Switzerland – Mountains and more

Deborah M. Buehler – Travel Chronicle

Switzerland is known as a land of unsurpassed natural beauty and evokes images of snow capped mountains, pristine glacial lakes, precise watches and decadent chocolates. It is a land of extremes with climates ranging from the snowy heights of the Alps to the Mediterranean warmth of the south; a land where four different languages are widely spoken and a land into which the histories and cultures of many people have been incorporated. Even if you only have a few days to visit, this stunning country is guaranteed to delight.

From a cultural point of view, one of Switzerland’s most beautiful and historic cities is Luzerne. The main attraction is the famous Chapel Bridge built in 1333, and partly destroyed by fire in August 1993. Decorating the bridge’s ceiling is a chronological account of the region’s history. Walking across the creaking wooden floors of this ancient bridge gives a tangible feeling of what is must have been like to live in Luzerne in the 14th century. From the Chapel Bridge, a walking tour along the old walls and watch towers of the old city provides a gorgeous view of Luzerne, bisected by the river Reuss, and flanked to the south east by the Vierwaldstrattersee and the snow capped Alps.

For those who love towering mountain peaks and year round skiing, a day trip to the Titlis Mountain (3239m) is sure to delight. To reach the station at 3040m, four separate cable cars are required, and the last one – called the Rotair – actually rotates as it ascends giving an unparalleled panoramic view of the Alps. At the station visitors may choose to walk through part of the Titlis glacier. Although I have been on many mountain tops, the experience of walking through a glacier was unique for me. I was impressed by the glittering beauty of the icy walls and the mere idea that I was under layers and layers of solid ice. Halfway down the mountain at 1795m lies Lake Trubsee, where visitors can enjoy hiking in the cool mountain air and amid the beauty of a myriad of alpine flowers. With icy alpine peaks far above and the sound of Swiss cow bells and Water Pipet songs echoing off the mountains, a stroll around Lake Trubsee is a quintessential Swiss experience. A pleasant dinner in the tourist town of Engelberg, the jumping off point for alpine activities in the area, is the perfect way to end the day.

A trip from Luzerne to the eastern canton of Graubünden offers a unique view of Switzerland’s cultural diversity, especially if you take a detour through the Gotthard Tunnel. At the northern entrance of the tunnel the landscape is typical Swiss German with classic “Swiss chalets” dotting the mountain slopes, but 16.9 km later as you emerge into the sunlight it is as if you had entered a different country. The Italian influence in the southern canton of Ticino is evident in the religion, landscape, language and architecture. The churches switch from being generally Protestant to generally Catholic and the landscape is dryer, especially along the Valle Leventina. All of the road signs are in Italian and the houses switch from white washed with dark wooden trim, to stone or plaster painted in pastel yellows and pinks. Traditional stone houses also appear especially near the town of Olivone and towards the Lucomagno Pass (1930m). These dwellings are made entirely of stone. The sight of large houses and even tall church towers made in this style, with even the roof tiles made of huge stone slabs, is truly impressive.

My favorite place in Switzerland is most certainly the canton of Graubünden. Hiking near the little known town of Trin-Mulin is one of my favorite activities. At 1100m the forest around Trin is diverse mix of conifer and deciduous trees which compared to the higher altitude scrub seem to tower above the trails. There is something amazing about breathing the smell of sun baked pine needles and then emerging from the forest to see snow capped peaks towering all around. Every hike includes several waterfalls and perfectly turquoise lakes. The stunning color of these glacial lakes never fails to amaze me. The blue green color is a result of tons of fine glacial material known as “rock flour” which is washed into the lakes during the melt each spring. This material is very light and stays suspended in the water for a long time. When light hits glacial lakes these suspended particles distort the wavelengths and reflect more of the green and blue end of the spectrum.

The Swiss National Park on the eastern border of Graubünden is a final must see during a short visit to Switzerland. To get there one must cross the impressive Flüelapass (2383m) where even in July the lakes are still frozen. The Swiss National Park was founded in 1914 and is one of Europe’s oldest national parks. It is located on the eastern edge of the country near the Italian border and in fact 58% of the park continues into Italy. Because the park is fully protected against any human development the alpine vistas seen there are truly unequalled. There are no towns, no homesteads and even (a true rarity in Switzerland) no ski slopes. The vistas seem to get more stunning with each corner turned. In the park visitors have a good chance of seeing marmots poking their heads out of their burrows, as well as a plethora of alpine bird species including the park’s mascot, the Spotted Nutcracker. A visit to the Swiss National Park is a wonderful way to end a quick visit to Switzerland. It is a perfect farewell to the mountains.

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