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Switzerland: Exploring The Urban Highground

The mountains and lakes of Switzerland have long drawn travellers to this surprisingly diverse, multilingual nation with 26 administrative cantons. Swiss urban settlements have much to offer visitors. In addition to quality shopping, dining and cultural offerings, the heritage of several cities, established during the Middle Ages, leaves histories and landmarks worthy of exploration. These cities offer bases for trips into the Alps yet also have much of their own to warrant a visit.

Lugano in Ticino, Luscious park of the Villa Favorita in Castagnola
Lugano in Ticino, Luscious park of the Villa Favorita in Castagnola

Lugano

Situated in Switzerland’s Italian-speaking region, the city of Lugano overlooks the lake of the same name and is renowned for its mild winters, warm summers and rainy Mays. One of the most spectacular views of the region is from nearby Montè Bre.

The urban area also has its charm. The classical style town hall, the Cathedral of St Lawrence and Renaissance fresco of Christ’s Passion within the Church of St Mary are three of the highlights. So too is Swissminatur (swissminiatur.ch) a fun-to-visit park with scale models of the landmarks and attractions of Switzerland.

You’ll find luxury brands on sale in the upscale stores of the Via Pessina and Via Nasse shopping streets and in the Foxtown outlet mall, 15km from Lugano. Versace, Prada and Boss are just some of the names at Foxton, which also has a casino.

Throughout May classical music recitals will be performed as part of the Lugano Festival. For automotive aficionados, the Autonassa festival (7-10 May) will prove the most rewarding time to visit.

Four Michelin-starred restaurants lie within easy reach of Lugano, including Arté (villacastagnola.com), a lakeside dining venue serving French and Mediterranean-influenced dishes in a chic room displaying contemporary art.

Magnificent painted facades at the House zum Ritter (Knight's House)
Magnificent painted facades at the House zum Ritter (Knight’s House)

Schaffhausen

Once the capital of an independent state, this medieval city by the River Rhine abuts the German border. With cobbled streets, the Old Town, around Fronwagplatz – the location of Schaffhausen’s famous Fronwag tower and two 16th century fountains – is a photogenic place to stroll.

The painted facade of buildings such as the Haus zum Ritter, which was erected in 1492, is regarded as one of the most important Renaissance frescos north of the Alps. It’s a fine spot for a selfie.

If you’re a luxury watch aficionado then plan a visit to the IWC Museum (Baumgartenstrasse 15), the first of its type to be established in Switzerland. It’s near the All Saints Museum, which hosts an impressive collection of religious art and prehistoric finds.

Natural history draws many people here to view the surging Rhine Falls, Central Europe’s most powerful waterfall, which are 150m wide and up to 21m high. With snow melting, May is a good time to visit.

Dine on delicious, fusion cuisine in André Jaeger’s Die Fischerzunft (fischerzunft.ch) restaurant, which has a fine selection of wines. This region is noted for its viniculture and staff in the well-stocked Felsenkeller store are on hand to offer insightful tips.

St Gallen

The twin, Baroque style towers of the Abbey of St Gall preside over the skyline of this undulating city. The place of worship was founded in the 8th century and is today celebrated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Abbey’s exquisitely painted arched ceiling often draws gasps of appreciation from onlookers. Its library, the oldest in Switzerland, has one of the world’s most significant collections of medieval manuscripts. Until 8 November an exhibition on written law and legal papers during the Middle Ages will be on display in the Abbey Library Museum (stibi.ch).

St Gallen’s highly regarded Textile Museum (textilmuseum.ch) tells the story of the industry since 1800, exhibiting examples of the high quality lace and linen that have long been so intimately associated with the city.

You can shop at stores selling some of the biggest names in European fashion and should make time to visit Akris (Felsenstrasse 40), which is known for its feminine couture.

Global business leaders will meet for the St Gallen Symposium on 7 and 8 May. Some attendees may be tempted to dine at nearby Segreto (segreto.ch), the Michelin-starred restaurant serving Chef Martin Benninger’s Mediterranean inspired cuisine and an expansive wine list, offered via iPads.

Bern, Switzerland's Federal capital, aerial photograph of the old town
Bern, Switzerland’s Federal capital, aerial photograph of the old town

Bern

Switzerland’s federal capital lies within the country’s German speaking region. It’s attractive centre, the Old Town district, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located within a loop of the River Aare.

The Zeitglockenturm, known as the Zytglogge in the local dialect, a medieval tower with a 15th-century astronomical clock, is Bern’s best-known landmark. The mechanism’s figures move on the hour, drawing crowds of observers on sunny days. The bear pits, housing the mammals which feature on the city’s coat of arms, also prove a popular draw.

The International Jazz Festival runs until 24 May. For classical concerts and dance performances the Stadttheater (konzerttheaterbern.ch) is the premier venue.

For shoppers, Kramgasse, the central thoroughfare of the city, is a good place to start. Arcades, known as Lauben, allow you to stroll and view store windows with protection from the weather.

