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By Matthew Teller
Published July 28, 2006

The fact that Switzerland turned out to be far more interesting, a good deal more lived-in and not half as expensive as its reputation would have everyone believe, just goes to prove the maxim about taking nothing for granted.

The thought of trying to find an affordable place to stay in St. Moritz, or scrabbling for something positive to say about Geneva’s nightlife, gave me a shiver. It’s a tough job, but someone had to bite the bullet and write about the neatest, cleanest, most docile and most expensive country in Europe. The fact that the place turned out to be far more interesting, a good deal more lived-in and not half as expensive as its reputation would have everyone believe, just goes to prove the maxim about taking nothing for granted.

“In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love; they had 500 years of democracy and peace. And what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” So said Orson Welles as Harry Lime in The Third Man (1949), and never has one throwaway movie line done so much to damage the reputation of a whole country. It took Switzerland a generation or more to emerge from the shadow of such contempt.

Now one of the most visited countries in Europe, it remains one of the least understood. The bald facts are that until national reconciliation in 1848, Switzerland was the most consistently turbulent, war-torn area of Europe (so much for brotherly love), and yet, both before and after it found stability, it brought forth such literary and artistic pioneers as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Paul Klee and Hermann Hesse (so much for the cuckoo clock). Incidentally, the cuckoo clock was actually invented in Germany, and no self-respecting Swiss would be seen dead buying one for their own home.

The best part of a year’s probing into all corners of the country reinforced and shattered stereotypes in equal measure. I’m happy to report that Swiss chocolate is even better in its country of origin than abroad: the furtive pleasure of a mug of creamy homemade hot chocolate on a January afternoon at Café Schober, a Dickensian confectionery shop on a cobbled lane in the heart of Zürich’s medieval Old Town, still lingers in my memory. Swiss cheese was another sensuous delight, which surpassed its reputation: I spent a happy half-hour observing the procedures of cheese-making at a dairy in the rustic Emmental region, followed by a trip to the adjacent cheese counter to jostle over little bags containing delicious bite-sized cubes of Emmental, endearingly known as Schnouserli, or Nibbles

To dispel the myth of the Swiss being boring, however, you only ha

  Travel notes




Situated between Italy, France, Germany and Austria, Switzerland is at the heart of Europe and one of its major rail hubs. Accordingly, train travel is still the cheapest and most common way to arrive (the most scenic, too!). Flight options are also numerous, both from the rest of Europe and North America. Most major international carriers service either Zurich or Geneva and Swiss International Airlines (formerly Swissair) offers daily nonstops to both from New York, Philadelphia, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles and Montreal (check for availability).


Accommodation isn't as expensive as you might think, and is nearly always excellent. Tourist offices can often book rooms for free in their area; they normally have a display-board on the street (or at the train station) with details of every hotel, often with a courtesy phone. Hostels (Jugendherberge; Auberge de Jeunesse; Albergo/Ostello per la Gioventù) represents great value for money (always book ahead June–Sept). HI hostels ( are of a universally high standard. A rival group known as Swiss Backpackers ( has lively hostels that are less institutional, often in prime town-centre locations, and priced to compete. Campsites are clean and well equipped; the higher the altitude the more limited the opening times – many close Oct–May. Camping outside official sites is illegal. Hot