After flying into Zurich, I boarded a train to Lugano near the Swiss-Italian border. Traveling with Swiss trains is an experience just as fascinating as your destination. It is the best way to get around. Always on time, the train takes you through a unique diversity of landscapes. With rivers and lakes winding around the snow-capped mountains, the scenery is something your eye will never forget.
Experience it all with only one train ticket. With the Grand Train Tour ticket you can discover Switzerland within a couple of days. You can hop on and hop off the trains wherever you want, and stay as long as you want at each destination. For instance, the Bernina Express connects the chilly north with the warm and sunny south. Setting off from St. Moritz, Chur or Davos, you head for the palms of Ticino (Tee-CHEE-no) close to the Italian border. Nothing beats the first glimpses of glacier ice breaking the horizon!
There are three Cantons (states) in Switzerland German, French and Italian. My first stop was the city of Zurich located in the German Canton. Hopping a train to Baden about a 15-minute ride from Zurich brought me to my first destination.
Baden is a city of about 18,000 inhabitants and founded by the Romans in the 1st century AD, under its former name Aquac Helveticae. It was at this time that the Romans discovered springs of sulphur hot water gushing at the exceptional temperature of 47C or 115F. This is the hottest and richest in mineral thermal waters of Switzerland.
Baden is full of attractions: industry with Nestle Chocolate, ABB robotics, tourism with the Grand Casino of Baden, the spas, the museums, the green areas, the walks along the Limmat River and the surrounding forests. This is only a selection of the numerous wonders of Baden.
A highlight of the trip was the Swiss Knife, factory where every conceivable type of knife was on display and for purchase. Before returning to Baden, we boarded a nostalgic paddle steamer for a tour of the lovely Lake Lucerne. A delicious lunch of Swiss sausages, cheeses, dark bread and wine was provided while we viewed the picturesque landscape.
Before leaving we had a not to be missed shopping expedition in Lucerne with elegant shops and always the incredible Swiss chocolate — a must for gifts back home. Having studied in Luzern many years ago, the trip brought back some wonderful memories.
Moving from the German to the Italian Canton, we came to the Lugano region whose history goes back to the Roman era. Only in 1803 did Lugano become part of the new Swiss Confederation. Through the centuries Lugano has grown from a small fishing village to the largest and most important town in the Italian-speaking Ticino. Due to its pleasant climate, Lugano is one of the all-time favorite year-round resort areas in Switzerland.
We started our visit at the Piazza della Riforma, Lugano’s main square surrounded by inviting bistros, restaurants and is closed to traffic. In the heart of the city center lies the chic Via Nassa, the principal shopping street. In this piazza, you can enjoy an “espresso” or cappuccino coffee and soak up the ambiance and Mediterranean way of life. One can window shop for hours and always see something new and creative.
The little museum dedicated to the German writer Hermann Hesse above Lugano is well worth a visit. A permanent exhibit is set up next to the Nobel Prize winner’s first home and introduces us to the 40 years that Hesse spent in the South of the Alps from 1919. Collected are objects and works of the author, one of the most widely read in the world.
The next stop is my favorite resting spot, the Parco Ciani on the shores of Lake Lugano. This 63,000-square-metre park constitutes the city’s green lung. You can leave the hustle and bustle of the city as you walk along paths with magnificent old trees and beautiful gardens. One can admire the rose gardens and the diverse species of plants.
A tiny gem is the little village of Gandria, which lies at the foot of Monte Bre on the shores of Lake Lugano. The boat ride over is lovely and the nostalgic atmosphere has remained unchanged for a hundred years. It has steep staircases, courtyards with walls and arcades and is a car-free zone. One wouldn’t fit anyway. Sipping one of the best cappuccinos I’ve ever had at a little café overlooking the harbor was the best way to begin the walking tour of Gandria.
Some of the houses date back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Gandria is connected to Lugano by boat and two very enjoyable walks. The Sentiero di Gandria trail develops from the village and is well known for its grottos (taverns). The walk back to Lugano takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes through spectacular scenery.
It is said that Monte Bre way above Lugano is Switzerland’s sunniest spot. It offers a superb scenic view of the Alps and Lugano Bay and is accessible with the cable car. The charming village of Bre is a short walk from the funicular station. This is a particularly interesting cable railway system in which an ascending car counterbalances a descending car.
Mount San Salvatore towers majestically over Lugano, offering a unique perspective of the lake Ceresio, the Lombard plain and the magnificent mountain ranges of the Swiss and Savoy Alps. The church roof with its lookout point offers a stunning panoramic view. The museum unveils the history of Good Death and Prayer, displaying remarkable works of art and objects over the centuries.
After a tour of the San Salvatore museum, one can relax over lunch at the delightful Vetta San Salvatore restaurant, which offers a delicious Mediterranean cuisine, with healthy seasonal products fresh from the local market paired with excellent wine. What more could one ask for with such a superb view.
To my regret, it’s time to leave Lugano and catch the TGV express train to Paris. The train ride will take seven hours through the rustic French countryside. Spacious seats and panoramic windows make for a relaxing trip. Included in the ticket price is a cappuccino or espresso with cookies served mid-afternoon. Also, a food car with sandwiches, beer and wine is available for purchase.
Arriving at Gare du Nord station, I was soon settled in a hotel near the opera in the center of the city. Paris is a walking city, and you are surrounded by cafes, restaurants, boutique shopping and wonderful architecture. A favorite past time is sitting at an outdoor café sipping a cappuccino and watching the people. Having sprained my ankle at the beginning of the trip, this became a much-cherished daily ritual.
The highlight of Paris for me was a visit to the Musee d’Orsay, a converted old train station. the paintings included works by Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, Cezanne and many others. Transported into another world, this is one museum not to be missed and the famous Louvre is nearby. The Terrasse restaurant is excellent for lunch and the main-floor café has delicious coffee. I haven’t had so much coffee in years! It’s simply part of being in Paris. Frequent stops for great coffee or wine is simply one of the very enjoyable things about being in Paris.
It’s hard to go to Paris and not do some simple tourist things. The hop on-hop off big bus will take you all over the city and provides a great overall perspective for later more specific sightseeing trips. The Eiffel Tower, usually visible from a distance, is a perfect landmark.
Paris is magical by night. A dinner-boat ride on the Seine River never gets old.
This is a great way to view the city with a very good five-course meal served with a bottle of wine to the sound of violins and piano.
If nightlife intrigues you, there is always Le Lido, a famous Parisian cabaret with colorful music and dancing!