiss Alps is always a must. One among the many that compose the mountain range is the Matterhorn, located in the Pennine Alps bordering between Switzerland and Italy.
The Matterhorn stands 14, 690 feet high, making it one of the highest peaks in the Alps. It gets its name from the German words “Matte” which means “Meadow” and “Horn” meaning ‘Peak”. Mountaineers from around the world travel to the mountain, hoping to reach the summit via the northeast Hӧrnli ridge.
The ski resorts in the country are a must for adrenaline junkies. The districts of Valais, Vaud, Bernese Oberland, Graubünden, and some areas in the central and eastern parts of Switzerland have snowboarding, snowmobiling, sledding and ice skating services for their guests.
If winter sports aren’t for you, you can opt to spend more time in Zürich as the city is teeming with different activities and shopping destinations. A good place to start would be the Johann Jacobs Museum, which showcases the evolution of coffee and the roles it played in the development of various cultures. The Museum Buehrle, on the other hand, displays private art collections containing the works of both local and foreign artists.
Much of Zürich’s culture happens at street level. You can shop at the Bahnhofstrasse, one of the busiest and most well-known shopping streets in the world. If you need to get around in style, take the Polybahn, a 19th century funicular that weaves through the cobbled streets of the city. The streets roar with more revelry than usual every second Saturday of August during the annual Street Parade, wherein trucks called “Love Mobiles” drive alongside Lake Zürich playing techno music.
All that said these places are better enjoyed in the company of friends and family, but if you really have no choice but to experience these sights by yourself, why not take a stroll accompanied by the next best thing: Bern’s famous triangular shaped chocolate, Toblerone?
Enjoy it while it lasts
The places we grow to love will always be the places that will be most difficult to leave. I am of the opinion that you first have to leave a place to better appreciate what it has given you. The best that you can hope for is that someday, in the right time and with the right company, you’ll find yourself back in a place that will always feel like home.