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ASCONA, TI

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HOME AT FIRST's

SWI  +  ZERLAND

SIX SPECTACULAR LODGING LOCATIONS

ACTIVE HOLIDAYS

— PICNIC IN THE PARK —
 THE JUNGFRAU-ALETSCH WORLD HERITAGE SITE

(Click here to see a larger panorama of these famous Swiss mountains.)

Photo © HOME AT FIRST

Experience Life in Switzerland
SWITZERLAND IS MUCH MORE THAN AN ALPINE PLAYGROUND, BUT NEVER LESS.
WITH A CENTRALLY LOCATED SWISS APARTMENT OF YOUR OWN, YOU CAN READILY
EXPLORE YOUR SWISS HOME REGION OF GREAT NATURAL BEAUTY AND CULTURAL INTEREST.
THERE WILL BE CHOCOLATE-BOX VILLAGES TO DISCOVER, AND — MOST PLACES — MOUNTAIN-RIMMED LAKES TO CRUISE, CITIES WITH SUPERLATIVE SHOPPING AND IMPORTANT MUSEUMS. THERE WILL BE SCENIC TRAIN RIDES, AND EVEN MORE SCENIC POSTAL BUS RIDES. AND THEN THERE WILL BE THE HEART-FLUTTERING AERIAL CABLE CARS SWINGING SUSPENDED AMONG THE SNOWCAPS. THE ALPS WILL BE A FOCUS: FOR HIKING, FOR CYCLING, FOR CLIMBING ON FOOT OR BY CABLEWAY, BUT ALWAYS FOR GAWKING, FROM THE TRAIN, THE BUS, THE BOAT, OR FROM THE COMFORT OF YOUR OWN SWISS VACATION APARTMENT, BOOTS ON OR OFF.

A SAMPLER OF THINGS TO SEE AND DO

 

— EXPRESS YOURSELF
THE BERNINA EXPRESS AT BRUSIO, SWITZERLAND, NEAR TIRANO, ITALY.
 ALONG THE ALBULA-BERNINA RAILWAY WORLD HERITAGE SITE

Photo copyright Home At First

           Switzerland is, among other things, home to more of the world's great train rides than anywhere else. Some, like the Glacier Express, are famous. Others, like the Centovalli, less so. Of all the great train rides of Switzerland, only the Bernina Express between Thusis and Tirano — and especially that portion of the line from Pontresina across the Bernina Pass steeply down to the line's end at Tirano, Italy, has earned World Heritage Site status. The Bernina Line has our vote as Switzerland's top rail journey, too. We bet you'll agree.

 

— GET UP A HEAD OF STEAM —
BRIENZER ROTHORN STEAM LOCOMOTIVE PUSHES TWO CARS TOWARD THE SUMMIT.

Photo copyright Home At First

           Then there are train rides that go nowhere, slowly building the spectacle until you finally understand why they built this crazy railway. Switzerland has more than a few of these that lead from someplace low to someplace very high, and very open. Our favorite is the Brienzer Rothorn Bahn, a railway that uses green tea kettles to push red, open-windowed passenger cars steeply up past unconcerned cows to the lofty knife ridge just below the summit of the Brienzer Rothorn. The views are grand. Of course there is a restaurant at the top. But the ride is the thing, building anticipation like a great suspense film before rewarding you with a climactic view of the alpine summits of the Bernese Oberland.

 

— TAKE A CRUISE
LAKE BRIENZ BELOW THE BRIENZER ROTHORN EAST OF INTERLAKEN.

Photo copyright Home At First

           If the steamer up the Brienzer Rothorn is all about suspense surrounded by pastoral beauty, the cruise across Lake Brienz — at the base of the Brienzer Rothorn mountain — is all about relaxed tranquility surround by nature's majesty. Neatly, the boat ride ends at the chalet town of Brienz just across the street from the station platforms where the curiously slanted steam locomotives of the Brienzer Rothorn Bahn pant impatiently.

