THE JAW-DROPPING BEAUTY OF THE SWISS ALPS OFTEN GIVES THE IMPRESSION OF VAST SPACES THAT ONE HAS TO TRAVERSE TO REACH A GOOD VIEW. BUT THIS IS COMPACT SWITZERLAND WHERE THE MOUNTAINS ARE RIGHT ON THE DOORSTEP. WITH THE EXTENSIVE NETWORK OF TRAINS AND BUSES OF THE SWISS TRAVEL SYSTEM YOU COULD BE WHISKED FROM CITY TO MOUNTAIN TOP IN DOUBLE-QUICKTIME, PLACING YOU RIGHT IN THE MIDST OF A PICTURE-PERFECT ALPINE MOMENT
From the gateway of Zurich airport, the graceful cobble-stoned streets of pretty St Gallen are a mere hour’s ride away by train. The 1,400-year-old town is compactly laid out and made for easy exploration on foot. Lined by stately old buildings in wood and stone with charming balconies and window seats, this is the quintessential Alpine town.
St Gallen is small enough for to be visited easily on your own but if you prefer the company of a guided tour, there are one-hour walking tours of the old town which start from an inexpensive CHF12 (S$ 17) per person.
You’ll find it hard to miss Red Square or Stadtlounge, where entire streets are covered in red polymer. Hang out in a quirky yet inviting large-scale outdoor living room, replete with big seating areas and curvy lamps where rounded sculptural shapes playfully revitalise the town’s public spaces.
From the hip to the spiritual, spend time contemplating life beneath the delicate lace-like details of the soaring ceilings in the St Gallen Cathedral. Light, airy and almost ethereal, the Cathedral’s cool and beautiful Baroque interior is a good place for a break amidst all the walking. Nearby, the hushed halls of the famed historic Abbey Library of St Gall give a good peek into thousands of intricately and beautifully hand-painted books, all painstakingly copied by the monks and scribes of hundreds of years ago. This World Heritage Site with its richly wood-panelled walls is the oldest library in Switzerland and widely considered to be among the most beautiful monastic libraries in the world.
Fashion fans make a beeline for the Textile Museum. The famed St Gallen lace, much sought after by fashion houses in Europe, is on display here, as are many interesting and colourful fashion collections.
A short scenic train ride from St Gallen brings you to Rorschach and the Forum Wurth with its collection of world-class modern art with seasonal collections such as famed sculptor Botero’s cheeky collection of Botera Sutra. But with beautiful Lake Constance nearby, the main attraction would be the serene lakeside strolls, a reminder that in Switzerland, one is never far from a postcard-worthy view.
Switzerland’s world-renowned beauty lies in the rolling foothills and soaring snow-capped mountains that circle the country. A good introduction starts with the train ride to Samedan. A quiet village nestled amidst meadows and pastures, Samedan offers a serene Swiss village experience. No five-star sights but a comfortable (and less expensive) stay in a charming small village one stop away from the ritzy resort town of St Moritz.
Well-known as the glamorous winter playground of the rich, famous and royal, St Moritz comes with a cosmopolitan sheen that oozes a sense of wealthy privilege. Here, the air seems a tad more rarefied and not just because of the altitude. Lined with boutiques and shops boasting the best designer brands, St Moritz’s sophisticated appeal lies in shopping and people-watching. Or a throw or two of the dice at the roulette table in St Moritz’s swanky casino where you rub shoulders with the chi-chi set.
St Moritz’s altitude means cool summer hikes into the highlands or some of the best snow action this side of the Swiss Alps. As late as the last week of April, the air remains chilly withthe occasional snowfall and the frozen lake mirrors the mountains flanking it, adding a brooding sense of drama to the beauty of the panorama,
Chugging over bridges and tall stone viaducts with rocky rivers far below, the little red train with the modern generous panoramic windows connects the dots in southern Switzerland, bringing travellers from the alpine landscape of Switzerland to the warm and balmy Italian lakes. The Bernina Express ranks among one of Switzerland’s most iconic and scenic rides as it carries passengers from the alps to the Italian border.
As they say, it is not the destination but the journey that counts. In the case of the Bernina Express, this train journey is even classified as a World Heritage Site in itself.
If you can tear yourself away from the jaw-dropping beauty of the scenery, take a minute to appreciate the sheer engineering feat it took to carve out tracks, build bridges and tunnels in geographically challenging terrain. Look out for the cute Brusio circular viaduct as the train literally corkscrews in a circle to move from a higher altitude to a lower one.
Skimming past turquoise blue alpine lakes, the rocky slopes of mountains that shoot skywards, snow-capped peaks in the distance, and the occasional neat hamlet, the train ride is every travel photographer’s dream with snap-worthy panorama at every turn.
It takes roughly two hours to travel from St Moritz to Tirano, the terminus station – just in time for lunch in Italy! Tirano is best known as a pilgrimage town. Sited just across the border from Switzerland, it is a convenient transit point for travellers between the two countries. From here, there are easy train connections deeper into Italy.
From Tirano, it is easy to hop onto a bus back into Switzerland headed for the lakeside town of Lugano. Lugano has a history longer than many cities in Europe, having been inhabited since the Stone Age. Lugano combines the beauty of Switzerland with the laidback vibes of Italy. The lakeside is lined by sturdy and leafy sycamore trees and cherry trees, a spectacular sight in spring when the cherry blossoms burst into clouds of pink and white. But in any season, sunset strolls on the lakeside promenade are a great way to close the day.
