Switzerland, a small country in central Europe, shares much of its history and culture with its four neighbors: Italy, Germany, Austria and France. Its archeological history dates back to prehistoric times, and most of its native population settled there at the end of the Roman Empire at about 400 A.D. Let's take a look at a guided tour of this European gem.
Some tours, like for example this 11-day excursion, allow travelers to see much of the country at a nice relaxing pace.
The first two days are spent in Zurich. There you'll visit the world famous Opera House and the Fraumunster Church, which was founded in 853 by King Louis the German.
The church was patronized by kings and held the right to mint coins until well into the 13th century. Its highlights include stunning stained glass windows and an organ containing 5,793 pipes. You'll also walk in the Old Town where in the Niederdorf you can stop in its trendy shops, pubs and bars. In the Bahnhofstrasse, the main shopping area, you'll find department stores and boutiques offering top quality products such as shoes, furs, jewelry and watches, as well as banks and pastry shops.
Also in Zurich, you can see the largest clock face in Europe; it is atop Zurich's oldest church, St Peter's, and is 28-feet in diameter.
Next, in Lucerne, you'll see the Lion Monument, which wa sculpted in the early 1800's by Danish artist Bertel Thorvaldsen in a sandstone cliff above the city center. The monument was built to honor the more than 700 Swiss Guards who died defending Tuileries Palace in Paris in 1792.
While in the Interlaken Area, one of the highlights of a visit to the area is a trip by train to Europe's highest railway station, the Jungfraujoch, at 11,333 feet. This Alpine wonderland of eternal ice and snow even has an ice palace with ice sculptures of people, cars, furniture and animals.
After your visit to the Interlaken Area, you'll go to the Swiss capital, Berne. In Berne you'll have lunch at a working farm, see its Old Town and the famous Bear Pits. Legend has it that Berne's founder, Berchtold V von Zahringen killed a bear on the Aare peninsula and this led to the town's name, from the German "Bar." It also explains why the city's coat of arms features a bear. The Bear Pits have been in the same location since1857, although they went under renovation in 1995 to provide the bears with a more natural habitat.
After enjoying time in Berne, you'll board a Mountain Train to the village of Zermatt with its rustic chalets beneath the famous Matterhorn.
You'll spend the day with a local guide who will tell you about mountain climbers who have attempted to climb the Matterhorn, and you'll visit the Alpine Museum where you can see relics on display from some of the first successful climbings. Then you can ride a train up Gornergrat or even take a mountain hike along one of the many well-marked trails.
Also while in Zermatt, you can take a cable car ride up the highest cableway in Europe to the Matterhorn glacier paradise. There is snow there all year making it Europe's largest summer ski area.
There is an elevator built into the rock, which takes visitors to the highest sightseeing platform in Europe where you can enjoy a 360-degree panoramic view of the Swiss, French and Italian Alps. You'll actually be able to see 38 peaks that are more than 13,000 feet.
On the final day of your tour, you'll travel on the Glacier Express Train through the Swiss Alps where the scenery is nothing short of breathtaking. The train ride ends in Disentis where a motor coach will be waiting for your trip back to Zurich, and then home the next day.
If you're thinking of a vacation in Europe this season, consider Switzerland for a unique experience. It brings to mind a Swiss adage: "Anyone can put holes in cheese, but the Swiss know how to make the cheese."
Lisa Vivirito is owner of Diamond Travel in Vero Beach. Call her at (772) 567-8481 or (800) 795-1986. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.