The restorative power of a few days spent in the peace and tranquillity of the countryside can never be underestimated – it’s succour to the soul. And if that’s what you’re in need of, Switzerland certainly won’t disappoint. Wherever you are among its 26 cantons, you’re never far from a mountain, forest, lake or river. In short, the whole country is a haven for nature lovers. Ticino, the southernmost region, is Switzerland with a bit of Italian flair. With palm trees, clean lakeside beaches and rustic villages with narrow alleyways leading to piazzas, it feels like the Mediterranean starts just south of the Alps. Lake Lugano and the larger Lake Maggiore straddle Switzerland and Italy, both offering dramatic mountain scenery. The pretty town of Lugano offers a cultural hit too, with regular music festivals and the new LAC Lugano Arte e Cultura centre. It’s from here that you can catch the Gotthard Panorama Express to Lucerne.
It takes 5 ½ hours from Lugano, and the route, which first opened in 1882, is fantastically picturesque. Sit in the photography carriage of the train, where you can open the windows to get that perfect shot. Just minutes after you pass through the nine-mile-long Gotthard Tunnel (the world’s longest when it opened), keep an eye out for a rock in Goschenen, known as the Devil’s Stone, 12 metres in diameter. At Wassen, the line’s two horseshoe-curve tunnels will disorientate you, as they give you three different views of the village. And your journey will take a turn of a different kind in Fluelen, where passengers transfer to a pad die steamer bound for Lucerne.
After a leisurely cruise, the steamer arrives in Lucerne, where you’ll feel on top of the world among the mountains. The city of Lucerne has a good choice of museums and galleries, and it’s full of historic sites such as the famous wooden Kapellbrucke (Chapel Bridge) dating from the early 1300s. But it’s the region’s countryside that’s the real draw. Take a boat trip across Lake Lucerne, or hop on the world’s steepest cog railway to the top of the mighty Mount Pilatus, which stands at 2,132m. If you’re more of a walker, head to the Alpine valleys, tranquil lakes and mountains.