If you enjoy physical activities you could join runners participating in the Bern Grand-Prix (9 May). Alternatively, if you’re an experienced swimmer, take a dip in the river.

There’s no shortage of places for foodies. For a modern, fine-dining experience head to Meridiano (kursaalbern.ch) to experience Jan Leimbach’s Michelin-starred cuisine in a restaurant with fine views of the city and nearby mountains.

Matterhorn
Matterhorn

Zermatt

Now known as a winter sports and mountaineering destination, the small town of Zermatt was barely know outside the Canton of Valais before the summit of the 4,478m high Matterhorn was first climbed, 150 years ago.

To keep the Alpine air clean Zermatt operates a combustion engine free transport policy. Vehicles with electric motors run on the municipality’s streets. Reaching the town by the mountain railway is an experience that many visitors cherish.

The Matterhorn glacier paradise (matterhornparadise.ch), along the border of Switzerland and Italy, offers year-round skiing with 21km of pistes, all above the altitude of 3,000m. If you prefer, you can simply take a cable car up, walk about and, if you feel inclined, dip your hands in the snow to chuck a snowball or two – even in summer. Despite being home to less than 6,000 inhabitants, Zermatt has two Michelin-starred restaurants. Capri (montcervinpalace.ch) serves Andrea Migliaccio’s fine Italian cuisine while in After Seven (backstagehotel.ch) you can dine on Ivo Adam’s innovative dishes within a room designed by Heinz Julen. You’ll find more than 100 other places to dine in this culinary hotspot.

St Moritz

The Glacier Express, which runs to St Moritz from Zermatt, is one of the world’s great railway journeys. The scenic, seven hour journey skirts through the mountain landscape while crossing 291 bridges and passing through 91 tunnels.

This exclusive winter sports resort hosted the Winter Olympics in 1928 and 1948. The Olympic stadium and site of the Cresta Run are just two of the famous sporting locations you can visit.

Via Serlas is home to a number of fashionable boutiques, including Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Chanel. You can pause from shopping with coffee and caviar at Glattfelder’s cafe (Via Maistra 3).

As you’d expect, gourmands are well catered for. To climb the culinary peaks in this Alpine resort you’ll need to head slightly away from the centre of town. The Giardino Hotel (giardino-mountain.ch) hosts Rolf Fliegauf’s Ecco on Snow, which holds two Michelin stars. That culinary achievement is matched at Bumanns Chesa Pirani (chesapirani.ch), where Ingrid and Daniel Bumann-Jossen serve classic French dishes.

Early morning on the Rhine in Basel
Early morning on the Rhine in Basel

Basel

This Swiss border city has suburbs spilling into France and Germany. Its international character helps it stand out as an arts and culture hub.

If you appreciate architecture, you’ll enjoy the diversity of a city with buildings such as the Frank Gehry designed Design Museum, a conference centre by Tadao Ando and the medieval Muenster, which has Romanesque and Gothic influences.

Throughout May the Basel Art Museum will host the exhibition Holbein. Cranach. Grünewald while its sister establishment, the Museum for Contemporary Art, is showing Cézanne to Richter. Art Basel, the event that first took place in 1970, will be held in galleries across the city during June.

Baselworld, the influential watch and jewellery show, is held each spring. Shops such as Chronometrie Spinnler and Schweizer (spinnler-schweizer.ch) then stock models from leading producers such as Hublot and Rolex.

To dine well, you have numerous options available. One of the city’s leading restaurants, Cheval Blanc (lestroisrois.com), has a terrace overlooking the river. Chef Peter Knogl holds two Michelin stars for his Mediterranean-influenced cuisine.

Lucerne

This attractive city by the shore of Lake Lucerne is the home to numerous half-timbered buildings plus the famous Chapel Bridge, a long wooden structure erected in 1333 and reconstructed following a fire in 1993.

One of the best ways of gaining a perspective of the city and surrounding mountains is from the deck of boats, including paddle steamers, running cruises on the lake. These include the Wilhelm Tell Express, a journey which seen guests depart the city on a steamer for a three-hour cruise before transferring to a first class railway carriage with panoramic windows at Flüelen to complete the journey to Lugano by rail.

Another method is to head to the 1,798m high summit of the Rigi. Horse drawn carriages and cable cars are just two of the means of getting up the mountain.

Head to the Culture and Congress Centre to for quality entertainment. The Jean Nouvel designed building is renowned for the clarity of its acoustics and during May hosts jazz, swing and classical concerts.

When it comes to shopping it’s hard to look part the flagship store of Bucherer (www.bucherer.com), which opened in 1888. Elegant watches by Bucherer and other leading producers are displayed along with high end jewellery.

For fine-dining and panoramic lakeside views book a table at the Michelin-starred Seerestaurant Belvedere (seerestaurantbelvedere.ch), where Fabian Inderbitzin’s seasonal French cuisine is served.

 

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