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Although Switzerland is best known for its mountain scenery, there are any number of hooks on which to hang a visit, whether you choose to stay in one city or resort, take in the hiking or cycling possibilities of a region, or make a tour of exploration around the whole country. Getting about is easy, with an unrivalled network of trains, buses and boats cutting journey times between the regions to an hour or two in most cases. You’ll find places to stay and get a hearty meal wherever you end up, even in the wildest of mountain valleys.

Thankfully, Switzerland has no big metropolises on the scale of Paris or London. Swiss towns and cities were preserved from bombing in World War II, and all of them have at their core explorable networks of medi-eval alleys and old houses and churches. Geneva is positioned at the tip of the idyllic Lake Geneva in the southwest, a short distance from the graceful lakeside city of Lausanne. In the northeast, Zürich too is set on its own lake, within striking distance of the peaceful Bodensee (Lake Constance). The diminutive Swiss capital Bern has a fine cobbled Old Town, while equally attractive Luzern (Lucerne) lies in the centre of the country on its own, famously beautiful lake. Basel is located on the Rhine at the point where France, Germany and Switzerland meet, while at the opposite end of the country, Lugano basks on the shores of an azure lake a few kilometres from the Italian border. Any of these – or smaller but no less characterful regional towns such as St Gallen, Schaffhausen, Neuchâtel, Chur, Fribourg, Sion or Bellinzona – could serve as a base for a relaxing short break, especially during the temperate summer months (June–Sept). At other times they can get distinctly chilly, although most receive generous dumps of snow in the winter, which, combined with glittering sunshine and frozen lakes and rivers, paints the most romantic of urban pictures.

There are almost limitless possibilities for exploring the great outdoors. The Alps run in a band across the centre and south of the country, with resorts big and small plus stunning scenery guaranteed wherever you head for. The two main seasons run from late May to October, and from mid-December to mid-April; between these times, most mountain resorts close down altogether. The best-known Alpine region is the Bernese Oberland, focused around the tourist hub of Interlaken and boasting such famous names as Wengen and Grindelwald; to the south, in Valais, sit Verbier, Crans Montana and, at the foot of the iconic Matterhorn, Zermatt.

In Graubünden in the southeast are Davos, Klosters and St Moritz. Justifiably popular, all these places boast some of the best skiing and hiking in Europe. It’s relatively easy in even the busiest centres (which are still nothing like the mega-resorts of the French and Italian Alps) to head off the beaten path and explore alone, or to aim for smaller, more manageable satellite resorts in adjacent side-valleys. However, you may prefer to shun the big names altogether and seek peace and quiet in the less frenetic hinterlands. Two regions stand out: in the northwest, the scrubby Jura mountains are an ideal landscape for long lonely walks and bike rides; while in the south, the wild valleys of Alto Ticino lace the southern foothills of the Alps with little-known hiking trails, a world away from the chic lakeside resort of Locarno nearby.

[ Buy on Amazon: Rough Guide to Switzerland 2 ]

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