If You Like
La Cuisine? Die Kochkunst? La Cucina? Like the patchwork that is Switzerland, fine Swiss food is a culinary trifecta drawn from three countries: France, Germany, and Italy. French areas like Vaud and Neuchâtel still seduce with cuisine bourgeoise and such delights as beef entrecôte and truite meunière (trout in a brown butter sauce). Over in German cantons such as Schwyz and Luzern, Teutonic nature conquers Gaul with servings of sausage and schnitzel in nearly Wagnerian proportions. Heading south, Italian risotto and gnocchi appear virtually unscathed in the Ticino. Today, however, a bevy of superstar chefs has begun to strike a diplomatic balance between French, German, and Italian styles.
Restaurant de l'Hôtel de Ville—Benoit Violier, Crissier, Vaud. Violier spent nearly 20 years with legendary chef Phillippe Rochat, who recently handed him the reins. This is your chance to taste an up-and-comer who is already winning rave reviews for his fresh twist on classic gourmand favorites.
Stucki, Basel. This landmark restaurant remains one of the trendiest spots in Basel, thanks to chef Tanja Grandits, a rising star on Switzerland's culinary scene. Her artistic dishes add exotic flavors to classic regional plates; pair them with a bottle from the 600-label wine list.
Restaurant-Vinothek Fletschhorn, Waldhotel Fletschhorn, Saas-Fee, Valais. Renowned Markus Neff wows foodies with his lobster dim sum and bison tournedos. To learn how he mix-masters Alpine foods with exotic styles, sign up for one of the cooking classes given by this red-haired wunderkind.
"Mountains are the beginning and end of all scenery," the great 19th-century writer John Ruskin once observed. And if mountains have a "home" it is truly Switzerland—a summit of summits. View collectors flock to that big schlock candy mountain, the Matterhorn. Adventurers are seduced by the "sheer" excitement of the Jungfrau. "Social climbers" head to the chic villages of Wengen and Mürren, which seem to levitate at either end of the Lauterbrunnen Valley, while daredevils worship at the foot of the Eiger's notorious north face. No matter where you head, you'll find hillside footpaths can be almost as crowded as supermarket checkout lines (remember: the higher the trail, the less "conversation"—you need to concentrate!). Here are some places that will leave you with that top-of-the-world feeling.
Matterhorn, Valais. From the summit station of Gornergrat, this jagged mountain steals the thunder from all surrounding peaks.
Jungfraujoch, the Berner Oberland. From the top of the 11,333-foot-high Jungfraujoch, the Aletsch Glacier looks like a vast sea of ice.
Neuhausen am Rheinfall, Eastern Switzerland. With its mists, roaring water, jutting rocks, and bushy crags, the Rheinfall, from the Neuhausen side, appears truly Wagnerian.
Lauterbrunnen Valley, the Berner Oberland. Looking more like a painting than real life, the jaw-dropping vista of this valley is spectacularly threaded by 72 waterfalls that plummet from sky-high cliffs.
Traveling Through Time
Wander the slopes of Klewenalp above the Vierwaldstättersee on a still spring day, gaze across the placid waters beneath, and it is easy to identify Switzerland as a land of peace. Continue on a mile or so and you are reminded that for much of its time Switzerland has been nothing of the kind. Here is the Rütli, the meadow where legend avers that the men of the three forest cantons, Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden, met in 1291 to plot the overthrow of their Habsburg landlords (thereby creating the world's first democracy). But move beyond this spot—hallowed by Wilhelm Tell—and you'll find Switzerland is practically crawling with history from border to border.
Old Town, Basel. When the sound of fife-and-drum music drifts from the upstairs windows of guild houses in Basel's Old Town, you'll think the Middle Ages have dawned again.
Tellfreilichtspiele, Interlaken, Berner Oberland. For a festive evening, rent a lap blanket and settle in to watch a grand retelling of the life of Wilhelm Tell, performed under the stars.
Monument de la Réformation, Geneva. The complex history of the Protestant Reformation as it unfolded across Europe is boldly rendered in granite.
Stiftsbibliothek and Kathedrale, St. Gallen. For Rococo splendor and opulence, nothing beats this complex of Abbey Library and Cathedral, adorned with spectacular excesses of 18th-century wedding-cake trim.
The Most Beautiful Villages
Whatever town or valley you pick, you'll have a battle on your hands insisting that your favorite spot in Switzerland is the top place in the country. The whole of Switzerland is undeniably beautiful. But there are certain places where the needle would fly right off the scale if they were rated on a beauty-measuring gauge. Oozing half-timbered houses and chapels, these storybook places have a sense of tranquillity not even tour buses can ruin. Here are some candidates for Perfect Swiss Village.
Guarda, Graubünden. This federally protected hamlet in the Lower Engandine is full of architectural photo ops, with cobblestone streets and flower boxes filled with red geraniums.
Stein-am-Rhein, Eastern Switzerland. A nearly perfectly preserved medieval village, Stein is replete with shingled, half-timber town houses boasting ornate oriels and flamboyant frescoes.
Gandria, the Ticino. Clinging vertiginously to a hillside, its flower-filled balconies overlooking Lake Lugano, the tiny town of Gandria retains the ambience of an ancient fishing village.
Mürren, Berner Oberland. Closer to the sky than the earth, this jewel presides over the majestic Lauterbrunnen Valley and offers a so-close-you-can-touch-it vista of the Eiger.
Gruyères, Fribourg. Right out of a fairy tale, this village is crowned with one of the most picture-perfect castles in Switzerland.Updated: 09-2013
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