Hiking the Swiss Mountains
From the time the snows melt in spring until late autumn when winds blow too powerfully, visitors head for the country's alpine chain to hike its beautiful expanses. Well-trodden footpaths through the valleys and up the mountains are found in all the resorts of Switzerland. Hiking is especially enjoyable in the Ticino and the Engadine, but quite wonderful almost anywhere in the country. You'll find fewer visitors in some of the less inhabited valleys, such as those in the Valais. Every major tourist office in Switzerland has a free list of the best trails in their area. If you go to one of the area's local bookstores, you can purchase topographical maps of wilderness trails.
Viewing Castles & Cathedrals
There is so much emphasis on outdoor sports in Switzerland that many visitors forget that it's rich in history and filled with landmarks from the Middle Ages. Explore at random. Visit the castle at Chillon where Lord Byron wrote The Prisoner of Chillon. Or Gruyères, which everyone knows for the cheese, but is also the most craggy castle village of Switzerland, complete with dungeon and spectacular panoramic views. Both Bern and Basel have historic Münsters of cathedrals -- the one in Bern dates from the 14th century. Among the great cathedrals, St. Nicholas's Cathedral, in the ancient city of Fribourg near Bern, dominates the medieval quarter, and Schloss Thun, on Lake Thun in the Bernese Oberland, was built by the dukes of Zähtingen at the end of the 12th century.
Joining the Revelers at Fasnacht (Basel)
Believe it or not, Switzerland has its own safe and very appealing version of Carnival, which dates back to the Middle Ages. It begins the Monday after Ash Wednesday (usually in late Feb or early Mar). The aesthetic is heathen (or pagan), with a touch of existentialist absurdity. The horse-drawn and motorized parades are appropriately flamboyant, and the cacophonous music that accompanies the spectacle includes the sounds of fifes, drums, trumpets, and trombones. As many as 20,000 people participate in the raucous festivities, which may change your image of strait-laced Switzerland.
Summiting Mount Pilatus
The steepest cogwheel train in the world -- with a 48-degree gradient -- takes you to the top of Mount Pilatus, a 2,100m (6,888-ft.) summit overlooking Lucerne. Once at the top you'll have a panoramic sweep that stretches all the way to Italy. Until the 1600s it was forbidden to climb this mountain because locals feared that Pontius Pilate's angry ghost would cause trouble. According to the legend, his body was brought here by the devil. Queen Victoria made the trip in 1868 and did much to dispel this long-held myth. You can follow in the queen's footsteps.
Discovering the Lakes of Central Switzerland
Experience the country's sparkling lakes with a tour through central Switzerland on the William Tell Express. Begin in Lucerne on a historic paddle-wheel steamer that chugs across the lake while you have lunch. Before the tour is over, you'll have boarded a train on the lake's most distant shore, traversed one of the most forbidding mountain ranges in central Europe (through the relative safety of the St. Gotthard Tunnel), and descended into the lush lowlands of the Italian-speaking Ticino district.
Wandering the Waterfront Promenades
One of the greatest summer pleasures of Switzerland is wandering the palm-lined promenades in the Ticino, the Italian-speaking southern section of the country. The best resorts -- and the best promenades -- are found at Ascona, Locarno, and Lugano. You'll have both lake scenery and the rugged Italian Alps as a backdrop on your stroll. Of course, you can do more than just walk: You'll have the opportunity for swimming, boating, cafe sitting, people-watching, and even shopping. At night, when the harbor lights shine, you can join the Ticinese in their evening stroll.
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