written by
Cori Sutton

Wedged neatly between Germany, Austria, France, Liechtenstein, and Italy, Switzerland melds the best of all worlds. With options ranging from cosmopolitan city centers to snow-capped mountains, Switzerland offers spectacular scenery and activities year-round.

Zürich, located in the north, is Switzerland’s biggest city and a major transportation hub. Switzerland’s largest metropolis has long been a creative hub as well — it was the birthplace of Dadaism, the sometime residence of James Joyce, and site of the last building that Le Corbusier designed before his death — and today the innovations continue.

A surging restaurant scene is mingling gastronomy with rock ’n’ roll, while the night life encompasses everything from experimental cocktail bars to 4 a.m. electro clubs. Mix in an impressive shopping smorgasbord, from multiple markets to the luxury boutiques of Bahnhofstrasse to the indie designers and vintage shops in the emerging industrial zones, and Zürich is buzzing with life. Tucked away from Bahnhofstrasse, Storchengasse is a street filled with an array of exclusive designer stores. Once finished with browsing these luxe shops, stop by Confiserie Teuscher to pick up their famous truffles. Established in 1932 in Zürich, this chocolatier prides itself on making some of the finest chocolates in the world.

Like most Swiss cities, Zürich embraces its resident body of water in a fun-loving way. The lakefront is a springboard for romantic walks, bike rides, and cruises. A wonderful way to glide across town is to catch the river boat, which functions like a city bus, and just enjoy the view. Its old town is lively night and day with cafés, galleries, and a colorful cobbled ambience. Touted as Europe’s most “fountainous” city, Zürich has more than 1,200 fountains, spouting water that tastes as good as artisanal bottled water.

Every year thousands of skiers pass through Geneva airport’s arrivals hall, bypass the city and head straight for the mountains. They are missing out. As well as being a gateway to the Alps and European headquarters for the United Nations, Geneva has a rich and colorful history of religious turmoil and revolution, a handful of fascinating museums and grand monuments. Fringed by vast mountain ranges, Geneva straddles the River Rhône at the south-western end of Lake Leman (otherwise known as Lake Geneva), one of the largest freshwater lakes in Europe.

The higher part of the city is now Geneva’s Old Town and classed as a national heritage site. Small bars, cafés and antique shops lie in its winding cobbled streets, narrow passages and hidden courtyards. An afternoon shopping in Geneva is easily spent dipping in and out of stylish boutiques, from independent fashion houses to innovative ateliers.

Switzerland’s third-largest city has often been overshadowed by its flashier neighbors, Geneva and Zürich. But Basel – located right where France and Germany intersect — has a cosmopolitan flair all its own. Young designers are transforming neighborhoods into edgy enclaves full of top-notch restaurants and bars that double as galleries. The city is also home to some of the most important art collections in Europe, and each year it becomes the center of the international art world during Art Basel (the contemporary art fair that has convened here since 1969). Each summer, paintings, sculptures, installations, photographs, prints, video and multimedia art are all on display at Art Basel. Exhibits at Art Basel range from new and upcoming artists to the established masters, such as Picasso, Miró, Klee, Warhol, and Jeff Koons.

Bern, the federal capital of Switzerland, is a picturesque medieval city whose creators had a keen eye for detail — a trait shared by today’s inhabitants, who lovingly maintain its colorful fountains,frescoes, and window boxes. Turn a corner and you might gasp at stunning views of the River Aare down below or the Alps in the distance. As legend has it, Bern (bear) was named after the first animal the city’s founder was able to hunt down in the woods. For indoor entertainment, check out one of the excellent museums or quirky boutiques. Bern is also full of food that’s begging to be sampled at the farmers’ market, in traditional or trendy restaurants, and in the sweetshops with their seductive window displays.

Nowhere are the Alps more ravishing than in Switzerland. Rippling across more than half of the country, these phenomenal peaks look like ready-made Christmas cards when the flakes flutter and fall. Ever since winter tourism was born in St. Moritz in 1864, the Swiss have harnessed the magic of the mountains as only ski-mad perfectionists possibly could. They carved lines across ritzy Verbier and rounded the Matterhorn-topped Zermatt, but even away from Switzerland’s star slopes there’s always a resort with your name on it, no matter your style or proficiency.

In 1864, Johannes Badrutt, the owner of St. Moritz’s Kulm Hotel, wagered four British guests that they would love the village if they returned at Christmas, setting the ball rolling for winter tourism. Today, the glamorous hotel among Swiss resorts still looks like a million dollars, with lakeside grand hotels and aloof mountains. With over 200 miles of runs, the skiing and snowboarding is second to none, especially for confident intermediates and experts. St. Moritz caters for non-skiers and families too, with sleigh rides, sledding, curling, skating, and snowshoeing.

Celebrities and royal family members all pound powder in swanky Verbier. From the summit of Mont-Fort, the views are show-stopping, reaching all the way to the Dents du Midi and Mont Blanc over the border in nearby France. In the heart of the vast 4 Vallées, Valais has a whopping 250 miles of runs as well as some of Switzerland’s best extreme terrain for skiers and boarders, and plenty of virgin powder for off-trailers, ski tourers and heli-skiers. For non-skiers and families, there is husky sledding, tobogganing, snowshoeing, and more.

Take the train that curls up through fir-cloaked peaks from Täsch to Zermatt and suddenly the view breaks to reveal the fang-shaped, 14,690-foot monster that is the Matterhorn. Jaws drop at the first sight of this iconic Swiss peak and cruising in its shadow, along long, scenic red runs, is an uplifting experience. Ski over the border to Cervinia in Italy for a pasta lunch and bragging rights. At 5,275 feet, Zermatt has an impeccable track record for powder, with 225 miles of slopes, a freestyle park with a half-pipe and snow activities including winter walks, ice skating, curling, ice climbing and tobogganing.

With its combination of cultures and local traditions, Switzerland flourishes as a country of great intrigue and diversity. While urban pleasure-seekers succumb to the temptations of world-class cuisine and sophisticated living, others are beguiled by medieval towns and candlelit villages. Up in the Alps, glitzy ski resorts exhibit fur boots and Ferraris, but also family destinations where children master their first bunny hill.

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