When you’re a travel journalist, folks always ask you about the best place to go. I always ask a question in return: What is it you are looking for? Recently, a woman said she wanted a place that was the antidote to all the turmoil in the world and where she could find inner peace without going on a retreat. I thought about it for a minute or two, and the answer was: Switzerland. And here are the reasons I gave her:
1) The physical act of traveling is stressful, and the modes of transportation can be uncomfortable, unreliable, and offer constricted space and poor service. Connections may be inconvenient. But this is not so in Switzerland.
I was dazzled by the way their transportation system works. Virtually everything in the country is reachable by train, bus, or boat. And all of them connect seamlessly to each other. All of them are on time. You hop off a train, board a boat from the same station or pier, get off the boat, take another train, take a bus, and all the timetables are compatible. You can buy a SwissPass for, let’s say, eight days. It comes in first and second classes. Whichever one you buy, it includes all public trains, boats, buses, and museums, and offers serious discounts on funiculars and cable cars; you don’t even have to buy separate tickets or wait in line...and of course, it saves you money.
2) Clean counts. In Switzerland you can feel safe eating, drinking the water, breathing the air, and walking by yourself. Cleanliness is next to godliness in Switzerland. I even witnessed streets being thoroughly cleaned within two hours after a huge festival and parade.
3) Beauty. Nothing erases the darkness within like the beauty without. Whether it’s a towering, snow-covered Alp, or a pristine, glacial lake, Switzerland has cornered the market on spectacular natural scenery.
4) Food. Switzerland prides itself on its local and regional foods and wines. If you think you have eaten “Swiss cheese,” believe me that you haven’t even touched the tip of tip of the tip of the cheese iceberg. Artisanal cheeses abound, and you will never tire of sampling the cheeses made from milk that comes from cows which graze on grass and flowers all summer long on mountain tops.
5) Chocolate. Need I say more?
6) Laughter. In Vevey, a museum opened last year in the home of Charlie Chaplin. Everything is interactive; you can even try on Charlie’s clothes and twirl his cane as you watch film clips from his most ingenious and hilarious films. Every visitor, no matter how young or old, was a child. They giggled and laughed and it has been a long time since I saw such sheer joy anywhere.
7) Giving “mental patients” respect, admiration, and deep appreciation. In l976, Jean Dubuffet founded the Museum of Art Brut (Outsider Art) in Lausanne. Not all of the artists suffer from biochemical and emotional illness, but many do. They, like the other artists, are not products of art schools, and their creations are not driven by market concerns.
Today Outsider Art is a recognized, worldwide art genre, and it all started in Lausanne. Going to the museum is a life-changing experience for anyone who has not encountered the vibrant, brilliant, wild, expansive works of art. How about the room that is covered with intricate maps of a mythical place where people are happy? If you suffer from anxiety or depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, you will feel the stigma attached to it float away and relax into the pleasure of creation.
8) Being in a rootless world where only NOW matters and pop culture rules can be, well, a little empty. In Switzerland—where four languages are spoken and each region has its own customs and culture—heritage is celebrated in costumes, events, parties, food, drink, yodeling, Alphorns, and parades. If you are anywhere in Switzerland where cultural events are happening, you will be welcomed to watch, photograph, or even join in.
9) Politics are not nasty and depressing and toxic. Seven Federal Counselors share power. Yes, you read it right, and they rotate who is President. Many people do not even know who the current President is. And in Appenzell, I met a local who told me they vote on issues with open debate and a show of hands.
10) Swiss people walk a lot. In flat cities and hilly cities. In the Alps, on the prairies., alongside the lakes, and on trails. It is not uncommon to see elderly people with backpacks heading off for the mountains, or coming down from the mountains. People are fit. They value exercise. It makes you want to walk when you are there. And when you walk, you move your muscles and your mind and you feel better.
And that is why I recommended Switzerland to her, and now to you. Bon voyage!
(If you are interested, this website lots of information to help you plan a trip.)