A couple of decades ago, although it seems as if was more recent, say about 15 years, my girlfriend and I, newly married, honeymooned in Switzerland. The placidity of the surroundings suited us just fine after the tumult needed to seal our lives together. This past June we returned to the scene as empty-nesters on our first holiday without the children who were now grown up enough to attend colleges and use my credit card for an impressive variety of goods and services.
We began in Zurich. On a lake, bisected by the Limmat River, the city had once seemed to me a stodgy place driven by banks. Nowadays, it is very lively. That seems due to the influx of foreigners. So while the main drag--Bahnhofstrasse--is still lined with European-made watches, clothing, and jewelry, most of the shoppers are from Asia and the Middle East. You see as many burkhas and saris as you do dresses and jeans.
A big part of the influx of Chinese, Indian, and Arabic tourists has to do with the rise of their economies. Switzerland has always been costly.
When we came here on our honeymoon, the dollar was equal to about two and a half Swiss francs. Now the exchange is one to one.
We had spent our first night as a married couple at the Eden au Lac and on our return journey we decided to do the same. Eden au Lac is a classic hotel built over 100 years ago right next to the lake with a long promenade beside it. It had been expensive then and was expensive now, but the key thing about dropping bucks in Switzerland is value. The Swiss do not take money for granted. Unlike Italy or France, where the quality of restaurants and hotels within the same starred category can vary wildly, Switzerland really does guarantee that you get what you pay for. Service is also ruthlessly efficient and affable. Those stories about corruption in Italy and indifference in France? They are true. Switzerland, however, takes hospitality seriously.
Our room overlooked the lake and had a shaded verandah. The chef used farm-fresh ingredients. We didn’t scrabble like otters, as we had on our first stay, but the predictability of a long marriage is pleasant and creates a feeling much like the one that comes from staring at a mountain rather than skiing down its slopes.
The value evident in Swiss hotels and restaurants is seen, too, in its transportation system. Using an eight-day train pass, my wife and I traveled easily to Bern, Geneva, and Luzern. The trains are economical and good for the environment.
Bern, which is the capital, offers plush digs like The Bellevue Palace or The Arabella for budget travelers. Its streets are medieval in long stretches. No place in the country has better chocolatiers and bakeries. The city nonetheless seems sleepy in comparison to other comparably large Swiss cities.