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The Swiss Alps

Mountain Magic in Switzerland

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Montreux Shore

Along the shore of Montreux.

Photo courtesy of Swiss Tourism
By Susan Breslow Sardone

Bordered by Italy, Austria, Germany, France and the principality of Liechtenstein, Switzerland lies in the midst of the Alps -- and these magnificent mountains occupy three-fifths of the country. An international crossroads with a superb transportation system, Switzerland is an ideal place from which to explore in any direction. From Lake Constance in the north to Mediterranean-influenced Ticino region in the south, to the Graubunden in the east and the Lake Geneva area in the west, culture and an agreeable climate await summer visitors.

Travel on foot or by rail, postal bus, car, or lake steamer, and you'll be surrounded by scenic delights.

If you've never been on a Swiss train, you're in for a treat. Not only are they clean, modern, comfortable, and efficient, but they traverse the country's most scenic regions . Passengers behold everything from meadows where cattles graze to towering glaciers from the comfort of a seat. The Swiss Pass, Swiss Flexipass, and Swiss Card from the Swiss Travel System enable vacationers to save time and money traveling this way.

The most popular train routes are the Glacier Express, linking Zermatt and St. Moritz (it passes through 91 tunnels and crosses nearly 300 bridges), The William Tell Express, connecting central Switzerland to the sunny Ticino, the Bernina Express, which descends from Chur, down past Swiss glaciers to the Italian town of Tirano, and the Golden Pass, which transports travelers from Lake Lucerne to Lake Geneva.

Land of Lakes

Geneva, the city on the lake, shares its southern shore with France and attracts cosmopolitan visitors. Lausanne, in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, is an ideal aerie on the lake's northern shore to observe frequent regattas. To sail on Lake Geneva yourself, board Montreux, a Belle Époque-era steam-powered vessel built in 1904 and recently relaunched. Daily tours sail from Lausanne to Evian, which also takes in Montreux and Vevey, and an evening trip to Yvoire.

Further north, Lake Neuchâtel, the largest lake bordered by Switzerland on all sides, offers a number of attractions. Visitors will gain a new appreciation of the old at the Neuchâtel Museum of Archeology. A ride on the Chaumont funicular affords panoramic views. The underground mills of Col-des-Roches are unusual. During Expo 2002, see Neuchâtel's Artplage Mobile du Jura, a fascinating over-the-water construction that marries science and high-tech poetry.

Both Lake Lucerne and Lake Zurich remain must-sees on any grand tour of the Swiss Alps. The former boasts the world's largest paddlesteamer fleet within a continental lake, and the city of Lucerne holds many medieval sites. Zurich, at the northern tip of its namesake lake, is of course a metropolis and one of the country's major cultural centers.

Switzerland also shares Lake Constance and Lake Maggiore with its neighbors. Brissago Island, on the Swiss side of Lake Maggiore, is home to a lovely botanical garden. Along the shores of Lake Constance, orchards rise to meet the foothillls of the Alps, and farmhouses dot verdant slopes in this German-influenced region.

Hiking and Biking

If you believe that hiking is the best way to experience the countryside, bring your most comfortable walking shoes or boots. Depending on your energy level and interests, you can choose anything from a lake shore amble to a challenging, multi-day mountain ridge hike or even a glacier tour. A weeklong trip sponsored by Ryder-Walker Adventures leads through mountain passes and valleys. Starting in Locarno, with its cobblestone streets, arcades, palm trees, and Mediterranean flair, you can traverse the Ticino region's rivers and peaks. You'll encounter small, enchanting villages with Italianate architecture, comfortable inns, and hearty country fare accompanied by local red wines.

Bicyclists can traverse a network of interconnected cycle routes that snake across two thousand miles. And there's no need to bring your own two-wheeler: City and mountain models are available for rent at most train stations. Golfers and tennis players, swimmers and horseback riders can also find ample venues to play under the Swiss sun.

Memories may not be the only gift you bring home. This could be the year you purchase a genuine Swiss watch, the choices are plentiful in all price ranges. Other excellent buys include chocolates, embroidery, music boxes, wood carvings, and other treasures hand-made by devoted Swiss craftspeople.

More Alps >

Part 2: Austrian Alps
Part 3: German Alps
Part 4: Italian Alps
Part 6: Alpine Cuisine
Part 7: Alpine Spas

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