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The 10 Top Destinations

MuerrenThe destinations are listed in order of our preference, as if we were advising a first-time traveler what to see in each country. This is obviously a subjective process and you may disagree with the choices. For example, Lucerne, a hugely popular destination, is not included. This list isn't the top 10, it's our top 10. Here is Switzerland:

#1. Lauterbrunnen Valley & Environs

For our money, this is Switzerland's number one showcase. High, slender waterfalls cascade in long, silvery ribbons straight down its green flanks. Quaint, traffic-free villages perch above it on grassy shelves, and towering over all are the famed mountain peaks Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. Some of the world's most breath-taking scenery.

Best Towns:

Top Sights:

Suggested Activities:

  • Ride the train to Schynige Platte (on the route to the Jungfraujoch), eat lunch at the hotel (or bring a picnic), then walk the approximately two-hour "panoramic trail" which circles the summit.

Places to Stay:

  • Hotel Regina, Wengen, CH-3823, tel. +41/033/856 58 58, fax 856 58 50, email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Hotel Jungfrau, CH-3825 Mürren, tel. +41/033/855 4545, fax 855 4549, web: hoteljungfrau.ch/

Food Suggestion:

  • Either hotel

#2. Lac Léman (East)

Residents of this French-speaking part of Switzerland, who have included at one time or another, Vladimir Nabokov, Igor Stravinsky, Ernest Hemingway, Noel Coward, Henry James, Victor Hugo, Graham Greene, Peter Ustinov and Charlie Chaplain, would seem to have the best of all possible worlds; breath-taking scenery, a mild climate (often referred to as the "Vaud Riviera"), cosmopolitan cities, proximity to the Vaudois Alps, and a cuisine and wine culture that blends the best of Switzerland and France.

Best Towns:

Top Sights:

Suggested Activities:

  • Drive or bike Route du Vignoble (wine road) Visit lakeside cities including some in France via lake steamer
  • Daytrip to Geneva to the Red Cross Museum.

Places to Stay:

  • Hostellerie du Débarcardre, 7 chemin du Cret, St. Sulpice, Switzerland CH-1025, tel. +41/021/691 57 47, fax 691 50 79, email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Lauberge De Chernex, CH-1822, Chernex (above Montreux), tel. +41/021/9644191, fax 964 68 57.

Food Suggestion:

  • Both recommended hotels have fine restaurants.

#3. Zürich

A nifty town on one of the country's largest lakes and divided by the river Limmat, Zürich has an amazing, second-to-none public transportation system and is perhaps the cleanest big city you'll ever see. On the Limmats right bank, the commercial and banking center gathers along the posh Bahnhofstrasse where the stores are not flashy but verrrry expensive (perhaps a $1500 clutch purse from Louis Vuitton?). Across the river on the left bank, the old-towns narrow lanes have just the right mix of odd shops, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, avant garde galleries, seedy bars, and lively beer halls.

Top Sights:

Suggested Activities:

  • Window shop both sides of the Bahnhofstrasse, then explore the more down-to-earth old town.

Places to Stay:

  • Hotel Florhof CH-8001 Zürich, Florhofgasse 4, tel. +41/01/261 4470, fax 261 4611,
    email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Hotel Arlette, Stampfenbachstr. 26, CH-8001 Zürich, +41/01/252 00 32, fax 252 09 23.

Food Suggestion:

  • The atmospheric Zeughauskeller near Paradeplatz is touristy but serves great food at affordable prices.

#4. Zermatt

Yes, it's full of tourists, but you must see the Matterhorn, one of the creators more distinctive mountain peaks. No cars but beware the quiet, battery-powered hotel jitneys that whiz through the streets

Top Sights:

  • The Matterhorn
  • The Alpine Museum with mementos of early, sometimes tragically failed attempts to climb the mountain.

Suggested Activities:

  • Ride the rack railway to the Gornergrat (10, 272 feet) for the best views of the Matterhorn and other peaks.

Places to Stay:

  • Hotel Alex CH-3920 Zermatt, tel. +41/027/966 7070, fax 966 7090, email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Hotel Dufour CH-3920 Zermatt, tel. +41/027/966 24 00, fax 966 24 01, email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Food Suggestion:

  • Try the loin of lamb at Le Gitan in the Hotel Darioli.

#5 Locarno

Another Swiss city on a gorgeous lake, Italian-speaking Locarno has more charm than Lugano and more life than Ascona, two other popular Ticinese destinations. Here, the vistas are breathtaking, the food and wine simple and comforting, and the sub-tropical vegetation luxuriant with palm trees and bright flowers (Locarno is famous for its hundreds of varieties of camellias). There are cobble-stoned, arcaded piazzas, narrow alleys, ancient stone churches, grand old Italian-style villas, and, of course, hundreds of umbrella tables at dozens of outdoor cafés from which to savor it all.

Top Sights:

Suggested Activities:

  • Take a morning train from Locarno to Domodossola in Italy and return in the late afternoon. Very scenic.

