6 Chapters
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1 INTRODUCTION

Fisher, Teresa FrommerMedia ePub

B ecause of a widespread belief that the Swiss keep themselves aloof from the issues and problems confronting the rest of the world, a vacation in Switzerland can often seem a rather odd experience. It occurs among a people with a reputation—whether justified or not—for strongly isolationist attitudes. One hesitates to query them about their viewpoints on political or other serious matters.

An acquaintance of mine once summed up his understanding of that nation in the following analogy: pose a topic of politics to the average European, he said, and their eyes will light up with interest, their arms and hands will flail about, they will forcefully express an opinion. Pose the same question to most Swiss and, in his experience, their eyes will film over with boredom, and they will switch the subject to something trivial. They simply don’t want to burden themselves with the cares afflicting other nations or other peoples.

That widespread belief about the Swiss is based, in part, on recent history, according to the same friend. Switzerland, the richest country on earth, with the highest per capita income, has made an almost religious commitment to neutrality. It refused to go to war, on either side, in both World Wars I and II. It has remained, since then, out of the European Community; it circulates its own currency, it failed even to join the United Nations until 2002, and it has evolved in such a different manner from the rest of us that it did not permit women to vote until 1971.

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6 PLANNING YOUR TRIP

Fisher, Teresa FrommerMedia ePub

Winter hiking in the Swiss Alps.

A little planning goes a long way, especially when you are traveling to and through a country with several different languages, transport systems, airlines, festivals, and sights to see. This chapter provides a variety of invaluable aids, including information on how to get there from the U.S. and Canada, the U.K., and Australia or New Zealand; the most efficient and budget- friendly ways of getting around; tips on where to stay; and quick, on-the-ground resources for savvy travel around Switzerland.

Getting There

By Plane

The key factor determining what you’ll pay is season: Tickets tend to be cheaper if you fly off season. High season on most routes is usually from June to mid-September and December through February—the most expensive and most crowded time to travel. Shoulder season is from April to May and mid-September to October. Low season—usually with the cheapest fares and regular aggressive offers—is in November and March. You can sometimes save money by flying midweek, too, or by spending at least a Saturday night in your destination.

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3 GENEVA

Fisher, Teresa FrommerMedia ePub

City center of Geneva.

G eneva is Switzerland’s second-largest city, and is probably best known for the major role it plays on the world stage, as home to more than 200 major global organizations including the Red Cross and the United Nations.

Consequently, it is the least Swiss of all Swiss cities. Around 40% of its inhabitants are foreigners. It is a cosmopolitan city with a distinctly French flavor and an almost Mediterranean laidback vibe, sitting astride the Franco-Swiss border at the western corner of expansive Lake Geneva (known to the French as Lac Léman), framed by vineyards and overlooked by Europe’s tallest mountain, Mont Blanc.

A square in Vieille Ville (Old Town), Geneva.

It is also a city of great contrasts, from the narrow cobbled streets and grey-toned severity of the Vieille Ville (Old Town)—which still somehow conveys some of the strict and unyielding morals of what used to be a stronghold of severely punitive Calvinism amid its lively lanes of tiny galleries, boutiques and bistros—to the palatial five-star hotels fringing the vast blue lake, renowned for their extravagance and their fabled Swiss hospitality. The patchwork of parks punctuating the lakeside provide peace and tranquility so rarely found in a city center to the frenetic workings of CERN (the European Center for Nuclear Research), world-leader in particle physics, and the myriad institutions of the International district where, for decades, history has been written.

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4 LUCERNE

Fisher, Teresa FrommerMedia ePub

A Lucerne city view with the Court Church

L ucerne ( Luzern in German) and its magnificent lake represent the very essence of Switzerland, located at the heart of Switzerland not only geographically and historically, but also spiritually. For this is storybook Switzerland, the fabled homeland of William Tell, where the seeds were sown in 1291 that led to the Swiss Confederation (see box p. 112). Little wonder that this historic city, with its world-class museums, rich cultural scene, and fairytale setting—beside a vast, shimmering lake and against a rugged backdrop of dense green forests and snowcapped mountains—is one of Switzerland’s most popular tourist destinations.

Essentials

The Lucerne Tourist Office website is www.luzern.com.

Arriving    Lucerne has excellent train connections. Situated at the junction of four major rail lines, it is connected with every other major city in Switzerland by fast train. Allow 50 minutes from Zurich, 11⁄2 hours from Bern, and around 3 hours from Geneva. Call  0900/300 300 (www.sbb.ch) for rail schedules.

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2 ZURICH

Fisher, Teresa FrommerMedia ePub

Credit Suisse building in Paradeplatz Square.

Z urich is Switzerland’s largest and most stylish city, majestically located on the northern shore of Zürichsee (Lake Zurich). It is a dynamic, fun-loving metropolis—a classy, classical city with a contemporary edge, preserving its architectural and cultural heritage yet surprising the world with the latest innovations in art and architecture, music, fashion and design.

Over the decades, the Confederation’s long tradition of neutrality has attracted money into Zurich from around the world, and so the Swiss business and finance capital is justifiably famed for its unsurpassed banking prowess.

This generated affluence has also diffused throughout the city to create a self-confident, glossy urban environment. Indeed, today’s Zurich is far removed from the old, dull, stereotypical image of staid bankers and precision timing, of little more than gold bars and chocolate bars . . . after all, this is the city that saw the birth of Dadaism—the very antithesis of conformity.

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5 ZERMATT

Fisher, Teresa FrommerMedia ePub

Iglu-dorf Hotel.

The picture-postcard mountain village of Zermatt, 1,594m (5,228 ft.) above sea level, is hidden at the top of Switzerland’s steepest valley, at the base of the nation’s most celebrated mountain—the Matterhorn.

Once a humble farming community, it was put on the map by English mountaineers in the mid-19th century and is now a glamorous resort, especially popular in winter for skiing and snow-sports, but also in summer for mountain hiking—thanks to an impressive ensemble of cable cars, lifts, and cog railways that operates 365 days a year. Zermatt boasts the highest ski area in Europe, with skiing throughout the year on the Theodul glacier at an elevation of up to 3,883m (12,740 ft.).

The village itself is a charming jumble of ancient wooden chalets and huts interspersed with glitzy hotels, restaurants, and shops worthy of a capital city. Hardly surprisingly, it attracts more than its fair share of visitors. You can walk from one end of the village to the other in about 15 minutes, which is handy because it is a car-free village.

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