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Category Archives for "Switzerland"

Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in the Switzerland.

Verbier – Valais, Switzerland

Upbeat and Fun, but Mighty Serious About Skiing

With some of Europe’s steepest and best off-piste skiing and very lively nightlife, Verbier, in the French-speaking region of Valais (“valley”), is one of the Alps’ great ski destinations. The nexus of more than 250 miles of pistes connecting four valleys, it is a magnet for young, adventurous ski buffs, who consider this stylish but relaxed town nothing short of heaven.

Advanced (and aspiring expert) skiers will have their field day, enjoying wonderful top-to-bottom off-piste runs in the company of a guide. Early risers can sidestep the drawback of long lines at lifts that are being modernized and improved one by one.

While the twenty-something cosmopolitan crowd fills the hopping pubs and bars with lively chatter, a very happy older set gravi­tates to the plush comfort of the rustic-chic Hotel Rosalp.

Within it is the highly acclaimed restaurant of Roland Pierroz, who is widely known as the “Swiss Bocuse.” He provides some of the finest dining to be found in any Swiss ski resort, from start to finish line (the latter being the selection of more than thirty fine local cheeses, guaranteed to restore every last calorie burned during the day’s skiing).

The chef’s knowledge about and selection of the local Valais wines (as well as other excel­lent Swiss and French choices) doubles the pleasure.

Saas-Fee – Valais, Switzerland

The Pearl of the Alps

Everyone falls for Saas-Fee in a big way. Then again, nearly everything in these parts is big: the mountain village (nicknamed “Pearl of the Alps”) is surrounded by a majestic arena of thirteen peaks towering over 13,120 feet (including the nearby Matterhorn and Dom; the latter—at 14,908 feet—is the highest mountain entirely on Swiss soil).

This is stunning scenery, indeed. And although one naturally expects extensive skiing to match, the steep terrain, tight ring of dramatic peaks, and extensive glaciers have limited develop­ment. But Saas-Fee offers some of the best snow conditions in Europe, and its Felskinn-Mittelallalin ski area is Switzerland’s premier summer ski destination. The area’s high-terrain walking paths also draw summertime visitors.

Given the quaint atmosphere (visitors must leave their cars outside town and rely upon a few select electric cars in town), the other big draw in town may seem somewhat incongruous: celebrity chef Irma Dütsch, the ebullient queenpin at the Hotel Fletschhorn.

What is such a sophisticated culinary personality doing high on a forested hill, in a chalet-like hotel-restaurant just outside town? Female chefs are not commonplace in Switzerland, but this one’s international gourmet followers are so loyal they call her “Pearl of the Alps.” Her French-based regional cuisine with smatterings of the exotic and poetic would be a standout anywhere.

Lugano’s Splendid Villas – Ticino, Switzerland

La Dolce Vita, Swiss Style

One of Lugano’s special pleasures is a walk along the shady lakefront promenade and up to the magnificent 17th-century Villa Favorita. Built by Prince Leopold of Prussia, it is now home of the prestigious Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.

In 1992 there was a much-publicized sale of a staggering 800 Old Masters to Madrid’s Villahermosa Museum (at the behest of the Spanish-born wife of the late owner, Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza).

A powerful Swiss industrialist with a passion for art, the baron was the son of the original founder of this eclectic, remarkable collection of more than 150 “left­over” major works from 19th- and 20th-century European and American mas­ters such as De Chirico, Munch, Hopper, Schiele, Wyeth, and Pollack. The oldest part of the collection includes imposing pieces of furniture from the 16th and 17th centuries.

The villa’s seductive lakeside views are augmented by the famous garden, a meticu­lous masterpiece in itself. An artistically groomed arrangement of almost 100 species of native and exotic flowers and trees intermin­gled with classical statues, it is a horticultural legacy carried on by the Thyssen-Bornemisza family, who still resides here.

By now you might want your own villa. For a liberal dose of la dolce vita, check into the formerly private red-ocher Italianate Villa Principe Leopoldo.

Built by the aristocratic Prussian von Hohenzollern family in 1868, it still speaks of princely grandeur inside and out, uniquely set atop the Collina d’Oro (Golden Hill), with spectacular views of the mountain-fringed Lake Lugano from most suites and one of the area’s most stylish dining rooms and outdoor terraces. After lunch, it’s an easy one-hour walk from the hotel to the wonderfully picturesque lakeside town of Gandria, which spills down the wooded flank of Monte Brè.

There, a funicular lifts you 3,000 feet to the mountain’s summit. For the uncontested best view in these parts, take in the vista from atop the 5,581-foot peak of the aptly named Mount Generoso.

Rheinhotel Fischerzunft – Schaffhausen, Switzerland

No Longer revolutionary, but Still Brilliant Fusion

Jaded palates will agree with those who originally heralded André jaeger – he is the virtuoso chef instrumental in creating Europe’s first great fusion cuisine.

