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Switzerland: A pocket guide

Switzerland is, from a tourism perspective, a country of mountains and lakes, and its luxurious alpine chalets, lakeshore villas, and all-season resorts are among the best in Europe, or indeed anywhere. Yachts and high-performance catamarans ply the waters of Lake Geneva, and the Bol d’Or racing event takes place here. Switzerland is a year-round destination, its low season limited to a few short weeks in spring and fall. Popular activities include hiking, bicycling, rock climbing, boating, and, of course, skiing in the Swiss Alps.

Most international visitors arrive into Zurich, a global center for banking and finance which provides an excellent starting point for discovering the country. Its Town Hall dates to the seventeenth century, and its Old Town goes back to premedieval times. A cruise on the Limmat River takes you through the Old Town to Lake Zurich and back. Among Zurich’s dining options is the fondue trolley, like a two-hour dinner cruise on wheels. Restaurant-Boucherie AuGust is the place to go for sausages of every description. Another attraction is the Victorinox flagship store, which has watches, travel gear, apparel, fragrances, and an entire room dedicated to Swiss army knives.

From Zurich you can reach many of the country’s best ski resorts by train. One of the most popular mountain destinations is Klosters-Davos, located in the southeast of the country ninety miles from Zurich. The two resorts share the same slopes, with Kosters at a slightly lower elevation than Davos. In addition to the miles of cross-country trails for skiers, there are two terrain parks and a half-pipe for snowboarders, and some fantastic toboggan runs when you want to give the slopes a rest.

Due south in the Upper Engadin Valley is posh St. Moritz, home to some of the most exclusive ski resorts in the world. The downhill runs are best for intermediate to expert skiers; there’s a world-class bobsled run and an Olympic outdoor ice rink. Summer activities run the gamut, from golf and racket sports to standup paddleboarding and sailing on area lakes.

Zermatt, a mountain resort in the southern Valais canton, has a fine collection of luxury accommodations, gourmet restaurants, and upscale boutiques, as well as a bustling après-ski scene. The town is dominated by the Matterhorn, Switzerland’s legendary peak, a magnet for alpinists. Summer activities include skydiving, golf, rock climbing, and skiing in a bikini on the Theodul glacier, the summer training ground of competitive skiers. Zermatt is car-free, so the best way to get is by train, which takes about five hours from Zurich, with beautiful scenery along the way.

The ski areas that surround Gstaad, an upscale resort town in the Bernese Oberland region of the Swiss Alps, are connected to the town by cable car. They encompass hundreds of kilometers of trails, both cross-country and downhill. Gstaad is particularly known for its superb spas and wellness facilities. It’s a year-round destination—you can even ski in summer on the glacier. Also popular in summer are paragliding, biking, trekking, rock climbing, and rafting. To get here, take the train from Montreux or Bern.

The Vaud Riviera, east of Lausanne, has drawn European tourists since the late nineteenth century with its spectacular scenery and mild Mediterreanean-like microclimate (you find cypresses and palms growing here). From Montreaux, home of the famous jazz festival, you can follow a long, flower-lined promenade to the medieval castle of Chillon which sits on the lakeshore at the foot of the Alps. Many of the waterside villas and hotels and villas date from the Belle Epoque.

The city of Geneva, a center of banking and diplomacy at the lake’s southern tip, is chockfull of fine restaurants (Café Calla, Il Lago, La Brasserie Lipp, to name a few) and luxury shops (Davidoff for cigars, Vacheron Constantin for watches, and innumerable chocolatiers). Standout museums include Patek Philippe, dedicated to the famous Geneva-based firm of watchmakers, and CERN, the largest particle physics laboratory in the world.

Lastly, Bern, the country’s capital city, is often overlooked by foreign visitors, but in fact there is much to see. You can spend a day visiting the well-preserved medieval Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Neo-Renaissance Federal Palace, and the thirteenth-century St. Lambertus Church and Castle Tower. Summer activities include goat trekking, a “rope park” (climbing), hot-air ballooning, golf, paragliding, rafting, and river tubing. For dining, try Bärenhöfli for Swiss cuisine or either of the two Restaurants Schöngrün, a gourmet restaurant and a down-to-earth bistro next to the Paul Klee museum.

Switzerland is pricey, but its luxury resorts and villas truly are top-drawer, meeting and exceeding the highest expectations—its in the luxury market, after all, that the Swiss have built their international reputation. Contact one of our experts to begin planning the Swiss vacation that’s right for you.

Meet the Experts for Switzerland