For centuries, Switzerland has striven to remain aloof from the troubles of the world. Even surrounded by Nazi-occupied Europe, the country managed — narrowly — to preserve its neutrality. Today, the Swiss often maintain, somewhat defensively, that they are not immune to the continent’s problems. But stroll through the tranquil and prosperous streets of Geneva or Zurich, and it is hard to detect even a hint of disharmony. For those wearied by the onslaught of world events, Switzerland still provides a refuge. Everything is clean; everything works; and the people are invariably well dressed, dazzlingly multilingual and conscientiously hospitable to strangers.
On my recent trip, I undertook a circular journey by both car and train. Even though Switzerland is a small country — slightly larger than Maryland but less than half the area of Maine — it has a long history and a rich culture, and on an itinerary of only two weeks, it is necessary to be selective. On this occasion, I decided to bypass most of the major cities and to concentrate on the natural splendor of the lakes and mountains. I traveled at the start of fall, just as the cattle were beginning their seasonal descent from the Alpine pastures. Snow remained only on the highest peaks, but in compensation, it was possible to marvel at the immense glaciers, which are mostly buried in winter. Although I have been to Switzerland half a dozen times at least, I had temporarily forgotten how absurdly beautiful it is: The grandeur of the scenery is a source of constant exhilaration.
On arrival in Geneva, everything seemed completely unchanged. The city’s symbol, the 450-foot Jet d’Eau fountain, continued to hurtle skyward; elegant white ferries with tall yellow funnels plied the serene expanse of the lake; and an international cast of visitors lingered over the watch displays in the luxury boutiques lining the Rue du Rhône. Standing on the Pont du Mont-Blanc, which straddles the green and clear water of the Rhône at its egress from the lake, I could clearly see my three recommended quayside grand hotels: the Beau-Rivage, Le Richemond and the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues.