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TRAVEL 'Go in Switzerland; Adrian Osmond enjoyed a celebration of all things natural in the Alpine country.

THEY'LL know straight away that you're British if you keep your costume on." That was the advice I was given on sauna etiquette by one fellow traveller who'd been "outed" as he stood in his best new cozzie and watched, spellbound and a little fearful, as a sauna full of more liberated continental bathers disrobed and went au naturel.

In Switzerland, it's not just in the spas that people are exhorted to embrace nature - most of the country's tourist industry is based around the stunning landscapes.

Despite lacking much in the way of natural resources, the country has, through centuries of political and financial pragmatism and a culture of industriousness, become one of the world's richest countries. Of course, its main natural resources are the astonishingly beautiful Alps, where the concept of winter tourism was born.

Now, faced with the prospect of a globally-warmed world where the snow will fall lighter on the ski slopes, the Swiss are embracing summer tourism.

Behind the slogan "Go Natural" they are enticing visitors with the promise of a year-round range of outdoor attractions and activities built around an efficient public transport system.

I visited the south east of the country, touring its biggest canton, Grau Bunden, home to world famous resorts such as St Moritz and Davos.

My trip began in Scuol, on the border with Italy. I arrived late in the day at Scuol's sumptuous spas, where in a stunning outdoor setting, the breath of the bathers mingled with the steam from hot pools of spring water against a backdrop of almost vertical mountains.

That's the thing about this part of Switzerland. There is a picture postcard view of the Alps in almost every direction.

Next day, it was on to St Moritz - the enclave for the rich and famous, home of the world famous cresta run and ludicrously expensive to boot.

The population of the town is just 5000. Coincidentally, the hotel capacity is also 5000, so the population effectively doubles in the main winter holiday season.

In St Moritz you could probably smell the money if it wasn't for the clear mountain air breezing in from the mountains. Stars like George Clooney are regular visitors. Part of the appeal for the celebrity set is the fact that, in such a rich place, they are assured privacy from the sophisticated locals.

In St Moritz, after walking clean streets filled with shops selling all the most expensive designer gear, you could take in a little culture at the small museum dedicated to the town's nineteenth century artist superstar Giovanni Segantini or take a bus into the mountains to the start of the cresta and bob sleigh runs.

In the winter, when the snow arrives, you could even try it for yourself. They offer a precarious taxi ride down the bob run for 220sf - about pounds 150.

I was staying at the superb Hotel Europa, St Moritz where we were served one fine meal after another.

Meat was high on the menus - the hunting season had just opened on the ibex and the whole canton seemed awash with the tasty meat of the mountain goats.

I enjoyed cycling and hiking through some well-marked trails through the countryside. Despite the fact that you're in the middle of the Alps, there are routes for people of all abilities.

And Swiss Tourism operates a joined-up transport system where you start from one town or village and walk or cycle to another, enjoying the scenery and hospitality along the way.

When you arrive at your next hotel you'll be magically reunited with your luggage and you can settle down to another top class meal and some of the excellent local wines. The Swiss wines were a great surprise for me. You never hear of Swiss wines. I mean, you don't find them in the supermarkets, do you? So you might, if you'd ever given it a thought, consider that is because they aren't very good. But they are beautiful.

I had wine with every meal outside of breakfast and quite often in between and they were all smooth, deep and interesting.

Another way to explore the

GARDENING countryside, and the Swiss National Park (Europe's first) is via the glass trains (cabriolet) which climb up to the glaciers and afford unbeatable views.

The Swiss are hugely proud of their Landwasser Viaduct which as part of the Rhaetian Railway has just been given Unesco status - bringing with it worldwide publicity.

The trains appear to burst from solid rock, shoot across the skimpy rail and head straight back into solid rock. The view is breathtaking, so it's well worth a bus trip to see it or better still, a train ride over it.

Language is a complicated subject in Switzerland, and the native Swiss language, Romansch, is not prospering.

It is spoken by an estimated 50,000 people, mostly in the Grau Bunden area. It is the smallest of the four official languages - German is the most widely spoken, followed by French and then Italian.

Also, among those 50,000 speakers, there are five dialects - some are unintelligible to the others. Which kind of makes the future of the Welsh language look a lot brighter. But English is widely spoken throughout by a visitor-friendly population.

Switzerland certainly lived up to my expectations. It's a beautiful country.

The streets are clean, the transport system comfortable and punctual, and there is an air of affluence and adverts for Toblerone everywhere we went.

But that reputation is something the Swiss are aware of and justifiable proud of. As one local told me, "Switzerland is all about attention to detail, quality, reliability and trust. You can even swim with your mouth open in our rivers and lakes." An odd image, but in a country where "going natural" is a way of life, it seems to make a kind of sense..


1. The Glacier Express the Landwasser viaduct near Filisur, Canton Graubunden 2. Funicular railway, Saint 3 Mountain biking in Graubunden 4. Outdoor pool in Scuol
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 30, 2009
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