The warm sun, spectacular Alps, wide-ranging events and Swiss people make this country a top group destination
By Don Heimburger
Located in the heart of Europe, Zurich is also the main air gateway to this country, the main Swiss railway hub, and a focal point for food and fun. Located adjacent to 25-mile-long Lake Zurich and the Limmat River, this Swiss jewel is impressive. The city’s population is multilingual, well-educated and enjoys excellent health care. Zurich has been recognized as having the highest quality of life in the world.
Combine all that with Lake Zurich’s boating and sailing activities, the Bahnhofstrasse’s many shopping and dining pleasures, and climbing and hiking experiences on mountains like the Uetliberg. Then add in things like free bicycles, the largest indoor water park in Europe, sports events and open-air concerts at the Swiss National Museum, and Europe’s largest indoor Christmas market, and your group will have a hard time deciding how to squeeze in all the fun.
Zurich boasts outdoor lakeside cinemas, trendy bars and clubs, an attractive Old Town, garden restaurants, a botanical garden, lake cruises, world-class cultural events and sights such as the Museum of Fine Arts, which hosts up to 20 international touring exhibitions each year.
From Richard Wagner festivals to Chagall exhibitions to the Zurich Film Festival and the Christmas Market, Zurich has a lot to offer groups.
This city of 70,000, the gateway to the Appenzell Alps in the eastern part of Switzerland, is filled with contrasts. Groups will want to spend some time at the Abbey of St. Gall, located in the abbey district. With its Baroque cathedral (1755-1767) and former monastery buildings, the area has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Close to famous Lake Constance, St. Gallen will wow visitors with its combination of tradition and 21st century progress. The Old Town, an expression of medieval civic pride, reflects the monastic power and splendor. In addition, the boom in embroidery at the end of the 19th century sparked numerous large factories, villas and museums in the Art Nouveau style. All of this is here to take in and explore, with group tours available at many points of interest.
The magnificent hall of St. Gallen’s Abbey library contains 150,000 volumes and 2,000 manuscripts, some of which are more than 1,000 years old. The Textile Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, as many as 111 oriel windows, numerous fountains and sculptures, and a large outdoor “city lounge” beckon groups to admire the many treasures here.
LAKE LUCERNE REGION
This area mirrors the best of Switzerland, offering groups a taste of the mountains, the lakes and the city. Lucerne itself, a vibrant urban center, presents an awesome setting, offering views of dramatic, high-altitude landscapes and picturesque Lake Lucerne.
Founded in the 12th century, this city of 75,000 features spacious hotels on the lakefront, special group fares for paddlewheel boat excursions, entertainment venues from the Transport Museum to numerous summer lakefront festivals, and excellent shopping. You can take in the farmer’s market near the river and walk away with delicious cheeses and colorful home-grown fruits and vegetables.
Nearby, groups are welcomed at Mt. Pilatus and Mt. Rigi, two mountain attractions that are well-suited to half- or full-day adventures. Accessible by train, bus or boat from Lucerne, both mountains feature trains, hotels and restaurants, and the famous Swiss cows with their mellow bells.
At the mountain village of Engelberg, only 30 minutes away, is Mount Titlis, a 10,623-foot-high mountain in the Urner Alps. It is the home of the world’s first revolving cable car; snow and ice abound in this special place all year round.
The new, dramatic Rotair gondola is one of a series of three cable cars to take visitors to the top of Titlis. Climb aboard for the thrill of a lifetime as your group is whisked away to view the glacial landscape below. You can even enjoy a thrilling walk on a suspension bridge at 10,000 feet, and it’s free.
Downhill and cross-country skiing, sledding, snowshoeing and hiking are available in the winter. Hiking, mountain biking, glacier excursions and flower trails are popular in the summer.
It’s just a 20-minute train ride or 15-minute bus ride from Lucerne to Mount Stanserhorn, another spectacular location for a Swiss group experience. The railway to 6,233-foot Mount Stanserhorn opened in 1893, and today Stanserhorn Kulm is reached by the railway or a double-decker cable car with an open upper deck, affording special views of the Alps. At the top is the Rondorama, the first revolving restaurant in central Switzerland, and an observation deck on its terrace.
SPECIAL RAIL DEAL
Traveling through Switzerland is faster, easier and roomier when groups go by rail. Once onboard, all you have to do is sit back and relax as you watch the scenery roll by, sleep, enjoy a full dinner or a light snack, or read. And to make the trip easier, the Swiss Travel System, Switzerland Tourism and Rail Europe are teaming up to make it less expensive. Through April 25, first-class passengers receive five days of rail travel for the price of four days.
The sale features either the 5-day Swiss Pass or 5-day Swiss Pass Saver. Bookings can be made by logging on to the Rail Europe website at www.raileurope.com or by calling their Contact Center; the special deal is good for travel through April 30.
In this awe-inspiring country the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined, you can do a lot of traveling in just a few days. Prices for first-class seating start at $481 for the 4-day consecutive Swiss Pass, $409 for the 4-day Swiss Saver Pass. The Swiss Pass includes travel on such scenic trains as the Glacier Express, public transport in more than 45 Swiss cities, a 50% discount on most mountain railways and complimentary admission to more than 450 museums.
Wherever your group decides to travel in Switzerland, the food, the scenery, the events and the people are sure to leave a memorable impression.