Twenty years ago, after his grounding as food and beverage manager at Hong Kong’s prestigious Peninsula Hotel, Jaeger returned to his picturesque, lively hometown of Schaffhausen. Here he became a pioneer in the highly traditional food world: the first to marry East and West. Fast forward to the present: His European and Asian cuisine is still thrillingly unique, a blend of widely disparate tastes and textures with a natural sophistication that continues to garner kudos from Europe’s harshest critics.

This fresh, modern-day cuisine with a nod to Eastern sensibility is presented in a perfectly preserved 15th-century fishermen’s guild house, directly on the Rhine River near Switzerland’s border with Germany.

Overnight guests at Die Fischerzunft can while away a few hours in between degustations strolling Schaffhausen’s pedestrian-only Altstadt (historic quarter) of fountains and Gothic, Baroque, and rococo facades, or make the trip to the nearby site of the Rhine Falls, the most powerful waterfall in Europe (Goethe called it the “ocean’s source).

Then follow the broad and peaceful river east to Stein am Rhein, just before the river empties into the enormous Bodensee (Lake Constance). Dating back to the 11th century, the town’s flamboyant and half-timbered homes put it on Switzerland’s short list of most charming photo ops.

Park Hotel Vitznau – Vitznau, Lucerne, Switzerland

The Quintessential Alpine Movie Set

Nabbing a terraced room with a lake view is crucial, though guests might wonder if the Park Hotel Vitznau is nothing more than a stage set the general manager strikes at the end of each idyllic day.

The elegant Belle Epoque hotel’s immaculately tended lawns reach right down to the shimmering edge of the gorgeous Lake Lucerne (whose German name is Vierwaldstättersee, the Lake of the Four Forest Cantons). Three full-time gar­deners make the hotel’s flower-filled grounds one of its most attractive attributes.

Since opening in 1902, the lavish Park Hotel has been the stronghold of the tiny lake-front community of Vitznau on the Lucerne Riviera. Its towering neighbor Mount Rigi is mirrored in the calm waters of the lake, and the climax of many a traveler’s visit to the area is watching the sun rise over the Alps from the mountain’s 5,896-foot summit. Many say it is Switzerland’s most beautiful mountain view.

Built in 1871, the cog railway to Rigi-Kulm is Europe’s oldest, one of many railways and aerial tramways that string the surrounding mountains permitting similar views. But most guests have a hard time budging from the hotel’s lakefront sun terrace or, when hunger beckons, the open-air terrace of the hotel’s well-known Quatre Cantons restaurant. Its French menu often includes perfectly pre­pared fish plucked that morning from the lake.

Lucerne Festival – Switzerland

Extraordinary Music-Making in a Deserving Setting

If judged by quality rather than by glamour, turnout, or hype, the Lucerne Festival would be hard to beat. It is one of Europe’s oldest (inaugurated by Toscanini in 1938), most eclectic, and most appealing, usually mentioned in the same breath as the other major summer music events: Salzburg, Bayreuth, Aix-en- Provence, and even Glyndebourne.

A veritable Who’s Who of big-name conductors, orchestras (sometimes more than a dozen), soloists, and chamber ensembles perform at a variety of interesting locations, including the new, ultra-modern Culture and Convention Center. Positioned on the Lido-like banks of the gracious Lake Lucerne, it makes for a dra­matic departure from the city’s medieval storybook setting.

Lucerne is a tourist favorite in part because it embodies everyone’s image of a Swiss town. Wagner, who knew this area well, wrote, “I do not know of a more beautiful spot in this world!” and when in town stayed at the large 19th-century Schweizerhof Hotel (pris­tine after a 1999 renovation).

Its guest book is filled with the signatures of more recent festi­val folk like Pinchas Zukerman, Mstislav Rostropovich, and, hopefully, you.

Davos-Klosters – Graubünden, Switzerland

Some of the Finest Skiing Anywhere

Davos shares its popularity as a supreme ski destination with its smaller and lower (barely) twin city of Klosters. Offering top-of-the-line skiing for all levels, Davos is Europe’s largest ski resort. At 5,120 feet, it is also its highest city, great for cold-weather sports even in warm winters. Long, scenic valley trails make it second only to Switzerland’s Engadine for cross-country skiing.

Davos shares a sweeping network of lifts and slopes with nearby Klosters, whose more attractive alpine village is where you want to unpack your bags (Swedish and British royalty return here faithfully). Almost intimate com­pared to Davos, Klosters still nurtures its sobriquet of “Hollywood on the Rocks” because of the international movie people it attracts. VIP or not, they all come for the exemplary Parsenn-Weissfluh ski area, which many experts agree is the finest in Europe.

Its famous descent from Weissfluhgipfel (9,330 feet) to Küblis (2,670 feet) is a must for the very good skier, a magnif­icent 9-mile piste over vast, open snowfields.

You won’t need royal connections to be treated as such at the atmospheric Chesa Gris- chuna. Housed in a handsome wooden chalet in the very center of town, it is Klosters’s most pre­ferred hotel with the area’s finest restaurant.

