Switzerland is many things. Incredibly beautiful (with its mix of aqua lakes, white snow-topped mountains and startling blue skies), centrally located (you can be in Germany, Italy or France from any given point in just an hour or so), and fiercely independent (their currency is Swiss Francs, not Euros --and they have their own particular powerplugs not compatible with European devices).
Known for their low taxes, quality watches and an affinity with remaining neutral, a trip to Switzerland offers up so much more than Swiss Army knives and morish chocolate.
Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland. The majority of its population speak German or Swiss-German, though English is widely understood and spoken throughout the country. A leading city among the world's largest financial centres (partly due to the country's low tax rates that attract overseas companies), Zurich is also home to a thriving design scene and boasts an infectious street culture.
WHERE TO STAY
Located in Zurich's old town, this boutique hotel has all the bells of whistles of a five star lodging combined with the comfort of home (the bathrooms are stocked with Aussie cult beauty brand Aesop). Each of the generous 39 rooms are designed more like a lush living room than a hotel room. Placed perfectly amongst shops (COS is just across the road) and winding cobblestone streets oozing with cultural history, locations don't get better.
WHAT TO DO
Take a tour of the old town
Once the centre of the city back in medieval times, the old town is now home to the highest concentration of nightclubs in the city, as well as world class dining and famous shopping streets. A tour will take you through the history of each turn, while you can enjoy the modern day offerings of the streets.
Blink and you'll miss it, this unassuming retail store looks like nothing but a gift shop from the outside. Once inside, shoppers discover a labyrinth-like furniture showroom space which is the result of three old town houses being joined through a series of corridors and tunnels. Each showroom is completely different, with the basement space hanging suspended by chains above a huge reflection pool. A must visit.
WHERE TO EAT
One of two restaurants in the aforementioned Hotel Marktgasse, Baltho Kitchen and Bar is the more upmarket of the two. A simple menu boasts international dishes as well as some Swiss tried-and-tested favourites. Eat here before visiting a nearby club.
The incredible interior of this restaurant and bar needs to be seen to be believed. The neoclassical building dates back to the 1920s when it was built as Zurich’s first cinema. In the 1950s it was renovated and as a result many of its regal defining features were removed. After a short stint as an adult-only cinema, the huge space sat empty until it was restored in 2007. Aesthetics aside, the restaurant serves an array of award winning fine dining dishes with popcorn as a side dish -- a nod to the building's heyday.
Located on Lake Geneva at the foot of the Swiss Alps, take a look across the lake and you can see France. This blindingly beautiful town is so picturesque it gives Italy's Lake Como (which is a few hours away) a run for its money. Locals mostly speak French.
WHERE TO STAY
If you've got a pretty penny to burn, this hotel is for you. Built in 1906 in the height of the Belle-Époque period, it is known as one of the most prestigious hotels in Switzerland. You'll feel like you're staying in a palace.
WHAT TO DO
Held annually in early July along the shoreline of lake Geneva, the Montreux Jazz Festival is the second largest annual jazz festival in the world after Canada's Montreal International Jazz Festival. Jazz enthusiasts can enjoy a week of music events and nightly concerts.
Okay, so while the actual recording studio has now been moved to Attalens, there is a replica in its place inside the Montreux Casino. The famous recording studio was owned by the band Queen from the late 70s until 1995 at which time it was purchased by the band's producer --which is why it is now a Queen exhibition. Famous albums recorded at the studio include AC/DCs 'Fly On The Wall' and Iggy Pop's 'Blah Blah Blah'.
Basel is Switzerland's home of art, located in the northwest, close to the country’s borders with France and Germany. Its charming medieval old town feels as though you've stepped into a time machine, and the city still celebrates some of the biggest Pagan festivities.
WHERE TO STAY
This boutique hotel is adorably unique. Each of the 12 rooms is designed completely different -- one to reflect an artist studio, another to mimic a men's drinking parlour and the others just as varied and whacky. The hotel offers all of the mod cons you'd expect, minus a lift -- so be prepared for an arm workout with your case up the many stairs. The friendly staff will likely offer to help.
WHAT TO DO
Art Basel is the famous art festival occurring in its hometown of Basel, as well as Hong Kong, but most famously in Miami, U.S. Over 40 years old, the festival celebrates the world's leading galleries, works and artists with an array of exhibitions and performance events. The Basel, Switzerland dates are in June each year (not to be confused with Miami's in December). Check the website for details.
This art museum boasts around 200 works at any given time, and is most famously home to one of Monet's 'Water Lilies' paintings -- displayed in a way that the real outdoor pond on the leafy property reflects his vision. The impressive architectural building also houses works from Van Gogh, Picasso and Warhol. Check the website to ensure your favourite work is displaying when you visit as they are often stored for visiting exhibitions.
WHERE TO EAT
One of the cities most famous restaurants, its well known for serving traditional Swiss dishes, such as potato rosti -- but with a modern twist. Divided into two sections, diners can select from an informal setting or go for a more fine dining experience. Both areas are elegant and cosy.
The Swiss Travel Pass provides travellers with unlimited access on all public transport across Switzerland as well as free access to more than 480 museums and 50 percent discounts on mountain railways. Swiss trains are notoriously clean and always on time (never even a minute late!). For more information on prices and routes, visit the website.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Head to the My Switzerland website.
Leigh Campbell travelled to Switzerland as a guest of Cathay Pacific and Switzerland Tourism.