 

— TAKE A CHANCE —
RIDE THE OPEN, LIGHT FUNICULAR BETWEEN THE GELMERSEE AND HANDEGG.

Photo copyright Home At First

           Switzerland is often unfairly characterized as a theme park disguised as a nation. Stereotypes, however, must come from somewhere. We nominate the private — but open to the public — power company funicular railway between Handegg near the Grimsel Pass and the water power dam at Gelmersee as a ride to make Disney or Six Flags jealous. Not so much the ride up to the lake. It's the roller coaster ride back down the hill that will make you lose your fear of flying forever.

 

— TAKE THE BUS —
TO SAN CARLO, END OF LINE 62.333 AT THE ALPINE END OF TICINO'S REMOTE BAVONA VALLEY.

Photo copyright Home At First

           In Switzerland, where trains and boats don't go, other forms of transportation probably do. Wherever there is a mailbox, the post office must deliver and collect mail. Many mailboxes are found at the ends of remote valleys, often beautiful locations far from crowded resorts and tourist meccas. The roads to and from these mailboxes are sometimes torturous and dramatic. The biggest vehicles that travel these rural byways probably belong to the Swiss Post, the nation's second largest employer, which operates more than 850 bus routes over more than 7,300 route miles in Switzerland and neighboring countries. Postage stamps alone do not pay for the postal bus service. Passengers — often including children on their way to/from school — use the postal buses for adventurous scenic rides full of local color to places. As part of Switzerland's fully integrated transportation network, postal buses typically interchange passengers with trains, boats, and cable cars they meet along their routes.

 

— TAKE TO THE HILLS —
GONDOLAS ARRIVING AT MÄNNLICHEN FROM GRINDELWALD
 INSIDE  THE JUNGFRAU-ALETSCH WORLD HERITAGE SITE

Photo copyright Home At First

           Cable cars of all sorts — from ground-hugging funiculars to gigantic aerial cable cars that hang hundreds of feet over the ground — go places unreachable by train, boat, or postal bus. In winter, of course, these conveyances carry skiers to the top of their runs, and largely run empty back down again. But in summer, these lifts — including small gondolas like the long Grindelwald–Männlichen line passing in front of the Eiger, above — carry walkers and gawkers to high points, and, much of the time back down again. What had started as a seasonal operation is now nearly as popular in summer as in winter, and a wonderfully easy and scenic way of scaling the Alps.

 

— TAKE A BREAK —
TAKE IN THE VIEW — THE BERNINA ALPS FROM FUORCLA SURLEJ.

Photo copyright Home At First

           The Alps are fit for athletes of all ages, genders, and abilities. And, while many alpine sports are serious competitions, hiking at altitude need not be one of them. For one, the comprehensive Swiss transportation network enables reliable, frequent, convenient, and safe access to many of high alpine places which are logical start and end points for walking among the peaks and the clouds. For two, Swiss trails are graded, maintained, and marked with blazes and signs that often include altitude and march-time information to the next transportation point. The above seat lets hikers take in one of Switzerland's best views — the Bernina Alps at the south end of the Roseg Valley on the border with Italy. Reaching this seat requires walking about 90-120 minutes (for walkers of reasonable fitness) and an altitude change of about 391m (1,283': 565' down followed by 718'up). Start point: Station Murtèl on the aerial cable way from Surlej to Corvatsch. At Station Murtèl, you simply follow the signs pointing the trail to Fuorcla Surlej (Surlej Pass), the saddle between Piz Surlej and Piz Corvatsch. There at the pass is a Berghaus, which sells food and drink and has a grand view of the Bernina Alps. If you bring your own picnic, you can sit on the natural rock outcropping in front of the Berghaus and enjoy the view for free, as above. And how do you get to the Corvatsch aerial cable way valley station at the town of Surlej? Take the bus from the main street of Pontresina. It goes hourly and takes 43 minutes without changing buses. How to get back home? Reverse your journey and have a great view of the Albula Alps over St. Moritz as you head back to Station Murtèl. Or, if you want more hiking, follow the trail down from the Berghaus into the Roseg Valley, then the valley path that becomes a road leading back into Pontresina. 4-6 more hours, depending upon how many breaks you take.

