The lakes of Biel, Murten and Neuchâtel are strung along the foot of the Jura Mountains. Although not one of the most popular regions for tourists, the rolling hills of the Jura mountains, the Franches Montagnes in the Neuchâtel region and the foothills of the Alps in the canton of Fribourg to the south of the lakes are excellent for hiking, camping and fishing. The waterfalls of the Doubs and the gorges of the Areuse in the Jura are very impressive. The area is also famous for its food and wines, and for the production of Swiss precision watches; do not miss the Horological Museum at La-Chaux-de-Fonds, and the watch-making factories at La-Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle. The striking yellow stone buildings of medieval Neuchâtel, attractively located beside a lake, were once described by Alexander Dumas as ‘carved from butter’.
The ancient university and trading city of Basle (Basel), straddles the Rhine between the Jura, Alsace in France and Germany’s Black Forest, and is a center of art and research. During the three days of the Basler Fasnacht (a pre-Lenten carnival), no serious sightseeing should or can be done, as visitors are required to take part in grand masked parties and street parades with fancy costumes. There is even a Fasnacht Fountain in front of the City Theater. The collection in the Art Museum ranges from Cranach and Holbein via Rembrandt to Monet, Picasso and Max Ernst. In the old city center stands the ancient red sandstone cathedral or Münster (parts date from the ninth to 13th century). Its tower affords impressive city vistas. Other sights include the Spalentor (1370), one of the original city wall’s three remaining towers, and the Church of St Peter (15th century). Away from the town, mountain paths zigzag up the Jura mountains.
Geneva is a university town situated on the Rhône-outlet of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman), at the southern foot of the Jura mountains. Its popularity is, however, not only due to its excellent surroundings. Elegant shops, nightclubs, restaurants, fine museums and art galleries and an extensive calendar of cultural activities make it a favorite with many visitors. One of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture is the Cathedral de St Pierre. The flower clock, with over 6,500 blooms, near the lake in the Jardin Anglais pays homage to Geneva’s watch industry. A boat trip on the lake is recommended. Dominated by the Jet d’Eau, a 145m- (476ft-) high fountain, the lake is generally alive with sailing boats.
A crisp breeze known as the bise (kiss) blows across the lake and there are facilities for all kinds of watersports, as well as golf and riding nearby. Geneva is also a traditional European center for health and recuperation, and maintains state-of-the-art sanatoria such as the 100-year-old Clinique Générale Beaulieu.
Geneva is the gateway to a variety of ski resorts. One especially extensive area well-suited to families but with excellent skiing for all abilities is Portes du Soleil, a cluster of small resorts forming a massive skiing circuit which straddles the French-Swiss border. Key Swiss resorts here include the pretty traditional village of Champéry, and the tranquil purpose-built mini resorts of Champoussin and Les Crosets.
The capital of the canton of Vaud, Lausanne is situated on the northern shore of Lake Geneva. The symbol of the city is the Cathédrale Notre-Dame in the Cité, the old center, and the Château St Maire (1397-1431). A walk along the promenade of the old Port d’Ouchy reveals a slower pace of life. A funicular can be taken from Ouchy to the inner city of Lausanne.
Several rivulets and rolling hills dominate the canton Vaud, a famous wine-producing region. Other traditional activities in the region include wood sculpture and cheese-making. Vaud also boasts one of the country’s most important historic buildings: the Benedictine monastery Church of St Pierre (11th century) in the small town of Romainmotier. Montreux is renowned for its mild climate and the International Jazz Festival in July.
The traditional village resort of Gstaad is an upmarket, glamorous destination for skiers with extensive slopes and a thriving après-ski scene. Smaller, more family-oriented winter resorts include Château d’Oex, Leysin and Villars.
The Berner Oberland, with Interlaken and the Jungfraujoch, as well as Europe’s highest railway, is a major tourist area; its spectacular scenery includes famous peaks, mountain lakes, alpine streams and wild flowers. Adelboden, Grindelwald and Lenk were already famous with the European nobility and artists in the 19th century.The popular winter resorts of Adelboden, Lenk and Zweisimmen are reached from Spiez on Lake Thun. The castle at Thun, with its historical museum located at the top of the Altstadt (old town), should not be missed.
Switzerland’s largest city is set on its own lake, Zürichsee, on the banks of the Limmat River, and is the country’s main German-speaking business and banking center. The old part of the town (the Altstadt) is especially picturesque. On a walk through the old center do not miss the Gothic Basilica Fraumünster (11th to 13th century) with its three naves and stained-glass windows by Marc Chagall. Across the river, the skyline is dominated by the Grossmünster with its twin towers.
Zürich is set in the Mittelland (‘middle country’), a very lush and scenic region scattered with small historic towns, villages and vineyards. Local trains and buses provide easy access to the hills, woods and parks that surround Zürich; during the summer, steamer cruises on Zürich’s lake are popular. A day-trip to the Uetliberg, a hill to the southeast of the city, is also recommended. On clear days, the panorama from the top of the hill includes a bird’s eye view of Zurich, with the Valais and Berner Alps to the west and the Black Forest to the east. The medieval castle at Rapperswil, on the bank of the lake, is well worth a visit.
This area of northeastern Switzerland rises gradually over the rugged range of the Churfirsten near St Gallen to the Glarner Alps. Appenzell, in the northeastern part of Switzerland, with its highest peak Säntis (2504m/8215ft), is ideal for hiking tours. Old traditions remain very much alive in Appenzell and national costume is still worn for village and folk festivals. The Rhine, which springs from Lake Toma in the St Gotthard, runs through the Bodensee (Lake Constance) and cascades near Schaffhausen into the Rhine Falls – one of the largest waterfalls in Europe. On the banks of Lake Constance, Stein am Rhein is an in particular picturesque small town with cobbled streets, fountains, half-timbered houses and a medieval atmosphere. St Gallen’s old city center is dominated by burgher houses from the 17th and 18th century. Not to be missed is the Baroque Cathedral and the famous Abbey Library (Stiftsbibliothek) in the courtyard of the old Benedictine monastery (incunabula and illuminated manuscripts), named a World Heritage Treasure by UNESCO.