Switzerland Promises Adventures for Athletic Types and Food Lovers

If you're heading to London or Paris this year, consider a stop in Switzerland.

The often-overlooked region boasts pristine lakes and massive mountain ranges while also providing enticing night-life options and gourmet foods.

Roughly one-tenth the size of California, Switzerland captures incredible diversity within its borders. Nestled amid Italy, France, Germany, Austria and Lichtenstein, it is equipped to satiate the vast and varied appetites of its visitors. Switzerland is a convenient destination for Europeans.

However, it is often eclipsed by Rome, Paris, London, and other major European destinations that appeal to Americans whose itineraries tend to favor cities that boast magnificent cathedrals, world-renowned museums, and that particular essence of culture sought when traveling through Europe.

In fact, Switzerland has culture. The real appeal is that Swiss culture is not a singular culture that can be captured and reported on with any precision like the proverbial timeliness of Swiss trains. Rather, it is an assorted blend of different flavors, unique to each of the 23 cantons.

Zurich, Switzerland's largest city with a population of approximately 1 million people, is beautiful and mixes an old-world aesthetic with a young population of primarily banking professionals as well as a big artistic community. Geneva, like Zurich, is also home to private banks and a major forum for diplomatic activity with numerous international and nongovernmental organizations like the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, and the International Committee for the Red Cross, among others.

While Switzerland's cities may initially appeal to the business or the diplomatic traveler, there is a lush countryside that begs to be discovered. This landlocked pocket of mountains, lakes and picturesque landscapes has been blessed with natural beauty and richness of land that has enabled its people to build industries around its most basic elements.

Think flora and fresh mountain air, massive ranges, peaks both near and far, and tiny medieval villages at the base of the mountains like picture-perfect postcards.

Switzerland is more than just dairy farms, Swiss Army knives and expensive timepieces -- though the buildings boasting names of famous brands like Rolex that line the Rhone River in Geneva cut a very cool image. It's possible to drive from one end of the country to the other end in a single day, but there is so much to explore in between.

Direct flights to Geneva and Zurich depart daily from most major hubs in the United States. If you are based on the East Coast, for example, the Alps aren't really that much farther than the Rockies, and it is well worth the trip. Switzerland offers something for everyone -- regardless of appetite or budget -- die-hard skiers and après-skiers alike, shoppers, eaters, hikers, cyclists, families, and singles.

The food is excellent with every region, or canton as they are known, boasting particular specialties from artisanal cheeses to local wines, fresh dairy products, wild berries, aromatic mountain herbs, and, of course chocolate.

Trip-Planning Guide

So where in Switzerland should you go this spring?

Crans-Montana It's about 2½ hours by car from Geneva. I spent time here as a child. Although my family went there primarily during the summer, Crans-Montana is a great place year-round.

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