Strolling In Switzerland

Natural beauty and fun flavor make this destination worth a walk-through

By: Mary-Ann Bendel

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Hiking in the hills of
Gimmelwald, Switzerland.
If you have clients who like to hike or walk, Switzerland offers a venue for every level of expertise. One can amble down the streets of old-town Zurich or walk along the shore of Lake Geneva for hours and be entertained with something interesting around every bend. Or one can opt for tough mountain hiking on rock in the high Alps with beautiful scenery.

Advise clients to get a Swiss rail pass and take trains to small villages to hike and explore. The Glacier Express is famous and a must for part of the journey. With a rail pass, travelers can take a cable car or cog railroad to the top of a mountain and ridge hike. Visitors can walk along winding trails, and then drop into a little mountain bistro or cafe for hot chocolate and a hearty soup.

Fall is the off season and a great time to go to ski resorts like the posh Verbier. Near this beautiful village are nearly 250 miles of trails for walking, hiking or biking, and clients will likely spot goats, ibexes, marmots and eagles. Less-active travelers can opt for an easy walk along ancient irrigation channels built in the 15th century, while more hardy hikers will want to trek high in the Alps and perhaps do a mountain hut-to-hut hike.

Extreme sports fans will enjoy rappelling down a 250-foot dam wall. Willing visitors are first strapped into a harness and can get to the safety expert waiting at the bottom in one of two ways either by walking down or by freefall. There is also rope-climbing and tobogganing on the world’s largest summer toboggan.

The Rhone Valley is another must-see, featuring hikes and vineyards.

I was lucky enough to visit during harvest season, which runs from late September into early October. The vineyard offers tours that go through the whole winemaking process stomping grapes with your feet is no longer part of the protocol but is still fun to watch. At the end of the tour, there is winetasting and a cheese dish called raclette is served.

The Romansh study trail is absorbing and takes clients through small villages. Romansh, one of the four official languages, is still spoken in the eastern part of Switzerland. The area is relatively undiscovered by tourists and retains a tranquil, out-of-the-way feeling.

The old city of Chur in the Romansh area makes for a great stop for a couple of days. With only 35,000 residents, clients will find a serene beauty here. The Gothic old town area is a joy to walk around, and culture buffs can check out the Grisons Art Museum, which houses a collection of works by artists like Angelita Kaufmann and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

Chur is also the largest shopping center between Zurich and Milan, and major department stores and 500 specialized boutiques make it a shopper’s paradise. Weekly farmers and flea markets round out the shopping flavor.

A village called Disentis in southeastern Switzerland became a personal favorite. The architecture of this old village was engaging. Here, a Benedictine monastery church dating from the 17th century has a vesper service five times a day open to the public.

I also enjoyed sampling the local cuisine. In fact, I ate whenever I could all over Switzerland it’s worth the calories. I spent most of my time in French-speaking areas, and from small cafes to city restaurants, the meals were excellent. One night, I had an eight-course dinner in Orsieres, a tiny village of 700 people. The Des Alpes restaurant was a one-star Michelin, which I was surprised to find in such a small village.

Some clients might want to spend a week or two in Switzerland’s villages. The pace of life is slow, and I didn’t hear any cell phones just a lot of tingling cow bells and train whistles.

I spent my last three days in Geneva, and after exploring the country’s towns, the ambience of the city appealed to me. Geneva hosts 200 international organizations. Home to UN European Headquarters, visitors can tour the United Nations building, and just across the street, clients will fine the Red Cross museum, as the International Committee of the Red Cross started here.

Walking along the placid, glacial Lake Geneva was also a highlight. I strolled for several hours past beautiful villas, like the one Napoleon built for Josephine. I looked up at the mountain-top estate of Baron de Rothschild, and after I got tired of walking, I took a boat trip around the lake it was the perfect way to end a Switzerland sojourn.


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