 

— TEST THE WATER —
BUSENALP NEAR MÜRREN — WITHIN THE JUNGFRAU-ALETSCH WORLD HERITAGE SITE

Photo copyright Home At First

           Taking the bus or the train or a boat or a lift to get to the trailhead is often part of the fun of hiking. But in four of six Home At First Swiss destinations — Kandersteg, Zermatt, Pontresina, and Mürren — it is possible to start your hike by walking out the front door of your vacation home. As for what to bring along — you don't need more than a day pack stocked with sun and rain protection, a change of shirts, a jacket or windbreaker, some blister ointment and bandages, a picnic with fruit, sandwich, and chocolate, and one or two liters of water or tea. Depending upon your route and your stamina, you may want to bring hiking poles. Good boots? Always appropriate — but break them in before coming to Switzerland so you won't need to use the blister ointment and bandages. About that food and water you'll carry with you. As long as you are hiking below vegetation line and above the active cow/goat/sheep pastureland, you will be able to fill your water bottles from streams. Otherwise, when you encounter water troughs in pastureland that are fed with open, running water from a spigot, a pipe, or a hose, you can fill your bottles with fresh, cold, delicious alpine spring water. See a sign posted at the trough? Don't read German, French, Italian, or Romansch? Don't take a chance. There will be more troughs without signs someplace not too far ahead.

 

— WALK THE DOG —
NEAR BLAUHERD ABOVE ZERMATT

Photo copyright Home At First

           The fact is, you see few animals in the Alps — wild or domesticated — other than grazing cows, sheep, and goats. Up in the heights, it is possible to hear and occasionally see chamois, ibex, marmots, and — rarely — a fox. Dogs — except those used for attending livestock — are almost as rare as foxes. In active pastureland, dogs must be on leads to be sure they do not disturb the herds and flocks. Plus, dogs are not generally welcome in hotels and vacation apartments, so few tourists bring along their pets.  So this sighting of a non-working dog without a leash on the trail ahead of his owners is quite unusual. Even here at The Mutterhorn. (Sorry...)

 

— WALK THE PLANK —
FIRST ABOVE GRINDELWALD, BERNESE OBERLAND IN THE JUNGFRAU-ALETSCH WORLD HERITAGE SITE

Photo copyright Home At First

           More and more extreme attractions have been popping up across "theme park Switzerland". Many regions offer via ferrata, klettersteigs, canyoning, bungy jumping, white water rafting, forest ropeways, climbing walls, zip lines, and other artificial, pulse-raising adventures. We have seen the young people line up with fistfuls of money to test their nerve. While we wish we were younger, we remain quite satisfied with the physical challenges of alpine walking, and excited enough by some of the postal bus routes and cable car rides we have taken to and from the trailhead. For those who want the thrill of open heights while communing with the Eiger North Face, there's a fairly new Cliff Walk at the First gondola station high above Grindelwald in the Bernese Oberland. Ride up on the gondola; walk the Cliff Walk to the plank; take a selfie or two; have a snack at the terrace restaurant; then zip line down at 50mph to Schreckfield, the next lower station; take the gondola down from Schreckfield to the next station, Bort; rent a trottibike scooter at Bort and descend steeply to Grindelwald. Similar experiences are available throughout Switzerland. If a good squirt of adrenaline builds your appetite, you can readily get your daily dose in the Swiss Alps.

