Thursday, August 2, 2007

A SWISS TRAIL

Mountains, chocolates, cheese and Heidi – a few things Switzerland is known for. But, did you know that a visit to the scenic Alp country is like having visited Germany, France and Italy all in one go? Such is the deep cultural influence of these bordering countries that the 26 Swiss cantons are clearly divided into three areas that have absorbed not just the language and culture, but even food, architectural style and street names of these nations!
And their common paradigm is Nature’s bounty – snowy peaks; emerald meadows with tinkling cowbells; innumerable lakes and waterfalls, and of course the half-wooden, half concrete houses, churches and clock towers of every city and village. Traveling through these areas is easy with Switzerland’s amazing transport system that links trains, buses and boats efficiently to provide a smooth crisscross across mountains, through tunnels, on waterways and next to picturesque meadows and valleys.

German Swiss
Starting off from Lucerne, one witnesses the deep German influence. Dominated by the mesmerizing Lake Lucerne and set against towering Mount Pilatus, Lucerne is picture perfect and a base for day trips to popular destinations.
The first day we took a day trip to Interlaken, favourite destination of Bollywood and Indian honeymooners! Tradition combines interestingly with touristy buzz here. A short drive away is Trummelbach, the only mountain with 10 waterfalls within.
Next day we took a ferry to ----, from where we took the world’s steepest cog railway (max gradient:48 %) to the top of Mount Pilatus, known for some great adventure sports, aerial cableways, Switzerland’s longest toboggan, ropeways and exhilarating train rides. Hurtling along the toboggan was as daring as I decided to get!
Back in Lucerne, I walked down narrow streets leading to airy squares, with paintings on building facades that tell stories of time past. The walk took me across the ancient Chapel Bridge and Water Tower on River Rheus, along the quays, feeding ducks. Later we had a traditional Swiss dinner at ----- to the accompaniment of typical Swiss Alpine horn and yodelling.

A bit of Italy on the side
Next it was time to taste a bit of Italy and so we set off for Ticino. We took the William Tell Express, gliding across Lake Lucerne, admiring sleepy villages, inviting bays, lagoons, emerald green meadows throwing a green light on the ever changing colours of the lake. At the tiny, picturesque village of Fluelen we changed over to the famous Gotthard rail line, this year celebrating 125 years of existence. Across deep ravines and precipitous cliffs, through spiral and horseshoe tunnels, including the 15 km long Gotthard tunnel, we climbed swiftly from 470 to 1100 metres above sea level.
Ticino is very Italian. The capital, Bellinzona, is surrounded by lofty mountains, picturesque vineyards and overlooked by three castles. We walked along the charming historic town with narrow lanes, beguiling piazzas, 19th century buildings, courtyards, and ornamental terracotta facades inspired by Italian architects. Alpine farmers come to sell cheese every Saturday as locals gather in the piazza to soak in sun and gossip

The French Connection
Having had a taste of the German and Italian parts of Switzerland, it was time for us to check out how French the Swiss could be. Our next destination was Visp in the very French canton of Vallais, Switzerland’s ideal wine producing region..
Visp is a quaint, picturesque town with quiet streets and houses. We took a gourmet tour of the city, stopping at Cave de la Tour for a taste of wine from their vineyards with some Swiss cheese and cured meat before going on to try different eateries for a typical French dinner and dessert in true laidback French style.
From Visp we took the Gornergrat Bahn (highest open air cog railway in Europe) through spicy stone pine and larch forests, over flowery meadows up to the 3,089 metres high Gornergrat. Here, sitting in the highest hotel in the Swiss Alps, Kulmhotel Gornergrat, we looked around at the permanently snowcapped 29 peaks around, each more than 4000 metres high (including the famous Matterhorn at 4,478 metres).
This was the snowy climax of our trip! After the varied cultural experience we were treated to within Switzerland we realized how true it was said that something ‘urgent’ is for tomorrow in the Italian part of Switzerland; for today in the French area and for yesterday in the majority area that is Swiss German!

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