Switzerland is a landlocked Western European gem bordered by Germany to the north, France to the west, Italy to the south, and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east. It is physically divided into the Alps, the Central Plateau, and the Jura. The Swiss Confederation, known for its history of neutrality, consists of 26 cantons with Bern as the governing city, and the cities of Zurich and Geneva as the country’s economic centers. Switzerland is made up of three cultural regions: German, French, and Italian, and the Romansch speaking valleys, each maintaining its own language.
The great differences in the country’s cantons, traditions, and lifestyles, are reflected in their wines. The wines in this small nation are produced from 15,000 hectares (about 37,000 acres) of vineyards and show great depth of character and diversity due to the multitude of microclimates, the topography, and the large number of native varieties. Of the 23 million gallons of wine made annually in Switzerland, most are white and dry. Their wines are one of the world’s best-kept secrets. The Swiss enjoy their wine and drink most of it locally, leaving little available for export. But, in recent time, there seems to be a rapid increase in exports especially to the United States. As Swiss wines are still somewhat hard to find, especially outside of major metropolitan markets, a visit to this picturesque and charming destination is the best way to experience and enjoy them.
Switzerland has six international airports with air links to all major European and International countries. The best (nicest) way to get there is on Swiss Air, which has direct flights from most major cities. Fly into Geneva if you want to spend time in the French/Italian part of Switzerland; otherwise, fly to Zurich. The country has a very efficient and convenient public transport system making it very easy to get around by rail. The roadways are so well maintained that driving is a pleasure. Plan on spending at least seven to ten days to get a good feel for the country’s regional diversity.
When to Visit
The best time to visit depends on your interests. Wintertime (December, January, and February) is perfect for those into winter sports. The high seasons one should avoid are Christmas, Easter and the entire month of February. Spring and fall are wonderful times to visit. These months are quieter and filled with folk festivals. The summer for the most part is pleasantly warm, but crowded, with accommodations harder to find.
The Cities and Towns
Geneva is a modest-sized city with a population of just under 188,000 located on the shores of Lake Geneva. This city shares 95 percent of its border with France and is joined to the rest of the country by a narrow strip of land. Geneva is French-speaking and an important international financial center. Culturally, the city abounds with many museums and art galleries. The religious leader John Calvin was based and died here and was the city’s spiritual leader. Geneva is a global city, home to the European headquarters of the United Nations, the birthplace of the International Red Cross and the center for international diplomacy. It is also the site for the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, (CERN) with one of the world’s foremost Large Hadron Colliders. Have your wallets full when visiting the city, as it has a reputation for being one of the most expensive cities in the world.
This small but extremely nice town is located in the district of Nyon, in the canton of Vaud, just 25 kilometers, or about 15 miles north of Geneva. In the 1970’s it became a part of the Geneva metropolitan area. Founded as a Roman colony between 50 and 44BC, it was once a major Roman town with a recently discovered forum, a basilica and an amphitheater. Today, Nyon is an attractive quiet little port on the shore of Lake Geneva, with an excellent Roman museum and the Chateau de Pranquins, which houses the regional branch of the National Museum. From the town one can take a picturesque mountain railway up to the little Jura resort town of St. Cergue. Nyon is a perfect place to stop when exploring Lake Geneva.
This city is the capital of the Vaud canton, located on the north shore of Lake Geneva. It is the economic and cultural center for the French-speaking region of Switzerland. Founded in the 4th century as a Roman settlement, it is now considered by some as this country’s finest city. Lausanne is home to the Federal Supreme Court, headquarters for the International Olympic Committee, and many museums. The city is situated in the middle of the Vaud wine region. The old town is in a pedestrian-only zone, so the best, and sometimes the only way, to explore Lausanne is by foot.
A well-known holiday resort in the Swiss Riviera, a stretch of land bordering the northwestern shore of Lake Geneva between Lausanne and Villeneuve. This area began to develop its tourism industry during the 19th century and attracted many celebrities including Ernest Hemingway and Charlie Chapin, who spent the last 25 years of his life, and was buried here. The city flourished as a port and the first industrial town in the canton of Vaud. It was here in 1867 that Henri Nestle started his powdered milk company, now the worlds largest food and beverage company with its world headquarters still in Vevey. The city is known for its huge square, host to food and folk art markets. During the summer month’s regional grape growers offers wine tastings. The town is quiet and quaint, unlike its neighbor, Montreux.
Called the gem of the Swiss Riviera, this town is located on Lake Geneva in the canton of Vaud at the foot of the Alps. During the 12th century, viticulture was brought to the area and today the vineyards from Lavaux to Montreux produce wonderful Swiss wine. This renowned resort is also famous for the jazz festival held here every year.