 

— STORM THE CASTLE —
CASTELLO MONTEBELLO SEEN FROM CASTELLO GRANDE, BELLINZONA, TICINO
THE BELLINZONA CASTLES & FORTIFICATIONS WORLD HERITAGE SITE

Photo copyright Home At First

           Switzerland is perhaps the world's oldest continuous democracy, tracing the beginnings of its confederation to a meadow above Lake Luzern in 1291 when three central Swiss states swore allegiance one-to-another for mutual defense and mutual trade. Over the year the Swiss Confederation of small states grew. At first German-speaking states joined, and Switzerland remained principally German-speaking until Napoleonic times, when a new wave of states — called cantons in Switzerland — joined Switzerland seeking safety, security, mutual defense, and mutual trade just like the first cantons. The large eastern canton of Graubünden, and several French-speaking southwestern cantons, plus the Italian-Swiss canton of Ticino all officially joined Switzerland in the early decades of the 19th century. Switzerland wasn't always a peaceful, neutral nation. Before the creation of the Helvetic Republic at the start of the 19th century, turbulence and warfare was common among the Swiss cantons. Three medieval castles in Bellinzona, Ticino, mark the centuries when Italian-Switzerland was a sought-after prize by the armies of Italy, France, and the old Swiss Confederation. So important a crossroads Bellinzona — where three valleys meet at the southern foot of the Gotthard Pass — that its three castles have been recognized as a World Heritage Site.

 

— CHASE RAINBOWS —
VIA BORGO, ASCONA

Photo copyright Home At First

           Climbing mountains. Climbing castle walls. Climbing in and out of trains, boats, buses, and cable cars. Is Switzerland all about climbing? It's often said that the Swiss live in a vertical world. But that's not completely true. The horizontal can be as interesting — if not as heart-racing — as the vertical. Take Ascona, as an example. There are lovely walks through town that lead to surprising discoveries that may take your breath away without leaving you breathless. Walk the promenades along Lake Maggiore in Ascona and Munusio by Locarno. Stroll the main streets of Zermatt, Kandersteg, Pontresina, and Mürren, especially early in the morning to buy fresh bread and pastries at the bakery, or in the evening after a filling supper, or on a rainy day when going into the mountains isn't such a good plan. There are rainbows in town, too.

 

— STOP FOR TEA —
HANGING OUT IN MÜRREN — IN THE JUNGFRAU-ALETSCH WORLD HERITAGE SITE

Photo copyright Home At First

           The Swiss do it, too. They stop for a light meal or snack around 4PM. (They call it "Z'vieri", the four o'clock coffee break.) Mostly, they don't drink tea. Their coffee is outstanding. Their beer is even better. And their white wine is crisp, cold, and refreshing. Their light afternoon meal can be anything from dessert pastries to sandwiches to dried meat slices and crumbly curls of flavorful mountain cheese. It's easy to find a place to stop for "Z'vieri" along the trail, in the dining car, in villages, cities, towns, and, most economically, on your vacation apartment's balcony or patio terrace. En Guetä! Bon appétit! Buon appetito! Bien appetit!

 

— ATTEND A CONCERT —
FOLKLORE EVENING AT MÜRREN'S SPORTCENTER/TOURIST OFFICE
 — WITHIN THE JUNGFRAU-ALETSCH WORLD HERITAGE SITE

Photo copyright Home At First

           Switzerland after dark can be, well, pretty dark. Especially in small alpine villages and towns. Alpine people tend to  hit the hay early, so they can get up early to cut the hay. But in Ascona, Locarno, Zermatt, Pontresina, Kandersteg, and — as shown here — even in the small village of Mürren, evenings come with opportunities. Restaurants stay busy and cozy until well after dark. There are often special performances available, too, including Swiss music and dancing performed by groups wearing the traditional costumes of their home regions. These evenings are fun social events attended by local folk and visitors, who sit together at long tables and exchange greetings and conversation between performances. It's fun to get to know the Swiss at a relaxed, social gathering. The Swiss show that getting to know us is fun, too. And sometimes the concert hall can be as much a treat for the eyes as it is for the ears.

 

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