Schlosshotel Chastè – Tarasp, Engadine, Switzerland

A Pure Swiss Country Hideaway

Hidden in one of eastern Switzerland’s most beautiful and least trammeled corners, this Swiss country inn is a place where old traditions flourish, and hospitality is reflected in the heartfelt greeting “Allegra!” (from the ancient Romansch language still spoken in these parts).

Run by the Pazeller family since 1480 and just a short drive from the Austrian border, this lovely sgraffito-covered (scratched stucco) farmhouse commands the center of a tiny hamlet named for the fantasy­like feudal castle that looms on a nearby hilltop.

The area boasts countless hiking paths and high mountain trails through enchanted woodlands, alpine meadows car­peted with wildflowers, old villages (nearby Guarda is uncontestably one of the country’s most photogenic).

Switzerland’s only national park, Parc Naziunal Svizzer, is just 13 miles away, a pristine sanctuary of 65 square miles with sixteen hiking circuits. The best finish to a vacation-perfect day in these bracing elements would be your return to Chastè, a rural retreat of cosmopol­itan luxury highlighted by the presence of host and chef Rudy Pazeller. His talents shine in the kitchen’s small but sophisticated menu and throughout the inn’s impeccable guest rooms.

St. Moritz and the Glacier Express – Engadine, Switzerland

The Queen of Resorts and the Alps’ Most Famous Rail Excursion

St. Moritz is not only for those who appreciate the “ritz” in this world-class ski resort’s name. Despite the cosmopolitan mix of socialites, bluebloods, and tanned movie stars that helped create this celebrated (and, yes, pricey) resort’s image of glamour and fashionability,

St. Moritz is not as ultra-exclusive or snooty as its popular image leads one to expect. St. Moritz can be a generally sporty place with superb downhill skiing on all levels and ideal cross-country skiing. At an altitude of 6,000 feet, annual snowfalls are dependable. Intermediate skiers will enjoy hopping the cable car to Piz Corvatsch, almost 11,000 feet above sea level.

There is lots of nonskiing activity, including the famous British-made Cresta Run, the world’s first sleigh and toboggan run, where women are not allowed, so risky is the head­first, white-knuckle ride. Consider a summertime holiday here, or at lovely Pontresina, just 4 miles east of St. Moritz: it is one of the Engadine’s – and Europe’s – best hiking bases and mountaineering centers.

In St. Moritz, the enduring place to be seen is the very Hollywood faux-Gothic Badrutt’s Palace Hotel. But today’s more discreet set gravitates to the glitz-free Suvretta House, with Christmas-card views of the mountains. A tri­umph of subdued luxury, from here it’s an easy walk to Jöhri’s Talvo. Classy but creative, this is one of the country’s very best eating experiences, delightfully set in a charming 17th-century Engadine farmhouse (talvo means “hayloft” in Romansh, the archaic tongue of the Engadine Valley).

At the end of your stay, ride the rails to Zermatt in the east. The Glacier Express is advertised as the slowest express train in the world (averaging 25 miles an hour), but the little-red-engine-that-could passes through the heart of the Swiss Alps and offers an up-close look at riveting scenery on its roller­coaster journey (gradients can approach 110 percent). Proudly painted the colors of the Swiss flag, it passes over 291 bridges and through 91 tunnels, and crosses the Oberalp Pass at 6,706 feet –the 7 1/2-hour, 169-mile trip’s highest point. Serious rail buffs can con­sider Switzerland’s other great rail excursion, the Bernina Express. A four-hour rail trip from Zurich to Lugano (also doable by car), it is the only train route in Switzerland that crosses the Alps without the benefit of tunnels en route.

Mürren – Bernese Oberland, Switzerland

Stupendous Scenery and the World’s Most Dramatically Sited Revolving Restaurant

The Bernese Oberland is no secret: the most popular destination in Switzerland merits the year-round tourism it receives thanks to mountain villages such as the tiny, traffic-free Mürren. Facing the dramatic Jungfrau massif from its perch on a balcony-like ledge above the Lauterbrunnen Valley, it is the high­est year-round inhabited village in the canton. Its high-altitude location is accessible only by cog railway or cable car.

Mürren is considered the birthplace of downhill racing in its modern form (beginners, go elsewhere); the first-ever slalom race was organized here in 1924. The local Arlberg- Kandahar race is now regarded as the unofficial world championship of the alpine countries. Nothing rivals the challenging 9-mile run with staggering views from the Schilthorn. It’s just as popular with nonskiers who hop on the cable car for the 360-degree panorama of peaks, lakes, and year-round snowfields from its 9,742-foot summit, Piz Gloria.

The summit’s eponymous revolving restau­rant was made world-famous by the 1969 James Bond thriller On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and its incomparable eagle’s-nest set­ting is said to take in some 200 peaks. Designed like a big-windowed alien spaceship (who else could have built it up there?) anchored to the alpine bedrock, Piz Gloria offers an incomparable panoramic vista, and the James Bond pasta special and 007 dessert made with five scoops of ice cream do their best to live up to the view.