To the Swiss, Central Switzerland – green, mountainous and soothingly beautiful – is the very essence of ‘Swissness’. It was here that the pact that kick-started a nation was signed in 1291; here that hero William Tell gave a rebel yell against Habsburg rule. Geographically, politically, spiritually, this is the heartland. Nowhere does the flag fly higher.
Nature works on an epic scale here. Whether you’re hiking in the fearsome north face of Eiger, carving powder on a crisp winter’s morning in Gstaad, or gawping at the misty Staubbach Falls – the Swiss Alps don’t get more in-your-face beautiful than this. Nowhere are the resorts quainter, the peaks higher, the glaciers grander. Fittingly watched over by Mönch (Monk).
The summer air is rich and hot. Vespas scoot along palm-fringed promenades. A baroque campanile chimes. Kids play in piazzas flanked by pastel-coloured mansions. Italian weather. Italian style. And that’s not to mention the Italian gelato, Italian pasta, Italian architecture, Italian language.
At first glance it may seem funny that this flat, unassuming ‘middle ground’, as its straight-talking name states, should have Switzerland’s capital at its heart. In fact, few even realise that riverside Bern is the Swiss capital, because the city is so delightfully languid and laid-back. Yet Bern’s middling is precisely what makes it so politically savvy.
With museums galore, a scenic setting on the Rhine and one of Europe's best winter carnivals, Basel makes an appealing stopover, especially for lovers of art and contemporary urban design. The city's year-round attractions, including the engaging Old Town, are mostly concentrated in Grossbasel (Greater Basel) on the south bank of the Rhine.
Northeastern Switzerland is the place to tiptoe off the map and back to nature for a few days. Country lanes unravel like spools of thread, weaving through Appenzell’s patchwork meadows, past the fjord-like waters of Walensee and south to remote hamlets engulfed by the glacier-licked peaks of the Glarus Alps.