Switzerland Sampler: A First-timer's Tour
10 Days. This route offers a taste of this tiny country's various cultures and landscapes. From cosmopolitan Zürich and Geneva to the quaint charms of Luzern and Zermatt to sleepy Lauterbrunnen, this tour gives you a good sense of what's to be seen here.
2 nights. Switzerland's commercial heart and largest city offers something for everyone. Visit the Grossmünster church, updated in a Gothic style in the 1700s. Then make your way through the maze of tiny cobblestone streets toward Bahnhofstrasse, where designer boutiques cater to the city's elite.
2 nights. Cross this lovely city's Wooden Bridge, the oldest in Europe, before ascending the heights of nearby Mount Pilatus for a view over classic "Wilhelm Tell country." Hungry? Don't forget to try a Lözarner Chögelipastete, a meat-filled pastry that you can't find anywhere else.
2 nights. Lauterbrunnen is a gorgeous base from which to explore the Berner Oberland. Trek from Interlaken to St. Beatus-Höhlen's natural caverns and hillside pavilion. When your feet can't take you any farther, take the funicular from Grindelwald up to picturesque Mürren, a tiny tourist's delight of a town perched on a rocky cliff 5,361 feet up.
1 night. This picturesque car-free village sits in the shadow of the iconic Matterhorn … need we say more?
2 nights. After learning all about the Protestant Reformation that began here, stand in the spray of Geneva's Jet d'Eau, the tallest fountain in Europe. Take a cruise on Lac Léman for breathtaking views of Mont Blanc while enjoying a glass of Chasselas, grown next door in the celebrated vineyards of Canton Vaud.
9 Days. This food-intensive itinerary offers aficionados an opportunity to travel from one great dining experience to another, sampling the very finest haute gastronomie at one stop, the most authentic regional classics—even the earthiest peasant cuisines—at another. Incidental pleasures—wandering in the Alps, for example, or strolling through medieval town centers in Switzerland's greatest cities—can be squeezed in between meals. Remember that reservations must be made well in advance.
2 nights. Your first night, indulge in a hearty Lyonnaise meal at the Bistrot du Bœuf Rouge. For lunch the next day, head out to the vineyards for exquisite seasonal cuisine at the Domaine de Châteauvieux. Back in Geneva, have a relatively light Ticinese supper at La Favola. Fill the time between meals with a brisk stroll along the quais or a visit to one of the city's many museums.
1 night. Philippe Rochat has finally retired from Restaurant de l'Hôtel de Ville, but Chef Benoit Violier is already winning hearts—and stomachs—with his fresh twist on haute cuisine. This may be the triumph of the trip, but reserve judgment for after Basel and Zürich. At night, head down to the waterfront at Ouchy and have a chic, light supper at the Café Beau-Rivage.
1 night. Two hours north, lunch at Bruderholz, which gives Philippe Rochat a run for his money. Then, after visiting, say, the Münster and the history museum, relax in the downstairs bistro at the Teufelhof: the light specialties are prepared by Michael Baader, who is chef for the top-notch restaurant upstairs as well.
2 nights. Step back in time for a meal at Zunfthaus zur Zimmerleuten, a medieval guildhall dating back to 1708. Then, after a thorough walking tour of Zürich's Old Town, you can settle in for an atmospheric, old-world evening at the Picasso- and Matisse-lined Kronenhalle.
1 night. For a total contrast and perhaps the most authentically Swiss meal of your tour, head for Galliker and a lunch of real farm food. Having absorbed the Lion Monument, crossed the Kapellbrücke, and toured the history museum, you can think about the evening meal: a light, sophisticated river-fish entrée at Rotes Gatter, in the Hotel Des Balances, affords waterfront views.
1 night. From Luzern allow for a full day's scenic mountain drive south over the Brünigpass, then on over the Grimselpass and down the Rhône Valley to Brig and the spectacular little resort of Saas-Fee. Once there, retreat to the isolated Waldhotel Fletschhorn for a sophisticated dinner by star chef Markus Neff and a bare minimum of one night to take in the mountain air.
Castles and Cathedrals
8 Days. Romantics, history buffs, and architecture fans can circle western Switzerland to take in some of the country's best medieval and Gothic landmarks.
1 night. The excavations below the 12th-century Cathédrale St-Pierre, open to the public as the site archéologique, have yielded two 4th-century sanctuaries, Roman mosaics, and an 11th-century crypt.
1 night. The Château de Chillon, partially surrounded by the waters of Lake Geneva, may be the most completely and authentically furnished in Switzerland. Lord Byron signed the pillar where his "Prisoner of Chillon" was manacled.
1 night. This magnificently beautiful castle-village draws crowds to its central street, souvenir shops, quaint inns, and frescoed castle, complete with dungeon and spectacular views.
1 night. This bilingual city is the last Catholic stronghold of western Switzerland, rooted in its single-tower Cathédrale St-Nicolas. The cathedral's Last Judgment tympanum and Art Nouveau stained-glass windows deserve attention—but leave time to explore the Old Town, with its multilevel fortifications constructed for the ubiquitous Zähringens.
By Public Transportation
1 night. If you're driving, cut across Fribourg toward Thun (by train, connect through Bern), where you'll see the Bernese Alps in all their splendor. Schloss Thun, which dates from 1191, features a knights' hall, tapestries, local ceramics, and an intimidating collection of weapons.
1 night. The Zähringens fortified this gooseneck in the River Aare; its 15th-century Münster features a restored (full-color, painted) main portal.
1 night. In this historic, cosmopolitan city is a Münster with a lovely Romanesque portal and the tomb of the great humanist Erasmus.
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