Travel advice for Kent Life readers: Switzerland
PUBLISHED: 10:27 24 January 2016 | UPDATED: 10:27 24 January 2016
Switzerland is a land of spectacular mountains, lakes and valleys, but you don’t have to be a super-fit hiker to enjoy the views, as Kent Life found out when it visited Ticino and Bernese Oberland.
Standing on the top of any of the many mountains in the neighbouring Swiss cantons of Ticino and Bernese Oberland, taking in the views over beautiful valleys and lakes as well as other mountain peaks, the visual sensations must be very similar to those experienced by our prehistoric ancestors, whose roots can been traced back to these regions.
Those early dwellers had to earn the chance to see those views by making a long trek uphill, and visiting tourists who like a good hike can still follow in their footsteps.
For others like me who don’t like to fight gravity, the Swiss have built a range of cable cars, funiculars, gondolas, chairlifts and cogwheel trains so we can all enjoy the Alpine scenery.
For example, after strolling through the cobbled streets and hidden courtyards of Locarno, on the northern tip of Lake Maggiore you can take an old funicular up to Orselina.
If you have the time, make a stop at the Madonna del Sasso, a sanctuary and pilgrimage church with fantastic views over the city. It was founded after a Franciscan Brother claimed to have seen a vision of the Virgin Mary in 1480.
The funicular links with a cable car which takes you up the Cardada mountain to 1,340m. Here the bustling streets of the city below are replaced by delightful woodland walks, one which leads to a specially built viewing point which literally hangs off the side of the mountain.
Making your way out onto the promontory is a bit unnerving as the walkway construction is designed to move slightly, but it’s worth it for the bird’s eye view of where Lake Maggiore joins Italy.
Then go even higher on a chairlift which during the winter also takes skiers and snowboarders up to a small ski area on Cimetta mountain. From the top of the chairlift it’s a short walk to the highest point on Cimetta at 1670m where you are rewarded with a 360 degree panoramic view.
You can enjoy a similar experience close to the city of Thun near Interlaken. The Neiderhorn mountain above Beatenberg offers one of the most popular vantage points in the Bernese Oberland, as you get not only a view over the lakes of Thun and Brienz but also towards the famous mountains of Eiger, Monch and Junfrau.
The Neiderhorn offers more beautiful marked pathways and woodland walks and you get a glimpse of the views that are to come during a funicular and aerial gondola ride to the top.
If you like adventure, there’s an interesting way of getting down the mountain. You can hire a Trotti scooter which have large wheels and bicycle type brakes. Your ride down is on a smooth tarmac track when you can choose to go as fast or slow as you like. It brings out the child in everyone who tries it.
Down by the lakeside you can go back to your accommodation or into the Thun using the bus service or one of the large boats that criss-cross the lake. The Swiss transport system runs as smoothly as the timepieces it is famous for and all modes of travel are regular and punctual.
Thun is a delightful old city and the sound of the river, which runs into the lake, is never far away. But to get a real feel for its history consider one of the guided tours which takes in the 12th-century medieval castle.
The castle is situated at one of the highest points in the area so it is quite a climb, although even here plans are in the pipeline to build an unobtrusive lift to make it easier to get to.
One place where even the Swiss have not been able to come up with a way to avoid a long steep climb is at the Beatus Caves perched above Lake Thun in Beatenberg. Legend has it that St. Beatus, an Irish hermit who lived in the entrance to the cave, next to an impressive waterfall, defeated a dragon at the site.
If you are fascinated by the forces of nature, do make the climb as once inside you can walk through a labyrinth of tunnels and grottos formed by water that has been cascading through the mountain for millions of years.
But don’t think these areas of Switzerland are just all about lakes and mountains as there are plenty of other attractions. Take a boat out to the Brissago Islands close to Ascona on Lake Maggiore and you’ll find a botanical garden paradise of plants and flowers from all over the world created at the end of the 18th century from what was literally nothing but a pile of rocks and the ruins of a monastery. A mansion to match the majesty of the gardens was added later.
Ticino, with its Italian influences, is a foodies’ paradise and there are lakeside, backstreet, and mountain restaurants and bars to suit every taste and budget.
But if you want to take this one step further pay a visit to Terreni alla Maggia, a farm and brewery in Ascona. Here you can sample their own Swiss single malt whisky, wine, nut liqueur and rice beer, made with special rice they grow themselves, which is also great in risottos, along with potatoes, asparagus and a field of green tea!
The Bernese Oberland provides so many examples of natural beauty, but the one that really caught my eye was while having dinner sitting outside at the Wellness & Spa Hotel Beatus.
As the sun went behind the mountains at the far end of Lake Thun, the sky and the water were transformed into a myriad of dazzling shades of red. For a few seconds the whole restaurant stopped and just looked in silence, mesmerised by the stunning beauty.
Frank Baldwin travelled to Ticino and Bernese Oberland with Inghams (www.inghams.co.uk).
He flew to Zurich with SWISS (www.swiss.com) and then used the Swiss Travel System (www.swisstravelsystem.com), an all-in-one-ticket that allows travel throughout Switzerland by train, bus and boat, including scenic train routes such as the Glacier Express, Bernina Express, Golden Pass Line or Wilhelm Tell Express, plus the public transportation in more than 75 Swiss cities, a 50 per cent price reduction on most mountain railways and free admission to more than 480 museums.
Accommodation was at the Hotel Ascovilla in Ascona (www.ascovilla.ch) and the Wellness & Spa Hotel Beatus at Merligen (www.beatus.ch).
As well as eating at the hotels he also dined at Grotto America at Ponte Brolla (www.grottoamerica.ch); Restaurant Comanicchio at Cardada (www.colmanicchio.ch); and Restaurant Vorsass at Niederhorn (www.bergrestaurant-vorsass.ch).
He also visited Oberhofen castle (www.schlossoberhofen.ch).
Inghams is offering seven nights in Switzerland with three nights half board at the 4* Hotel Ascovilla, Ascona, and four nights half board at the 5* Hotel Beatus Merligen, Lake Thun, from £1,538 per person departing 16 September 2015.
This price includes return flights from London Gatwick to Zurich and resort transfers. Separate packages are also available.
For more information and to book, visit www.inghams.co.uk or contact 01483 791 116. All Inghams’ holidays to Switzerland include the ‘Half-Fare Travel Card’ worth more than £80.
Other useful websites
Terreni alla Maggia (www.terreniallamaggia.ch)
Brissago Islands (www.isolebrissago.ch)
Beatus Caves (www.beatushoehlen.ch)
Ticino Tourism (www.ticino.ch)
Bernese Oberland Tourism (www.berneroberland.co.uk)
Interlaken Tourism (www.interlaken.ch)
Switzerland Tourism (www.MySwitzerland.com).