By Kathryn Varnes

Switzerland is a beautiful alpine country snuggled around France, Germany and Italy. Hence, it is an ethnically diverse country, and you will hear four or more languages spoken there (English is the primary language of Geneva and Zurich) depending on which part of the country you may be located.

Alpine CountryWe flew into Zurich and rented a car where we spent a couple of nights taking in all to see in one of the world’s premiere financial capitals. Zurich is divided into the left bank and right bank by the Limmat River, which flows down from Lake Zurich. A very cosmopolitan city, Zurich has a main train station which can take you anywhere in Europe, such as elegant stores, fabulous restaurants and the famous Fraumunster Church, which dates back to the ninth century.  The chance to see the Marc Chagall windows is worth the visit alone as well as the festive mix of locals and travelers from all over Europe and the world.

Another fabulous Zurich site is St. Peter’s cathedral with its big spire and beautiful clock that faces the city. We spent time meandering through the cobblestone streets of old town Zurich enjoying the architecture, shopping and eats.

Typical Zurich cuisine is similar to that of Germany – sausages, pork knuckles, sauerkraut, pretzels and beer.

From Zurich, we drove to Lucerne and what we found to be the most charming Swiss town. Lucerne is most famous for its chapel bridge, which was built in the 14th century. Despite some fires and local conflicts, much of the original bridge and its artwork have survived. The bridge has a water tower in the middle of it that at one time served as a town prison.

Not the easiest place to get to as our GPS had us driving in circles is Lucerne’s Lion Monument, which was carved into the side of a mountainside by a Danish sculptor in the early 19th century. The giant work of art features a dying lion and is a memorial to the Swiss Army Guards who were massacred in Paris during the French Revolution. It really is a site worth seeing.

Our third stop was in the lovely little town of Gruyere – yes, home of the famous cheese.  We stayed in one of the most beautiful areas there and in Fribourg where its namesake 12th century castle is the prime attraction. The cobblestone street leading up to the castles is closed to automobiles and is flanked by cute stores and restaurants. The smell of Roquefort and Gruyere cheese wafts from practically every storefront.  One dish we enjoyed on our New Year’s Eve dinner was made in a skillet combining eggs, potatoes and lots of Gruyere. Combine that with fantastic raclettes and fondues, and we were in cheese heaven.

Another can’t-miss stop in Gruyere is the Cailler Chocolate factory and museum. This is the place where milk chocolate was first produced using the milk from local cows, and they offer an informative and entertaining tour. The best part of the tour was the next to last stop where you can sample any and all of their types of chocolate before ending it all in their gift shop where we supplemented the local economy with lots of yummy gifts to take home. ◆