Exploring Switzerland: Lucerne, Interlaken and Geneva
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Exploring Switzerland: Lucerne, Interlaken and Geneva

Exploring Switzerland: Lucerne, Interlaken and Geneva

As Switzerland opens to quarantine-free travel for residents of the GCC, here are some of the most popular sights to take in and things to do in Interlaken, Lucerne and Geneva

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Geneva aerial view Switzerland

On the eve of schools and colleges closing for the summer vacation earlier this year, there was reason to cheer among avid travellers. The Swiss government said that starting June 26, fully vaccinated travellers from the GCC – including UAE residents – could travel to the Alpine country on tourist visas without having to quarantine on arrival, or requiring a pre-travel PCR test. That move opened the doors to a wave of visitors from the GCC, which historically contributes to around one million overnight stays annually and an average spend of CHF420 per day per person.

With the travel routes between the UAE and Switzerland now remaining open – and Switzerland additionally being added to Abu Dhabi’s green list of countries – the flow of tourists doesn’t look likely to slowdown anytime soon.

Specifically, the Swiss Travel Pass has been a boon to visiting tourists. It allows unlimited travel by public transport across the country including buses, trains and boats. Additionally, it also offers free admission to several tourist attractions including over 500 museums, a few mountain excursions such as Rigi, Stanserhorn and Stoos and a 30 per cent discount on SBB RailAway offers.

While you plan your next holiday, here are three famous regions in Switzerland to help you get the best out of your cross-continental trip from the GCC.

There’s plenty to do in the central Swiss region. Opt for the boat tours on Lakes Thun and Brienz – the Swiss Travel Pass should come in handy here. Alternatively, there are several private hikes and excursions that can be enjoyed in this region which received its first visitors as far back as the 17th century.

Visit the Harder Kulm from where you can enjoy commanding views of Interlaken and both its lakes. Move beyond the bridge over the Aare River, next to the Harder Alpine Wildlife Park, and the Harder-Kulm funicular climbs at a 64-degree gradient to an altitude of 1,322 metres where you’ll find an Art Nouveau-style Panorama restaurant.

But for those who want to experience a fuller sense of the scale and size of the towering Swiss Alps around them, head to The Top of Europe – Jungfraujoch where you can view glaciers and peaks higher than 4,000 metres. The Jungfraujoch itself is 3,454 metres above sea level.

While in Jungfraujoch, don’t forget to stop by the Lindt Swiss Chocolate Heaven at a height of about 3,500 metres where you can witness first-hand the Swiss art of making some of the world’s finest chocolates, while also choosing to interact with a virtual Lindt Maître chocolatier to learn how a chocolate bar is made.

If in Interlaken, remember to drop by the Schilthorn – Piz Gloria restaurant that offers you spectacular views of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. Look closely, and you can even see Mont Blanc in France and Germany’s Black Forest on the horizon. The revolving restaurant with table service offers a unique menu – including a special 007-themed burger.

With just weeks to go for the next Bond flick, No Time To Die, it might be well worth a visit to the Bond World 007 exhibition as well in Schilthorn which is based on the 1969 movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Located in the German-speaking quarters of Switzerland, Lucerne is a cultural stronghold steeped in history. When here, visit the Swiss Museum of Transport – the most visited museum in Switzerland – and examine a few of the over 3,000 objects and interactive pieces that charts the development of road, rail and water, air and space travel. For more history, visit the Bourbaki Panorama museum which depicts the episode when tens of thousands of soldiers of the French Army of the East under General Bourbaki, fled the Prussian forces in the winter of 1871 and were interned after crossing into Switzerland.

As for day trips, there’s plenty of them to be had in Lucerne. You can choose one to Mount Rigi, where at one of the villages en route, Vitznau, you can board the historic Rigi Railway, Europe’s first-ever cog railway. It climbs to Rigi Kulm at an altitude of 1,797 metres.

Another day trip can be made to Engelberg and Mount Titlis. Titlis Rotair, the aerial cableway, features the world’s first rotating cable car and will transport you to your Swiss glacier experience.

Geneva ranks as one of the most visited cities in Switzerland, and understandably so. The image of the city is synonymous with that of the Jet d’Eau fountain – which rises 140 metres over the picture-perfect Lake Geneva. The city is also one of the epicentres of the multi-billion-dollar Swiss watchmaking industry. There are plenty of watchmaking manufactures in the city including the likes of Patek Philippe and Roger Dubuis, as well as several other high-end watch stores located in the upscale Rue du Rhône.

In the heart of the city, and only a few minutes walk from the Rue du Rhône, is the Reformation Wall with giant statues of those who led the reformation movement including Jean Calvin, Guillaume Farel, Théodore de Bèze and John Knox. Walk a little further and you’ll find yourself in the heart of the city’s Old Town, dominated by St. Peter’s Cathedral. Climb the 157 steps to the top of the tower for a panoramic view of the city.

As with Lucerne, Geneva too is a cultural hub with plenty of museums. There’s the International Museum of the Reformation, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum and the Patek Philippe Museum.

A 10-minute drive from the Old Town, and you’ll find yourself in the Carouge district with charming architecture and quaint cafés. Geneva is also a major city for technology, science and politics. Visit CERN, where Tim-Berner Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989 while working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research. For your fix of geopolitics, visit the Palais des Nations – International Geneva – the European headquarters of the United Nations where several high-powered international agreements and deals are struck each year. You can wander the halls of this institution, thanks to daily guided tours offered by the facility.

Cross the Rhone river en route to Champel and stop by the Bains district which is the artsy corner of Geneva. The Quartier des Bains Geneve art association is a collection of 18 cultural venues including galleries and exhibition centres such as MAMCO and the Centre d’Art Contemporain. The district has become one of the leading areas to showcase European modern art. The Vernissages Communs exhibition is held thrice annually, so it might be well worth planning your trip around the next exhibition.

You’re never quite far from Lake Geneva wherever you go in the city, and if it’s around noon, it’s best to pack in a boat cruise lunch. Try the Café Léman afternoon dining cruise aboard a Belle Epoque ship.

For those who are still onshore and need a quick sugar rush at any time of the day, opt for the Geneva ‘chocolate tour’ in a 100 per cent electric tuktuk. Discover artisanal chocolate stores and learn from them the inter-generational skill of chocolate making, as well as insider tips of the trade.

Finally, for a bird’s eye view of Geneva city, and almost all the major sights you’ve taken in, head to Salève, where a cable car will whisk you to the top. From here, you can enjoy adventure sports such as hiking, paragliding, mountain biking and even cross-country skiing in winter.

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