Saturday, June 15, 2024
HometravelStunning Switzerland

Stunning Switzerland

'It's impossible to take a bad photo in Switzerland — it's a blind photographer's dream," said Scottish comedian Jamie MacDonald, and I agree.

There isn’t a single spot in the country where one doesn’t want to pull out their camera and take a picture, for a memory or the ‘Gram. Before I lead you through the best of what this Alpine country has to offer, there is one important thing to get in advance — a Swiss travel pass, which can be obtained at shop.switzerlandtravelcentre.com. There are first class passes (15 days is CHF675.00 or 26,900 baht for adults) and second class passes (15 days is CHF429.00 or 17,000 baht). This may seem a lot but it does let you travel as much and as far and wide as the country is.

Zurich Flughafen, otherwise known as the airport, is extremely travel-friendly and you don’t have to leave it to board a train to Zurich HB. From there, take the train to Chur. This is where your first class travel pass comes in. First class is less crowded and more often than not, has free seats. Make sure you get a window seat on the left-side of the Swiss Railways Chur train to take in the spectacular scenery of Lake Zurich and its surroundings. If you’re seated on the right, fear not. You are treated to the rolling hills and mountains, complete with Swiss cows and chalets for the 1.5-hour ride.

Change at Chur to board the train for Celerina, a journey which takes two hours and is along a Unesco world railway site. On this leg, make sure you get a right-hand seat for the best views of rocky mountains covered in snow and deep gorges. The train also weaves through forests as it spirals from 560m to 1,800m over viaducts. The views of villages and ski resorts will make sure your eyes are on nothing else but the window.

Celerina, often referred to as the “Ballroom of the Alps”, is a mere five-minute drive from the swank resort town of St Moritz, and the best place to stay is Cresta Palace (bit.ly/3szqNL7). The bus to St Moritz runs 24/7 and stops just outside the hotel. The first stop en route to St Moritz should be the Segantini Museum.

Having opened in 1908, the museum was built as a “monument to walk through” for the painter Giovanni Segantini, who spent the last five years of his life in Engadine, which is the Alpine valley region in the canton of Graubünden.

Segantini Museum.

As a rotunda, the striking building with a wide dome is based on a pavilion that Segantini had planned for his Engadine panorama at the Paris World Exhibition of 1900. The museum is embedded in the mountain landscape and carries the painter’s most cherished works. From the inside, the museum also offers an astonishing view of the lake, mountains and the spot where Segantini lived.

Apart from walking the cobblestoned town of St Moritz and doing a spot of shopping, a must-do is getting a hot chocolate. Cafe Hanselmann, next to the St Mauritius fountain, is the spot for sweet treats. Having opened 125 years ago, the sweet paradise’s tables have a view of the idyllic Lake St Moritz and are perfect for sipping on a hot chocolate and day-dreaming. Must-orders would be the famous Engadine nut cake and handmade pralines, which are packed for takeaway, so fill that suitcase!

If you’re not here to ride the “powder”, fear not, you can always take the ski lifts to the top for the views, not forgetting your IG moments, naturally. Though the best ride to the top would be to Muottas Muragl, which offers endless views of Engadine, via a historic funicular. The funicular climbs more than 700m from Punt Muragl to Muottas Muragl, which is a playground for sledging and snowshoe hikers.

If in St Moritz, it is imperative one rides the Bernina Express, one of the most scenic train journeys in the world, connecting the north of Europe to its south.

St Moritz.

Running between St Moritz and Tirano, Italy, the train makes it way through the Unesco World Heritage Site of Rhaetian Railway, passing by glaciers on its way down to palm trees. More here at bit.ly/3G9Kf3Z.

Those who want to experience even more Italian flavour can continue their panoramic journey from Tirano on the red Bernina Express Bus. Passing the vineyards of Valtellina, going through picturesque villages and along Lake Como, the journey takes you to Lugano. Alternatively, you can also take two Italian trains to re-enter Switzerland. Both modes of transport take the same amount of time.

Lugano is the largest town in the holiday region of Ticino and has a distinct Italian-Mediterranean vibe. It is in a bay on the northern side of Lake Lugano, with mountain views as a backdrop. The historic town centre is traffic-free and most of the buildings are in Italianate Lombardy style. Keeping in the theme of staying in palaces, Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola would be the best choice.

The former residence of a Russian aristocratic family built in 1880, the hotel not only offers lake views, it also has a private terrace at the lakeshore and its own park.

