Look past the silk-smooth chocolate, cuckoo clocks and yodelling – contemporary Switzerland, land of four languages, is all about epic journeys and sublime experiences.
The perfect antidote to rural beauty is a surprise set of cities: capital Bern with its medieval old town and world-class modern art, deeply Germanic Basel and its bold architecture, shopping-chic Geneva astraddle Europe’s largest lake, tycoon-magnet Zug and uber-cool Zürich with its rooftop bars and atypical Swiss street grit. Beard cutting or stone throwing, Paul Klee art or hip club gig: what a euphoric journey indeed.
Why I Love Switzerland
By Nicola Williams, Writer
Lake Geneva’s southern shore has been home for a decade and it still tickles me pink that journeys by train or plane begin with a soul-stirring 20-minute boat ride across the water, sometimes aboard a nippy little ‘commuter’ boat at dawn, sometimes on one of the magnificent belle époque steamers that I often see twinkling after dark from my kitchen window. Lakes, mountains, urban chic: Switzerland delivers every weekend with yet another uplifting activity and, being someone who’d rather be outside than in (call me and my kids ski fiends, paddle-board mad, hiking kings and queens), it suits me down to the ground.
Switzerland’s hallucinatory landscapes demand immediate action – grab boots, leap on board, toot bike bell and let spirits rip. Skiing and snowboarding in Graubünden, Bernese Oberland and Central Switzerland are winter choices. When pastures turn green, hiking and biking trails abound in glacier-encrusted mountain areas and lower down along lost valleys, glittering lakeshores and pea-green vineyards. View the natural grandeur from a hot-air balloon or parachute, or afloat a white-water raft. Then there’s those must-do-before-death moments like encountering Eiger’s chiselled north face up close or reaching crevassed ice on Jungfraujoch (3454m). Most extraordinary of all, you don’t need to be a mountaineer to do it.
Variety is the spice of rural life in this rich, earthy land where Alpine tradition is rooted in the agricultural calendar and soaring mountains are as common as muck. Travels are mapped by villages with timber granaries built on stilts to keep the rats out and chalet farmsteads brightened with red geranium blossoms. Ancient markets, folkloric fairs, flag waving and alp horn concerts engrave the passing of seasons in every soul. And then there’s the food: a hearty and flavoursome, gastronomic celebration of gooey cheese desperate to be dipped in, along with velvety chocolate, autumnal game and air-dried meats.
Switzerland is a harmonious tableau of beautiful images, a slideshow of epic proportions that is easy to step into, and travellers have been seduced ever since the days of the Grand Tour and Alpinism’s Golden Age in the 19th century, and the birth of winter tourism in the Alps in the 1930s. From the intoxicating chink of Verbier glitterati hobnobbing over Champagne to the reassuring bell jangle of silky black Val d’Hérens cattle being mucked out in the Valais, Switzerland mixes rural and urban with astonishing ease, grace and precision. Ride a little red train between peak and pine, soak in mountain spa waters, snowshoe to your igloo or scamper across medieval bridges and know that this small landlocked country will be picture perfect, with not a hair out of place.
Source: Lonely Planet
France seduces travellers with its unfalteringly familiar culture, woven around cafe terraces, village-square markets and lace-curtained bistros with their plat du jour chalked on the board.
Food is of enormous importance to the French and the daily culinary agenda takes no prisoners: breakfasting on warm croissants from the boulangerie, stopping off at Parisian bistros, and market shopping are second nature to the French – and it would be rude to refuse. But French gastronomy goes far deeper than just eating exceedingly well. Its experiential nature means there is always something tasty to observe, learn and try. Be it flipping crêpes in Brittany or chinking champagne flutes in ancient Reims cellars, the culinary opportunities are endless.
The terroir (land) of France weaves a varied journey from northern France’s cliffs and sand dunes to the piercing blue sea of the French Riviera and Corsica’s green oak forests. Outdoor action is what France’s lyrical landscape demands – and there’s something for everybody. Whether you end up walking barefoot across wave-rippled sand to Mont St-Michel, riding a cable car to glacial panoramas above Chamonix, or cartwheeling down Europe’s highest sand dune, France does not disappoint. Its great outdoors is thrilling, with endless opportunities and the next adventure begging to be had. Allez!
Why I Love France
By Nicola Williams, Writer
France has been home for two decades yet I still feel on holiday – French art de vivre (art of living) is just too good. From my Haute-Savoie house on Lake Geneva’s southern shore, the Jura’s dark-green hills and un café in the wisteria-draped village bar are my wake-up call. Weekends of endless possibilities punctuate the gentle rhythm of village life: art museums in Lyon and Paris, alpine hiking and skiing, paddle boarding on the glittering lake, road trips to Beaujolais and Burgundy and other regions so different they could be another country. France’s sheer variety is amazing.
Art de Vivre
The rhythm of daily life – dictated by the seasons in the depths of la France profonde (rural France) – exudes an intimacy that gets under your skin. Don’t resist. Rather, live the French lifestyle. Embrace the luxury of simple, everyday rituals being transformed into unforgettable moments, be it a coffee and croissant in the Parisian cafe where Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir met to philosophise, a stroll through the lily-clad gardens Monet painted, or a walk on a beach in Brittany scented with the subtle infusion of language, music and mythology brought by 5th-century Celtic invaders.
Cultural Savoir Faire
France is about world-class art and architecture. It seduces with iconic landmarks known the world over and rising stars yet to be discovered. This country’s cultural repertoire is staggering – in volume and diversity. And this is where the beauty of la belle France lies: when super stars like Mademoiselle Eiffel, royal Versailles and the celebrity-ridden French Riviera have been ticked off, there’s ample more to thrill. France is, after all the world’s top destination with some 85 million visitors each year who flock to the land of the Gauls to feast of its extraordinary wealth of museums, galleries, ateliers (artist workshops) and hands-on cultural experiences.
Source: Lonely Planet