Have the words ‘Grand Tour’ in Switzerland meant taking in the unparalleled views while riding the scenic mountain railways? Well, it’s time for a bit of culture in your life, the manmade kind.
For all its rather obvious charms, Switzerland is also a land steeped in history which has over the last few centuries seen the nation prosper in technology and the fine arts. And the best way to access all this? Through a museum tour, of course. The nation may look small, but you would be well advised to do some homework before embarking on any such trip–there are museums and museums. All of Switzerland’s leading cities (and towns) have multiple museums worth visiting and unless you are posted in the country, make a list. Being sort of inclined to history and art, mine went something like this:
(MUSEUM OF ART)
I actually started with a modern art museum, though Kunsthaus houses works by leading European masters from previous centuries such as Monet, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Manet and many others. I was more interested in Swiss painters, and the permanent collection here includes Alberto Giacometti, whose skinny, raw images set the trend in sculpture for decades. The Met in NYC has a part of his works, but the most significant ones are here in a gallery of their own. Then there is the largest Edvard Munch collection outside of Norway. For fans of modern art, satiate yourself with Picasso, Chagall, Kandinsky, etc. Actually, as the largest art museum in the country, there’s so much more, including travelling exhibitions. Another pleasure, this centrally located museum is exceptionally well lit and with a new extension complete, art aficionados need to budget quite a few hours, or till they can no longer stand! No, nobody said museum tours were easy on your feet, nor are there people serving free champagne!
Kunsthaus, Heimplatz 1, 8001 Zurich; Fee: CHF 23; kunsthaus.ch
(SWISS NATIONAL MUSEUM)
As you approach Landesmuseum, you would be forgiven for thinking you are entering a fairytale castle, with turrets and all. It was built as one, opening in 1898. Look again, the street it is located on should give a clue — Museumstrasse. This is Switzerland’s main museum, and for those who want a quick round of Swiss history,
and have time for just one museum, this is the place to come to. From prehistory–yes, Switzerland is in the Neanderthal neighbourhood, through Roman and medieval centuries, there’s already a lot on offer even before the comprehensive recent past sections. Look out for the Gothic gallery. House proud visitors can check out Swiss furnishings at the Collections Gallery. The west wing is under refurbishment and the exhibition of Swiss design furnishings will not be on display until 2020. However, you can see the clothes, tapestries, glassware at the Collections Gallery in the southern wing. A new wing opened just last year, and complement the architecture of the older wing. Look out for surprises, as this is a tech-savvy museum. And updated–it even covers Christmas markets from this decade.
Museumstrasse 2, 8001 ZÃ¼rich, Switzerland;
Fee: CHF 10; nationalmuseum.ch/e/
MUSÃ‰E ARIANA (ARIANA MUSEUM)
Unlike watches, for me, pottery and ceramics are a weakness, and to have an entire museum dedicated to this beautiful human endeavour was irresistible for me. Well, for starters, the building, at once pretty and regal, could itself charm even the most hardened. The insides are more for the devotees of pottery, stoneware, earthenware, porcelain and well, pretty art. European styles make up most of the collection, but there are significant sections of oriental and Islamic art as well. This collection, spanning about 12 centuries,
once again, for me, highlighted just how much precision and artistry humans achieved even without today’s contemporary high tech tools. The array of hues alone could make you wonder about their sources, given the lack of modern tech’s ability to fabricate colours.
Avenue de la Paix 10, 1202 GenÃ¨ve;
Fee: CHF 8; museums.ch/org/en/
MUSÃ‰E DE L’ELYSÃ‰E
(MUSEUM OF PHOTOGRAPHY)
This landmark collection of more than 100,000 photographs tells the story of the discipline itself. From early photographs to contemporary works, the curatorial excellence ensures that you might need to spend more time here than you budgeted for. Probably not for selfie lovers. Quick trivia, the museum has Charlie Chaplin’s entire collection of photographs, more than 10,000 in all.
Avenue de l’ElysÃ©e 18, 1006 Lausanne; Fee: CHF 8; elysee.ch/accueil/
MUSÃ‰E INTERNATIONAL D’HORLOGERIE
(INTERN’L MUSEUM OF HOROLOGY)
Well, it comes as no surprise at all that Switzerland has multiple watch museums. For the horology enthusiast, consensus dictates that this is the one that must be paid homage to first. Fans point to it as the best watch and clock museum in the world. My interest in watches is, well, tepid at best (my current watch, off Amazon, cost me a princely `299), so I went with some hesitation. Well, it’s an art and human endeavour museum disguised as a watch house. The section on the history of timepieces alone makes one appreciate the creativity and effort, always intricate, aesthetic and flawless. Meandering through myriad pioneering clocks, seemingly vying for who’s the most impressive, could well turn you into a horo-phile. For this visit, make time. Rue des MusÃ©es 29, 2300 La Chaux-de-Fonds; Fee: CHF 15; chaux-de-fonds.ch/musees/mih
Well, actually there are hundreds more museums, including famous ones such as the MusÃ©e Olympique at Lausanne or the Museum d’Histoire naturelle in Geneva. Among the newer museums are the FIFA World Football Museum in Zurich and the CERN Univers de particules, in Geneva. Did I forget Chaplin’s World (Corsier-sur-Vevey), Matterhorn Museum (Zermatt), or Technorama (Winterthur)? Well, something for next time.
Swiss offers non-stop flights from Delhi and Mumbai, with a flight time of about seven hours. A round trip in economy class costs about â‚¹55,000, though less expensive connecting flights are available.
Indians need a visa to visit Switzerland. The visa form can be downloaded at (vfsglobal.ch) and stated turnaround time is 15 days, though in practice in takes less time.
Swiss Franc (CHF) is the currency, though Euros are also accepted in some places. 1 CHF = â‚¹66
What to Buy
Most museums in Switzerland have souvenir shops, even smaller ones. Of course, some sell actual original art too, but we shall talk of that elsewhere. Landesmuseum has exhibition souvenirs and an extensive selection of books and even a toy archaeology set for kids. Kunstmuseum has lovely reprints, usually about CHF 25. Check out MusÃ©e de l’elysÃ©e’s lovely exhibition catalogues. MusÃ©e Olympique, of course, is teeming with memorabilia from the Olympics, not just replica torches and mascot pins, but even tableware and bath linen. The FIFA World Football Museum too has World Cup Trophy memorabilia, as well as custom-made items in the FIFA World Football Museum design. CERN Shop offers low tech mugs and T-shirts and pens, etc, though they are only available at the museum. And, of course, toys and footballs. For Chaplin fans, Chaplin’s World offers exclusive souvenirs and all his films in DVDs. Look out for the posters, or maybe you just want the signature hat and cane. As for watches, just ask any watch shop, and your budget will determine their guidance.