Shopaholics will love Lugano’s elegant streets where the best Italian and European labels are represented Or get a taxi for the half-hour journey to Fox Town, a factory discount outlet that offers the same designer labels at lower prices. Lugano also has its own casino for those who cannot resist the lure of the dice.
Another day of travel but one that is no less rewarding pictorially.
Skimming the border between Switzerland and Italy, buses run the picturesque stretch of the Italian lake district between Lugano and Swiss towns of Taesch and Brig passing big and beautiful Lake Maggiore, happily shared by both the Italians and the Swiss. The 195km stretch may take about five hours to travel but these fly by quickly in the face of such gorgeous scenery.
In Taesch, catch one of the frequent shuttle trains into the mountains at Zermatt, a handy base to explore the Alps for great views of the Matterhorn! Trains come every 20min so connections are easy and fast. In 11 min flat, you’d be whisked up to car-free Zermatt. There’s even a baggage service so you could travel bag-free with the bags sent ahead.
Zermatt is where the big adventure to the mountains begins. Surrounded by snowy peaks on all sides, the highly efficient network of cable cars and cog-wheel trains make mountain excursions a cinch. For those who want to catch sunrises and sunsets at the peaks, specially arranged sunset or sunrise tours can be easily arranged too.
It’s glacier day today! Kick-start the day with an early train ride up to Gornergrat, where the views of the mighty Matterhorn are at their finest. For those who don’t know, the pyramidal peak most commonly seen on every Toblerone tube of chocolate is the Matterhorn – at 4,478m tail, one of the highest peaks in Europe.
Taking you to Gornergrat at 3,089m high, is the world’s first fully- electrified railway, operational for more than a hundred years. The roughly half-hour climb covers almost 1,500km in a vertical ascent that passes through forests and lakes, over bridges and ravines.
Once at the top, all of Switzerland (well, almost!) lie in front of you. Drink in the sweeping views, practice yodeling into the white emptiness and don’t forget to take deep whiffs of crisp and fresh alpine air, as you enjoy the panorama of mountains unfolding all around you. Make sure your camera is well-charged because it is guaranteed to work overtime!
Spot Switzerland’s tallest peak, the Dufourspitze at 4,634m and of course the Matterhorn itself, standing almost a bit aloof from the other mountains in the range. If you’re a fan of St Bernard dogs (and who can resist their furry cuteness!) find time for a quick cuddle and a photo – they are there at the Gronergrat station to charm travelers like you.
When you’ve finished gazing at the mountains and enjoying the great-to- be-alive feeling, backtrack down to Zermatt and to Taesch – all of which would take a smooth 45minutes or so At Taesch, grab a cab to Morel station where a cable-car will lift you to cute little Riederalp. Tiny Riederalp packs a punch in terms of access to the mountains and the glaciers. Already sitting halfway up a mountain, this is key access point to higher altitudes.
And of course when in Switzerland, do as the Swiss do – enjoy a piping hot cheese fondue that hits the spot in the cold weather!
If you have two left feet on skis, this might be your chance to get it right. Ski lessons are on offer at the ski resorts in Riederalp. There are lessons to fit every age.
Snowy frolic aside, there is plenty to see and do in the Aletsch Arena year-round with Riederalp as a base. Hop and off the cable car and chairlift network to access the highest peaks and meadows possible.
In summer, the pristine Aletsch forest beckons with hiking possibilities. There are trails into the forests connecting Riederalp to other villages and points of interests that are well worth exploring. It’s also a good way to get up close to the Aletsch glacier, the largest glacier in Europe. In a quick 8minutes, a cable car takes you to Moosfluh. At 2333m, this is the lowest elevation from which you can see the Aletsch glacier, and at this elevation, a great start to easy hikes.
To catch snowy landscapes year round, head for the Eggishorn viewpoint where spectacular views await from every direction. This high up, the air is drier and clearer, making for sharper and clearer photographs of the stunning white and blue landscape. The mountains stretch out ahead in all directions and the glacier spreads out far below in a sea of white ice.
Back at Riederalp, we snap on the snowshoes and shuffle-hike our way back to the hotel. It’s not as easy as it looks! But the feeling of stepping into soft powder-like snow and walking in near-silence in the deep snow is almost a reverent feeling, communing with nature in the hushed snowy scene.
Never easy to say goodbye to Switzerland but warm Swiss hospitality takes care of all the discreet touches that take the pain out of goodbyes. For one, it is possible to leave your luggage with the hotel to be forwarded to the airport while you take the leisurely route – to sightsee hands-free!
Coming down from the mountains, the last stop is the elegant old city of Bern before heading for Zurich airport. Bern’s old medieval streets are a World Heritage Site and well worth a leisurely meander. Bern also boasts the famous bears after which the city is named, and the former residence of Albert Einstein. Science buffs will lap up the fact that this is where the Theory of Relativity first developed, in the small apartment Einstein called home. Don’t miss the famous Clock Tower or Zytglogge. It’s been keeping time for the Swiss since 1530! Now that’s Swiss clockwork efficiency for you!
Bern is a city of fountains. With more than 100 public fountains, many of which have been around for more than 500 years, the soothing tinkle of running water is part of the Bernese soundscape.
A must-see on the itinerary of art fans is the new Zentrum Paul Klee which houses the world’s largest collection of work by Klee and Kandinsky. Non-art fans should also make a stop to see the soaring glass and curved steel of the museum, in itself an art form designed by leading Italian architect Renzo Piano.
WHERE TO STAY
For one of the best luxury mountain experiences you can have up in the Art Furrer Hotels alps, hole up in the Art Furrer Hotels in Riederalp. This is the only 5-star hotel in this region . For room price , please book the hotel online with our website.