All the quaint stereotypes are true – cheese, chocolate, clocks, obsessive punctuality – but there’s much more to Switzerland than this. The major cities are cosmopolitan and vibrant, transport links are excellent, and the scenery takes your breath away. Switzerland is diverse and multilingual – almost everyone speaks some English along with at least one of the four official languages. Switzerland’s ravishing landscapes demand immediate action – grab boots, leap on board, toot bike bell and let spirits rip. Skiing and snowboarding in Graubünden, Bernese Oberland and Central Switzerland are winter choices.
When pastures turn green, hiking and biking trails abound in glacier-encrusted mountain areas and lower down along lost valleys, glittering lake shores and pea-green vineyards. View the grandeur from a hot-air balloon or parachute, or afloat a white-water raft. Then there are those must-do-before-death moments like encountering Eiger’s chiselled north face up close or reaching crevassed ice on Jungfraujoch. Most extraordinary of all, you don’t need to be a mountaineer to do it. Variety is the spice of rural life in this rich, earthy land where Alpine tradition is rooted in the agricultural calendar and soaring mountains are a dime a dozen. Travels are mapped by villages with timber granaries built on stilts to keep the rats out and chalet farmsteads brightened with red geranium blossoms.
Ancient markets, folkloric fairs, flag waving and alp-horn concerts engrave the passing of seasons in every soul. And then there’s the food: a hearty and flavoursome gastronomic celebration of gooey cheese desperate to be dipped in, along with velvety chocolate, autumnal game and air-dried meats. Ever innovative, the Swiss have always embraced the new and the experimental. Capturing the zeitgeist up and down the country are cultural venues, attention-grabbing architecture and avant-garde galleries. Bern’s wavy Zentrum Paul Klee bearing architect Renzo Piano’s hallmark, Basel’s Frank Gehry–designed Vitra Design Museum and astounding Foundation Beyeler, Lugano’s Mario Botta–splashed centre and state-of-the-art MASI gallery, and Geneva’s thought-provoking Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain in a revamped 1950s factory is just the tip of the cultural iceberg. Even in back-of-beyond corners of the Alps, you’ll encounter unexpected nods to modern aesthetics, contemporary art and fresh-faced design.