The first myth I want to dispel is that Switzerland is boring. Completely disagree. Switzerland’s peaks, lakes and culture are enchanting. For the first time we found ourselves not wanting to walk or cycle or drive to see a long list of places on a pre-planned bucket list. That was what travelling was to me but Switzerland turned my preconceptions on their heads.
We stayed in Küsnacht, a small suburban town along Zurich lake, about 30 minutes by train from the main station. Küsnacht is a relatively affluent town, very quiet and great for relaxing. It was so still it felt like a retreat. The silence was interrupted by the distant sound of gushing water from the local waterfall (no, really) when the wind was blowing in the right direction.
Our hilltop views afforded us unforgettably serene views of Lake Zurich and when the sky cleared, a snow capped mountain range in the distance. My lasting memory of this trip will be sitting out on the veranda, feet up, mug of tea in hand. I was once told that the only thing that could silence me was an unforgettable view: the Swiss mountainscape did it.
Our weekend began with a traditional meal at Restaurant Hochwacht on mountain Pfannenstiel. I had Swiss rösti with wild mushrooms paired with the country’s own Petit Arvine wine. We have been searching for the wine in London since but to no avail as yet. The food is simple and perfectly Swiss but what captivates you (as does most of the country) is the view. The restaurant is accessible only by road and is perfectly placed near hiking trails through the forest. If you’re an outdoorsy adventurer, the country is calling.
Quality of life is a big thing in Switzerland. On Sundays everything shuts down: cafes, shops and restaurants. Speaking to locals, we realised it is quite common to ski, hike or sail for the weekend, or drive the short distance to France or Germany. Our friends would begin their mornings swimming in local lakes before work. What I loved is that embedded in the culture is commitment to looking after you. We did however speak to Mo, a cab driver who took us home one late Saturday evening who had spent twelve years in the city and spoke four languages but felt that Swiss culture was so strong and unyielding that he felt the need to suppress his cosmopolitan identity. It certainly made us think: a strong culture is quite something for tourists and the affluent but does it alienate those with different perspectives?
Day two was a trip to Luzern in the north where we hopped on a ferry to take a cogwheel train up mount Rigi. Luzern and Rigi are both very touristy but absolutely worth the visit. The cogwheel railway winds within inches of cliffs and trees which are easily a few storeys tall, it’s tough to decide which scenery to take in. Behind you the lake fades out of view and to the side there are cows and wooden huts, just like on the postcards. Rigi Kulm, the highest point of the railway is nearly 1,800m above sea level and on a good day, you can see snow capped mountains close enough to touch on one side.
If you hike a little further, you’re rewarded with what feels like a bird’s eye view of Zugersee Lake. From the top of the mountain the wind carries with it the faint ringing of cow bells which I found difficult to reconcile in my head. Affixing cow bells is a Swiss institution but it must be infuriating for the animals.
Finding it difficult to tear ourselves away from yet another spectacular view, we spent most of the day on Rigi. In the evening we explored Luzern’s old town. The town was hosting a month-long Summer Music Festival which meant street food and pop up performances which we loved.
I liked the city for the cosmpolitan buzz but old town wasn’t what I was expecting. We ventured away from the water towards cobbled streets and ornate doorways. It didn’t feel as authentic as Olbia or La Maddalena Old Town (take a look at my post on Sardinia).
I have to mention Swiss trains. They’re double decker, clean, spacious and very comfortable. Try multiplying our London Underground by 10. Actually, 20. There was a mini jungle gym at the back of the Luzern-Zurich train which blew my mind. Commuting may even be a pleasure in Switzerland, this in itself was a revelation to a TfL commuter.
The final day of our trip came with a consolatory promise to return, although to a different part of the country. After our fourth cup of tea on the veranda we decided to venture into Zurich town. There is plenty to do and see, it is easily worth a day trip. We meandered through Old Town (beautifully rustic), sat in St Paul’s Church and happened upon Teucher which is the Swiss version of Charlie’s chocolate factory. My advice: try the raspberry ice cream. I still remember it. What I loved about the the town is that you can lose your bearing as you wind along the alleyways and cobbled streets.
We ended the trip quite aptly sitting in silence (again) by the river Limmat whilst all four churches in Old Town rang the hour in.
Swiss splendour is almost entirely outside, and far above sea level it seems. Prepare for those cobwebs to be swept away from the lofty heights of the mountainscape and prepare for a new appreciation for silence
Sights and activities: 2