My top five favorite places In Switzerland range from the Jungfrau region to Lake Maggiore in the south and they are easy to reach by train.
At the Zurich International Airport, I jumped on a train and three hours later I stepped off in the fairy tale town of Grindelwald in the Jungfrau Region, nestled below the infamous Eiger Mountain at the edge of the Altesch Glacier. The Swiss Rail App makes planning as easy as watching TV. An extensive public transportation system, with clean, efficient, frequent, and fast trains, buses, and ferries and makes it easy to get around Switzerland without a car.
- 1. Grindelwald, located in the center of the Jungfrau region, is an ideal starting point for hiking, biking, hang gliding, zip-lining, and the not-to-be-missed train trip to the “Top of Europe”.
- Hop on the brand-new Eiger Express gondola from Grindelwald to the Eiger Glacier and from there continue to Europe’s highest railway station at 11,333 feet. Jungfraujoch, known as the ‘Top of Europe’ is an observation station perched between the mountains Mönch and Jungfrau, in the heart of the UNESCO Natural World Heritage site. Take in the 360’ panoramic view of snow-capped peaks and the longest glacier in the Alps, visit an ice castle and sculptures, or dine on fondue at the Crystal Restaurant.
- Pamper yourself. You don’t have to rough it in mountains. Lounge by the pool, the spa, or your own terrace at the 5-star Romantik Hotel in Grindelwald. Nestled in lush gardens with up-close views of the famous Eiger, and Lauberhorn mountains, the 130-year-old, chalet-style hotel offers an ambience of luxury and comfort. After a day of hiking, I soothed my tense muscles with a swim and a soak at the indoor spa before a sumptuous 3-course dinner in the elegant dining room.
- Take the scenic gondola from Grindelwald to ‘First’, a mountain peak and popular hiking destination. The 25-minute ride offers views of green pastures. Look to the left or right to see flower meadows, grazing cows, remote farms, and jagged peaks. You won’t know where to look first. Each gondola station offers a different adventure activity. Soar like an eagle down the face of the mountain on a glider ride. Or try a zip line, each reaching speeds of 52-miles per hour. Or you can feel the wind in your hair during a leisurely ride on a scooter or mountain cart. You’ll zip down the mountain on well-maintained trails. For your next adventure, inch your way along the intimidating Cliff Walk. It’s scary for sure. But inch out on the metal walkway that crosses a suspension bridge leading to to a precipitous viewing platform. Lace up your hiking boots and go for an easy ramble to Bahalpsee. It is one of the most beautiful mountain lakes in the Grindelwald area.
After several adventure-filled days in the Jungfrau Region, I used my Swiss Rail Pass again to cross the Alps.
4. Lugano, a town on Lake Maggiore on the Italian border and in the Canton of Ticino.
The Italian speaking region of Ticino in the south of Switzerland is the land of lakes and castles out of fairytales. The Swiss love to vacation here because of its mild climate, irresistible Mediterranean food (think pasta and tiramisu), palm-lined promenades along lakes, baroque architecture, and a relaxed Latin atmosphere. The grandeur of the mountains, the warm air and the calm waters of Lake Maggiore will wrap around you like a soft blanket.
- 5. Ticino is renowned for its gastronomy, which offers the best of Italian, Swiss and the local fare. Start your culinary journey at the Saturday market in Bellinzona where vendors spread out their treasures beneath the blue and red striped roofs. Some 120 local producers gather to sell their goods to locals and tourists: Sun-ripened fruit and juicy tomatoes, multi-colored lettuces, rhubarb, asparagus, and fragrant basil from the Magadino plain, cheese specialties from Leventina and the Muggio valley, dried meats, salami, sausages and crispy Ticino bread and honey, but also flowers, arts and crafts, antiques and clothing are for sale. On market day the restaurants in the old town offer lunch at affordable prices with their special “Piatto del mercato” [Market platter].
Sample the flavors of the Ticino cuisine in a small restaurant or at an outdoor, shaded “grotto” along the lake. Savor the homemade pasta, creamy risotto, and melt-in-your-mouth tiramisu. Try the mixed cheese and salami plate as a starter. Fresh pike, trout or whitefish from the lakes, polenta, braised beef, and pumpkin soup are local specialties. You’ll also find many meat-free dishes are available for vegetarians and vegans. All restaurants serve a selection of lovely local wines. To learn more about the Ticino viniculture, visit Terreni alla Maggia farm and vineyard for a tasting of distinguished merlot, rose and white wines.
Few places in Ticino are photographed as much as the village of Gandria on Lake Lugano. You may only roam its narrow streets on foot if you want to feel the magic of this former fishing village. The lake is the best vantage point to see the terraced houses perched on the hillside below the Baroque San Vigilio Church. Take a boat to reach the town in a matter of minutes from Lugano, or walk along the olive path, which meanders through woods and olive groves on the lake shore.
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