Surprising Switzerland

Hilton Smith riding the rails in Switzerland
Switzerland packs so much into such a small country.  Here everything works together in harmony in a country of amazing landscapes, unending vistas, charming villages and engaging cities.  The Swiss Travel Pass not only works on almost all trains, but also buses, lake ferries, local transit systems and over 400 museums. There is practically no town or village that is not connected by public transport.  With the frequency and diversity of this coordinated system, there is generally no need for advanced reservations. 
I arrived at Zurich Airport and immediately hopped on a train to Zermatt, in the shadow of The Matterhorn (the real one).  I was there about 4:30 p.m. I had been in a car, an airplane and a couple of trains that day.  My final leg to the amazing Mont Cervin Palace Hotel was in a horse drawn carriage! Zermatt is an amazing destination and this hotel, with my suite and balcony overlooking The Matterhorn, was the perfect place.  A mix of contemporary and traditional, it was very comfortable and well located. 
That evening, as a part of the Zermatt Summer Food Festival, I took about an 80-minute gondola ride on a movable fondue feast, past the shadow of The Matterhorn, with a full 3-course dinner with wines.  A dining table inside the gondola, as well as a crew at each stop to change courses, made everything go seamlessly.  And wow! It was amazing cheese fondue.  
The town itself reminds me of Aspen, in a different style but with all the same amenities.  It is family friendly, with hiking trails in summer to complement it's challenging skiing in winter. The mix of shops, lounges, bars and dining is superb. Here it is all pedestrian, with just electric service vehicles, shuttlesm(and horses) to get people and goods around.  There are no private cars allowed.  
Then it was a couple of trains north back to Zurich for a few days there. Yes, it was about 3 1/2 hours but the scenery was amazing as it almost always is in Switzerland.  
My stay in Zurich was at the iconic and beautiful Baur au Lac, right on the doorstep of the lake, a very good location. Throughout Switzerland in summer, locals and visitors are swimming in the lakes and rivers, which are extremely clean. Special waterproof pouches hold all the clothes, keys, cell phones, etc., as the swimmer holds it while enjoying the dip.  If the swimmer ends up downstream, they simply change and take the next tram or bus home.  
Zurich was in the midst of another food festival in the Old Town, so the streets were packed.  Food, as well as the rare Swiss wines and beers, were highlights.  It is hard to obtain Swiss wines outside Switzerland, so enjoy them while you can.  
One day I did a wonderful excursion with a one-hour train to Basel and a wonderful and amazing lunch at the historic Hotel Les Trois Rois in the heart of Basel.  This Swiss historic hotel is tops in service and still locally owned with a house-proud staff.  The lunch along the river was one of the best of the trip.  I did a short city tour of Basel on this quiet Sunday, but even here were hidden gems.  Johann Wanner is one of many Swiss shop owners with those unique items fading from world view into a world of sameness.  His Christmas Shop is one of a few open on Sunday and it is filled with thousands of items, all handmade in Switzerland. It is important to note that most retail places are closed on Sunday so you need to plan your trip accordingly.
One of the afternoon trains to Lucerne was next, and about an hour later I was there.  I have been to Lucerne before, but there is always something new to see.  A stroll along the lake, exploring the narrow streets and bigger squares and, of course, a walk through the famous covered bridge made it a satisfying travel day.  Then there was dinner and I was off back to Zurich, about another hour's train ride.
This is the miracle of Switzerland: where easy access, quality accommodations, spectacular scenery, an unrivaled transit system and fresh and creative food and wine can add up to a welcoming, comfortable and easy adventure.  
The end of my two-week trip was highlighted by the surprising and beautiful new Swiss Senator and Business Lounges at Concourse E at Zurich Airport.  Just opened February 1, these new lounges are located in the intercontinental gates area.  They are stunning with almost every possible facility and service. Those with admission privileges should not miss them.  
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