A walk around the town centre is a must to gauge the feel of the place with its famous churches like the Madonna degli Angioli, originally part of a Franciscan monastery, and home to Switzerland’s most famous Renaissance fresco. The Cattedrale S. Lorenzo is another building with a Renaissance facade. Don’t forget to pop into Gabbani and try their la torta di pane (CHF14.50 per piece), which is marked with a red and blue strip to show that it is native to Lugano. At the foot of the cathedral, take another funicular to the train station to get to the neighbouring town of Melide. It is here that you’ll find the a Lilliputian world of Switzerland in miniature, or Swissminiatur. A treat for the entire family, it was opened in 1959 and is the only miniature park in Switzerland. The detailed and authentic models include well-known sites such as the Heidi Village in Maienfeld, the castles of Burgdorf and Chillon and the Federal Parliament in Bern. Eighteen model trains travel between the buildings on approximately 3.5km of track and there are rack-railways, cable cars, suspension railways and ships. A visual delight, all the models are surrounded by 15,000 flower species and more than 1,500 trees.

Bernina Express.

From here take the train back to Lugano and then move on to Lausanne, the second-largest city on Lake Geneva and in the French-speaking region of Switzerland. Home to the Olympic Committee since 1914, the town is built on three hills, surrounded by vineyard-covered slopes, with Lake Geneva at its feet. Rising impressively from the opposing French lakeshore are the Savoy Alps.

Continuing with the luxury, a stay at the Lausanne Palace is highly recommended as the rooms come with spectacular views of the city, the lake and the alps beyond.

The old town is dominated by a cathedral, which is regarded as Switzerland’s most impressive piece of early Gothic architecture and is largely car-free, making it a walker’s dream, with small alleyways with cafes and boutiques shaping the streetscape in the medieval city centre. Farmer’s markets complete the scene surrounding the cathedral.

A minute’s elevator ride from the hotel takes you to Switzerland’s only metro to take the train to Ouchy, home to the Olympic Museum. At Ouchy lakefront, you’ll find the only Thai sala in Switzerland, which was a gift from the government to the city of Lausanne in honour of the 60th anniversary of His Late Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s accession to the throne. It is also from here that one can board boats to get out on the water for day-trips.

Lugano.

To make the most of the boat trip, take the one going to Le Bouveret. Pass the vineyards of Lavaux, which is a Unesco World Cultural Heritage Site, where the vines tumble down to the lakeside. Disembark at Chateau de Chillon to visit the 800-year-old chateau, the most visited attraction in all of Switzerland, made famous by Lord Byron in his poem The Prisoner Of Chillon. The Chateau de Chillon is spectacularly located on a little shore-side island.

From here, it is a short bus ride to Montreux, where Charlie Chaplin chose to spend his last 25 years in the hills of Vevey, and Freddie Mercury immortalised Lake Geneva with the peaks of Le Grammont on the cover of the album Made In Heaven. The Montreux Riviera is best experienced with sundowners on the terrace of Grand Hotel Suisse Majestic.

From Lausanne, it’s a 2.5-hour train ride to Zurich, and this time you should sit on the right-hand side of the train for the best views. Zurich HB train station is massive and there is loads to see and do around it, all within walking distance. The Zurich Tourist Information office at the station offers various tours with a guide, some free and some paid. I chose the Made In Zurich tour (CHF25), which takes you on walking tour of iconic personal care items to aesthetic coffee machines all made in Zurich. Wind your way through one of Zurich’s youngest neighbourhoods, stopping to meet the makers behind the products, if you’re lucky.

The only place to stay in Zurich would be at the historic 5-star Bau Au Lac, with its private lakeside parkland, almost like an oasis, with Lake Zurich and the Alps in full view.

Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola.

The hotel is in close proximity to Bahnhofstrasse, one of the most famous shopping streets in the world. On Bahnhofstrasse, you’ll find luxury labels as well as young brands, traditional boutiques and the Swiss classic, Luxemburgerli macarons at Confiserie Sprüngli.

Zurich’s old town impresses with its historic buildings, picturesque alleyways and the Grossmünster church. The Grossmünster is just a stone’s throw from the Fraumünster church with its world-famous Chagall windows. Though what excited me the most was the Swiss National Museum, with its unique collection on the cultural history of Switzerland.

The highlight of being in Zurich is a visit to Switzerland’s largest chocolate museum at Lindt Home of Chocolate, where you can indulge in all your chocolate fantasies, including unlimited chocolate fountains. Entrance to the museum costs CHF15 for a tour and CHF28 for walk-in chocolate workshops. A morning spent in the best way! To take in some nighttime entertainment, do book The Pink Rabbit Dinner Show, which is seasonal. Tables for two cost CHF165 and it will be a night to remember!

Though Switzerland is the ultimate winter and summer paradise, one of the best times to visit would be now. Add it to your winter bucket list and fans of winter will be sure to find all they’re looking for.

Swissminiatur.

Vineyards of Lavaux, Chateau de Chillon and Montreux.

Lausanne.

Zurich and Lindt Chocolate Museum.

Muottas Muragl.

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