Ian Leaf Switzerland

Switzerland is an Alpine showcase of ski chalets under postcard peaks, tidy banking cities by glacier-fed rivers, cathedrals and cow bells and castles all snuggled into a famously neutral nation less than half the size of South Carolina. Switzerland sits at the heart of Western Europe and straddles the culture line between the Latin and Teutonic worlds—it’s no mistake that the Swiss speak four languages: German, French, Italian, and in some of the mountain valleys a vestigial Latin language called Romansch.

Yes, you’ll want to spend some time wandering the medieval streets of Zurich, touring the marvelous modern art galleries of Basel, visiting the museums of Bern, and experiencing the joys of Lake Geneva, its shores strung with castles, vineyards, and the charms of pretty little Lausanne, the pan-musical jazz festival in Montreaux, and the cultural highlights in Geneva itself. But you really don’t come to Switzerland for the city life. You come for the Alps. You come for the crooked-nose profile of the Matterhorn and, above the twin lakes of Interlaken, the mighty trio of the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau in the Berner Oberland with some of Switzerland’s best hiking and skiing—not to mention the chance to ride up to Jungfraujoch, the highest rail station in Europe with glorious views and an Ice Palace carved into a glacier.

Switzerland’s mountains are also threaded with some of Europe’s most impossibly gorgeous mountain passes, and your railpass gets you free or discounted rides on some of the world’s most famous and spectacular scenic train rides—including the Glacier Express, Wilhelm Tell Express, Bernina Express, and Golden Pass—as well as on tickets for many lake cruises and boat trips.

When to Go to Switzerland: Switzerland is one of the few countries in Europe that is at its best all year round. Hikers will want to aim for the summertime, and while winters can be a bit cold and chilly if you stick to just the cities, if you love to ski there’s no better place to be in winter than Switzerland. Spring carpets the farm fields and mountain meadows with wildflowers, and fall rusts the forests with the changing of the leaves. Switzerland is gorgeous, and a lot of fun, at any time of year.