Places to Stay:

  • Hotel Orselina, CH-6644 Orselina, tel. +41/091/735 44 44, fax 735 44 66.
  • Villa Pauliska, Via Orselina 6, CH-6600 Locarno-Muralto, tel. +41 091 743 05 41, fax 743 9517.

Food Suggestion:


#6 Pontresina

St. Moritz is world famous but Pontresina, four miles to the west, is an authentic Engadine village in a beautiful setting with painted houses and meandering streets. We much prefer it.

The town is a center for walking, hiking, and mountaineering with many miles of marked trails.

Top Sights:

  • Muttas Muragl, a high ground (8,000 feet) above the valley with many walking paths and fine views

Suggested Activities:

Places to Stay:

  • Hotel Saratz CH-7504 Pontresina, tel. +41/081/839 40 00, fax 839 40 40, email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Food Suggestion:

  • Hotel Saratz

#7. Sion

Tourist brochures tout Sion as "capital of Swiss California" calling it a "warm, sunny land of vineyards, orchards, strawberry and raspberry fields." Like several other Swiss destinations, local boosters claim Sion has the country's best climate with the least rainfall and the most days of sunshine. Whether true or not, it is an area to be visited in any weather.

In winter, Sion is the center of the val d Herens ski region including such little-known (in this country) villages as Arolla, Evolne, Nax, La Sage, Thyon, Les Collons and others. Most are within a few minutes drive of Sion.

On the slopes of the Rhine are thousands of acres of steeply-terraced vineyards. The rocky soil and sunshiny climate encourage several grape varieties and the wine trade flourishes.

Top Sights:

Suggested Activities:

Places to Stay:

  • Hotel des Vignes Uvrier/Saint-Lonard, CH-1958, Rue du Pont 9, tel. +41/027/203 1671, fax 205 3727.

Food Suggestion:

  • Order Zarzuela, a seafood stew at Au Cheval Blanc in the town center.

#8. Basel

This is an interesting, compact city (pop. 170,000) that is overlooked by most American tourists.

Though only a quarter the size of the city of San Francisco, Basel has more and better museums, a better zoo (nearly 6,000 animals from five continents) and twice as many symphony orchestras. Most San Franciscans are afraid to ride their city's spooky, graffiti-ridden, catch-as-catch-can bus system. In Basel, 40% of the population regularly buys season passes on the Tramli, which runs at six to 10-minute intervals during the day and every 15 minutes at night. Basel has three railway stations; San Francisco none. In 1460, when the most important structure on what was to become San Francisco's Nob Hill was a teepee, Basel already had a university.

Top Sights:

Suggested Activities:

  • An excursion to Augusta Raurica, the remains of the oldest known Roman settlement on the Rhine. It is approximately 11 kilometers (7 miles) east of Basel and accessible by car, rail, bus, boat and bicycle.

Places to Stay:

  • Hotel St. Gotthard Basel, Centralbahnstrasse 13, CH-4002 Basel, tel. +41/061/225 13 13, fax 225 13 14.

Food Suggestion:

  • Restaurant Der Teufelhof gets one Michelin star. For a less expensive meal from the same great kitchen, eat in its brasserie-style Weinstube.

#9. Neuchâtel

Like so many Swiss cities, Neuchâtel owes its natural beauty to a combination of mountains, vineyards and a large lake whose shore is lined with flowering quays, parks, promenades, marinas and fine hotels. A 12th-century castle and collegiate church are the most impressive of the town's well-preserved stone buildings. Why such an attractive city is virtually ignored by American tourists is a mystery.

Top Sights:

Suggested Activities:

  • Visit one of the regions many Metaires, rustic country houses that serve simple food on old wooden tables

Places to Stay:

  • Hotel Alpes et Lac Place de la Gare 2, CH-2000 Neuchâtel, tel. +49/032/723 19 19, fax 723 19 20, email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Food Suggestion:


#10. Appenzell

A quiet village of intricately painted houses and a tradition-bound citizenry who observe ancient traditions and dress much as they did 100 years ago, Appenzell drips with country charm. Men wear black hats decorated with flowers, bright red vests, gold pants, white knee socks and one earring, while "Sunday best" for women is an ankle-length pleated skirt, tied bodice, huge embroidered lace collar and a black-winged bonnet trailing a wide red ribbon.

The region is home to some of the country's strongest cheeses as well as Appenzell Alpenbitter, an inky, locally-produced aperitif served over ice.

Top Sights:

Suggested Activities:

  • Visit the Appenzeller Volkskunde Museum in Stein to watch a farmer make Appenzeller cheese by hand over an open fire.
  • The Appenzell Schaukserei (Showcase Cheese-Dairy) and see the same basic process done the modern way
  • Visit St. Gallen (12 miles) and take in the fascinating Textile Museum and the breath taking Abbey Library.

Places to Stay:

  • Romantik-Hotel Sántis Landsgemeindeplatz 3, CH-9050 Appenzell, tel. +41/071/7878722, fax 7874842, email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Food Suggestion:

  • Try the Kalbsleber und Rösti (calves liver and fried potatoes) at the Sántis.

(December 2001)