For a relatively small country, Switzerland is surprisingly diverse. Its majestic mountains, glinting lakes and thundering waterfalls delight outdoor adventurers, but Alpine perfection is just one part of its appeal. Switzerland’s cities, from the ancient capital Bern to polished Geneva and cosmopolitan Zurich, provide culture, shopping and sightseeing by the bucket load.
The Swiss have public transport down to a fine art and cross-country trains run like clockwork. Swiss cities, meanwhile, are equipped with efficient local transport networks – usually a combination of trams, trains and buses linked by a single ticketing system – while mountainous regions are served by funiculars and cable cars.
Summers in Switzerland are made for romping through the Alpine vistas of Bernese Oberland, taking high-altitude hikes to the icy tip of Jungfrau and revelling in the epically proportioned Swiss scenery. During winter, the swanky ski resorts of Verbier and St Moritz fill with snow sports enthusiasts of all levels, from snow-ploughing novices to slalom experts. Winter is also the prime season for brave climbers who want to tackle the 3,970m Eiger’s notorious north face.
For urban breaks, most travellers opt for Zurich. Little wonder why; this clean, safe and attractive city offers things many others cannot, including a dynamic cultural scene, a walkable Altstadt (Old Town) filled with fine restaurants and independent shops and access to nature at the drop of the hat. You could spend a morning checking out the 13th-century Fraumünster cathedral and the works hung at the well-regarded Kunsthaus gallery and an afternoon strolling along the shores of Lake of Zurich and riding the mountain railway up the Üetliberg mountain for stellar city views.
From Zurich, it’s possible to take a day trip to handsome Bern, a city whose historic small-town charm belies its status as the capital. It’s also possible to reach the contemporary art hub of Basel, famed for its Art Basel fair.
The small, ancient and wonderfully remote village of Sent overlooks the rearing peaks of the Graubünden canton, a region famed for its ravishing good looks. It’s one of the few places in the country where Romansh, the fourth official language of Switzerland, is still spoken.
For a winter escape away from the crowds, ride the cable car up to the car-free streets of Belalp, a high-altitude hamlet on the Aletsch glacier. At the top, incredible mountain views and gloriously empty slopes await. It’s equally charming in summer when the snow melts to reveal mountain-biking trails and golf courses.
When it comes to Swiss foods, there are two products that really stand out. Those with a sweet tooth can enjoy some of the finest chocolate on this planet, while dairy-addicts can dig into gooey Gruyère and holy Emmental.
Swiss wine is another altogether more surprising highlight and one you’re unlikely to sample outside of Switzerland as so little of it is exported. Zurich, meanwhile, has more fondue restaurants than you can shake a stick at, as well as several fabulous haute cuisine establishments, where financial wheeler dealers come to blow their bonuses.