Published: December 20th 2006October 4th 2007
When you imagine the Alps, the first place that probably comes to mind is Switzerland. That's not surprising considering that about two thirds of the country consists of alpine and sub-alpine areas. Its snow capped peaks, deep valleys, and high green meadows make it one of the world's most beautiful countries.
I've gotten around quite a bit in Switzerland, mostly by rail - which is the best method of travel. The trains are modern, clean, and very punctual. They also allow you to take in the majestic scenery without having to worry about keeping your eyes on the road as you would with a rental car.
There are a few scenic railway journeys you can take, but the most popular is the Glacier Express. It's a 7 1/2 hour trip from Zermatt to St. Moritz and vice versa. You cross 291 bridges and pass through 91 tunnels. A great way to see the country, but it is a very long ride. Be sure to purchase a seat in 2nd class as the windows in first do not open. Which in the winter, isn't a problem, but it the summer it's nice to enjoy the clean mountain
air and having the window down also allows for taking better pictures.
Zurich, although not Switzerland's capital, is its richest city and one of Europe's most happening. It sits on the North shore of Lake Zurichsee and the River Limmat which splits the city. Three buildings that dominate the city skyline are the churches of St. Peter, Fraumunster, and Grossmunster. All are beautiful and unique in their own way. The church of St. Peter has a clockface with a diameter of 28 feet, making it the largest in Europe. Fraumunster houses Marc Chagall's beautiful stained glass windows, and Grossmunster has a viewing deck that provides panoramic views of the city.
If you're looking to do some shopping, you need look no further than Bahnhofstrasse. It's the street running north to south from the main train station and is said to be one of the most expensive in the world. The windows showcase everything from watches and jewelry to furs and leather. It's a very nice place to stroll, but with the high price tags, you may be limited to window shopping.
Lake Zurichsee is a great place to spend the afternoon and if the
weather permits, to catch a sunset. Many people just hang out on the benches and steps drinking beer and enjoying a tasty brat. Swans are also frequently seen as their appetites are looked after by the locals.
From Zurich's Bahnhof (train station) you can travel anywhere in the country. I personally prefer to head south into the heart of the Alps. There are many small towns located throughout the mountains that are well worth visiting. They might be relatively close in distance, but the surrounding rising peaks give a sense of isolation. Two wonderful places I recommend are Grindelwald and Zermatt.
Grindelwald is one of the most popular villages in the Alps. It sits at the base of the Eiger and offers great skiing in winter and hiking in summer. As in many other places, paragliding is very popular in the warmer months. Take the Grindelwald-First cable car up to the top to watch people run off the side of the mountain as they begin their glide down. It also has a restauraunt with great views of the Eiger.
A must see is the Jungfraujoch. Lying just below the summit of the Jungfrau, its
train station at 11,333 ft is the highest in Europe. Also known as the "Top of Europe", it has a sphinx observation terrace, a restaurant, and an ice palace. The views are absolutely magnificent. If available and time permitting, take a quick airplane ride around the Aletsch Glacier. It's fairly cheap and the runway is an interesting sight.
Zermatt is one of Switzerland's largest and best-known resorts. It's a quaint village with a huge neighbor - the majestic Matterhorn towers above the town with its pyramidal peak. The Matterhorn is a mountain that has claimed many lives, but still continues to be a favorite among climbers worldwide.
The town of Zermatt lies in a valley surrounded by mountains. There is only one way in and that is by train. To prevent air pollution, cars are not allowed and the few vehicles you may see are electric. Many old houses remain intact and walking through the old part of town gives you a clear sense of what early life in the Alps must have been like. Two great attractions are the Klien Matterhorn and the Gornergrat Railway. Both provide spectacular views of both Zermatt and the surrounding
Switzerland is by far one of my favorite countries to visit. With my passion for the outdoors and my love of mountains, it always brings me great happiness to see such a stunning landscape. The breathtaking vistas will have you convinced that you've stepped into a fairytale. Whether planning a winter or summer vacation, Switzerland is definitely a destination you will not regret choosing.
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