This town is the capital of the Chablais, a winegrowing region famous for its premium Swiss wine. A focal point in the town is the Chateau d’ Aigle, now the Musée de la Vigne et du Vin, a museum about wine and wine-making. Opposite the castle is the Musée International de’ Etiquette, a museum devoted to the past 200 years history of wine labels.
This is a wonderful medieval rural village located in the district of Gruyère in the canton of Fibourg, known for its famous cheese. This is a major tourist destination due to its cheese and 15th and 17th century buildings. The 11th century castle, Château de Gruyères, is now a museum open to visitors. A word of warning, the town can get quite crowded during the summer months.
The city is the capital of the Swiss canton of Neuchatel, located on Lake Neuchatel near the French border. This is a university town, famous for its watch making and high-tech industries. The Old Town is charming with wonderful alleys, 140 street fountains and yellow limestone buildings. The area is also known for its premium wines.
One of the world’s leading financial centers, Zurich is capital of the canton Zurich, located in central Switzerland on Lake Zurich. Rich in culture, the city is known for its museums, art galleries, theaters, symphony and chamber orchestras, as well as having one of Europe’s major opera houses. It is also noted for its wonderful low bridges that span the Limmat River.
Located where the Swiss, French and Germany borders meet. This is the third biggest city in Switzerland, its only port and its cultural center. The city is a major industrial center for the pharmaceutical and chemical industry. Often underrated by tourists who miss out on the many theatres, wonderful medieval old town and world-class art museums. The zoo is the oldest and largest in Switzerland. The city also hosts Art Basel, the largest Contemporary art festival, Vogel Gryff and Fanacht masked carnivals.
This city is the capital of the canton of St. Gallen, and the largest city in eastern Switzerland. The city is also the highest in Switzerland and gets a lot of snow during the winter months. The main tourist attraction here is the Benedictine Abby of St. Gall, which was founded in 747 AD, and is notable for its library with books dating back to the 9th century. The town is also known for its production of linen and embroidery, which is its major export. While the Abby is wonderful, you should also explore the traffic-free old town, which has beautiful medieval buildings.
This city was the birthplace of winter tourism in the Alps and is considered one of the oldest and most famous winter resorts in the world. The town hosted the 1928 and 1948 Winter Olympics, and the stadium still stands today. Surrounded by mountains, it offers skiing in the winter, hiking and mountaineering in the summer, and over 300 days of sunshine a year. Besides the physical activities the area is also known for its curative springs.
The largest town in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino; located on the Italian border. This very popular tourist destination is the 9th biggest city in Switzerland and home to famous celebrities and athletes giving it the nickname “Monte Carlo of Switzerland.” Its big draws are the warm summers, scenic Lake Lugano, and the surrounding mountains. The city is also a major financial and banking center with narrow winding alleys, an Italian-style old town, and piazzas lined with busy cafés.
This is an enchanting town at the northern end of Lake Maggiore. The area has a mild climate and is said to be the warmest and sunniest of all the Swiss towns. Italian is the official language here and the city is the third largest in the canton of Ticino. The famous Locarno International Film Festival is held every year here in August. The main tourist attraction is the Piazza Grande with its shops and cafés. The old town is wonderful, with narrow streets and 16th and 17th-century alleyways.
This is the oldest city in Switzerland, rich in history and also the capital of the Swiss canton of Valais just north of the Alps. The Roman Catholic diocese of Sion is also the oldest in Switzerland. The city is a major draw for its historic châteaus and museums. During the Middle Ages the area was a producer of wine and fruit from the Rhone Valley. Today it is still renowned and prized for its Fendant wines.
A very fashionable ski and golf resort located on a high plateau just north of the Rhone Valley. From this sunny plateau one gets beautiful views of the Valais Alps and Mont Blanc. The city’s cable cars and ski lifts offer access to over 100 miles (160km) of ski trails, or pistes, and the popular glacier of Pleine Morte. During the summer months there is golf, paragliding, and hot-air ballooning. The city is also famous for hosting the European Master golf tournament held every September.
Located at the foot of the Matterhorn, this is Switzerland’s best-known resort. Cars are not allowed here so you must get here by train from Brig, Visp, or Tasch. While staying, you get around the quaint streets by foot or electric shuttles. This is a skier’s paradise during the winter and much loved for its fresh powder, giant slopes, and small-town atmosphere. The top of the Matterhorn (14,692 ft.) is one of the only places in Europe where you can ski year-round. During the summer months the town becomes a center for mountaineering.
This is one of Switzerland’s most famous resort towns, located in the German-speaking area of the Canton of Berne in southwestern Switzerland. Amazingly, this small village has been able to retain its charm in spite of its fame. The town is located at the junction of four valleys and connects a large skiing network. During the summer months visitors can rock climb, hike, bike, play tennis, and raft on the river.