Engraving of the Kailas temple in Ellora, as printed in The Illustrated London News in 1876.
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A thousand miles over two biospheres, four linguistic and cultural regions, five Alpine passes that are 2,000 metres above sea level, 11 Unesco World Heritage sites and 22 significant lakes: the Grand Tour of Switzerland is a trip on which the best of this scenic republic unravels along the way. What’s more, the Swiss tourism authorities have made it marvellously easy. Maps to scale, route options, doable distances, places to stay, things to see and do—nothing is left to the imagination.
Skipping highways (unless they make the most pragmatic travel sense), the Grand Tour’s planners have taken care to chart courses most suited for picturesque meanderings. Of the more than 100 things to see, 44 are billed top attractions, and even with a driving time of at least five hours a day (reasonably calculated somewhere between a quick jaunt and a leisurely cruise), you will need at least a week to complete the core of the tour, or longer, depending on where you begin and which excursion tempts you off it.
Travel anytime between April and October, and pick from a clutch of recommended starting legs of the journey: Basel-Neuchâtel (165km) or Geneva- St George (53km) or Chiasso-Bellinzona (109km). Cars and motorbikes are your best bet, and the Grand Tour is all about flexibility, but planning a clockwise route works better, especially for cities with one-way streets, and for entering and exiting highways (or what the Swiss call motorways). Terraced vineyards, rolling hills, history-rich towns, mountain villages straight out of children’s classics, azure lakes and lofty peaks—the Tour has them all. Take in the awesome sweep of the Rhône and Aletsch glaciers; board a heritage paddle streamer to the romantic Giessbach Falls; stop by at the three castles of Bellinzona, among the biggest fortified complexes in Europe; spend hours at the museums of Basel; absorb the mesmerising landscape of the Doubs river; head up to the highest railway station in the Continent, Jungfraujoch, but also drive over to the stunning Alpine vistas of the Lauterbrunnen valley—there’s so much to enjoy that you wouldn’t want to go by a watertight itinerary. And from 2016, you can expect official signposting for the Grand Tour.
The journey is the destination, they say of some experiences. The Grand Tour of Switzerland more than qualifies, of course, as much for where it goes as for how beautifully it gets there (www.grandtour. myswitzerland.com/en).
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