There’s much to remember about Switzerland. In particular, my wife Barbara and I recall visits to three famous cities: Basel, Zurich and Lucerne.
Each has a distinct character. Yet — most relevant of all — each also possesses those qualities commonly associated with Switzerland at large: Efficiency, cleanliness, dependability. These are some of the things permanently engraved upon memory:
The most distinctive feature about Basel is the Rhine River flows through it. Spanned by bridges and lined by promenades, the river-front is so appealing that, on a recent visit, I spent a lot of time photographing it from all angles. Barbara and I also stepped aboard a century-old flat bottomed boat that carried us shore-to-shore with the tides, just as it carried passengers 150 years ago.
We made a fortunate choice in our hotel, the kind I like: Small, quiet and clean. It is run by an efficient couple — Nick and Jasmina Kovacic — who even went out of their way to drive us where we needed to go after check out. New, with just nine rooms, the Micro Hotel is set on a quiet shaded street not far from the centre of this city of 170,000 people, but far enough that evenings were peaceful. Breakfasts (with marvellous coffee) were served in a spotless nook, and at check in guests are given a "Mobility Ticket" for unlimited free use of public transit.
We made another wise choice: Arranging a tour with Rudolf Suder, a professional guide with a background in Swiss history who knows the city as well as he knows himself. It was well worthwhile. The highlight: The gleaming Barfusserkirche, a breathtaking museum of artifacts going back 2,500 years.
Switzerland’s largest city (population 350,000) is an hour or so away by train, so do arrange to spend time there. I’ve visited more than once and can attest to its quiet charm, cultural diversity (more than 100 art galleries) and beautiful architecture (the Swiss National Museum).
Zurich’s local mountain — Uetliberg — creates a unique landscape of green slopes, vineyards and views of the Alps, all made unforgettable by sparkling Lake Zurich.
The city is renowned for its well preserved Alstadt (old city), and no visit is a true visit without a walk in at least part of this neighbourhood.
Pick up a pedestrian map at the tourist office (there’s one at the railway station) and go to Bahnhofstrasse, the city’s high-end shopping area. Walk south to a tidy square, from which you can stroll to a waterside park and enjoy views of land, water and Zurich families at leisure. Then, using your map, make your way in a few minutes to the famous Munsterhof. The former monastery is remarkable for one reason: Several of its stained glass windows were created by modernist painter and stained-glass master artist Marc Chagall.
No place I know is so made for walking as this small city of about 80,000 residents. Its wonderful old town is compact, and the very atmosphere almost speaks of a fondness for pedestrians. There are bikes, too, including electric ones available at the train station.
But, above all, Lucerne has Chapel Bridge, which many people regard as the most picturesque covered wooden bridge in Europe, perhaps the world. Built in 1333, Chapel Bridge is just under 213-metres-long and crosses the peaceful Reuss River. It’s a pleasure to walk, and may well be one of Europe’s most photographed sites. The bridge was severely damaged by fire in 1993, but restored so well it seems exactly as it was when I first walked it years ago.
The thing that stands out most from our two visits is its affable, almost small town, atmosphere: The people amiable, the sites accessible, the shopping high-quality and, being Swiss, the culinary appeal wide (more than 150 restaurants).
But Lucerne is not merely "postcard pretty." Culture is also a high priority for the city, which is home to one of Switzerland’s top events. Each year the Lucerne Festival In Summer brings together virtuosos, conductors and world-famous orchestras for a five-and-a-half-week-long celebration of music. This year’s festival continues through Sept. 15.
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