Words by Tara Harrison
Switzerland is as ravishing a country as they come. All the clichés and expectations of pristine beauty are met on first view and entrenched with time.
Travelling across the country on Cosmos’ 10-day Grand Tour of Switzerland, we have chosen to visit in summer, negating the snowfields of winter but still experiencing snow on high.
Fellow travellers bond on a 30-degree day in Zurich, around natural lake and river pools where locals sunbathe and dive into clear water.
In summer, Switzerland is a picture-book place of electric blue lakes, white-crested mountains, green alpine meadows and tiny flowers peeking through grass. It’s an environmental utopia, with nature considered first and the crispest air you could hope to breathe.
She is a stunner, but the beauty is more than skin deep. You experience four cultures for the price of one in Switzerland. Influential neighbours means Switzerland has distinct pockets where French, Italian and German take precedence over the majority Swiss in both language and culture.
Zurich sets the tone for the trip, for it is a city that feels more like a village than a capital. It’s on to St Moritz next, and the renowned ski haunt of the rich and famous is less crowded in summer but should be, with snow-rivet mountains snaring the town on all sides.
Moving by bus, travellers rarely fall asleep, such is the stimulating view out the window. But this intensive tour also takes advantage of Switzerland’s great train network that grazes the slopes and slashes through the Alps with photo opportunities that have travellers vying for the window seat. The Alps have no regard for borders, so on the Bernina Express train you enter Italian territory before reaching Lake Lugarno.
But the next day we are back in Italy, and everyone takes advantage with afternoon gelato, cappuccino and Campari by Lake Como. Lake Maggiore is one of the unexpected delights of this trip, and the optional excursion to the palace of Isola Bella is unmissable. While the palace dominates the island, narrow cobbled stairs and paths around the property are squeezed on all sides by boutique jewellery, clothing and hat shops and stalls. Recover at waterside cafes shaded by magenta bougainvillea.
That night you’re in for a distinct change of scenery, travelling from sub-tropical to sub-zero and increasing your altitude to the dizzying heights of ski town Zermatt. But the cobbled car-less streets lined with wooden chalets are not the first things you notice in the thin air. Rather, it is the iconic Matterhorn, which looms over the town, shining white even at night, even in summer. But then it’s back to warmer climes with the fairy tale town of Lucerne, with its flat medieval wooden bridge sprouting flowers either side.
After ten days, all agree: Switzerland will leave you breathless regardless of altitude.