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At 630 pages long the Rough Guide to Switzerland is a comprehensive guide book offering practical advice, useful maps, language guides and plenty of background information and suggestions for further reading. It is quite a hefty tome, however, and is not, perhaps the sort of thing you want to carry around with you all the time. So who would want this and why?
I bought this guidebook to prepare for a trip to Geneva. It was only going to be a short trip but I could expect to visit some other parts of Switzerland in the next couple of years so it seemed like a useful investment. I also hoped to get out of Geneva at least for a day and with several other sizeable cities and some other notable attractions in the region I expected that I would use this guidebook for a little more than just Geneva.
The Rough Guides have pretty much stuck to the same format over the years and in that respect it's quite comforting to own one knowing that there are certain areas aspects of the travel experience that will be well covered. I've always been of the opinion that the name "Rough Guides" suggests that the series is aimed at backpackers and budget travellers but throughout this guide care has been taken to give restaurant and accommodation recommendations across several price brackets which is particularly useful when visiting Switzerland because (for Brits and Americans at least) the prices are almost eye watering. There are specific recommendations but there is also using general advice such as which are the cheaper areas for eating and drinking.
Although this guide tries to some extent to cover both town and country but primarily this is a book aimed at the towns and cities of Switzerland; some more remote villages are mentioned but I'm really trying to say is that this is not the book for you if you want in depth information about ski resorts and other mountain activities. If you are interested in cultural activities, you'll find them well covered here.
There are a few pages of colour photographs at the front of the book and the standard of the pictures is good even if some would have benefitted from being a bit larger. Rough Guides used to have these photo pages dotted around the book and still do have a few colour inserts but now these tend to be a special feature covering some aspect of the country and its culture; in this book there are four nicely illustrated pages on Swiss cheese and chocolate.
Additionally there are plenty of regional and street maps, and additional black and white photographs though these don't look so good on these pages, with some looking rather dark and indistinct. Overall there's a fair balance between text and illustrations which is important as there are a lot of words in this book and it's really necessary to break up the big chunks of prose.
The tone is friendly yet authoritative but, disappointingly, I didn't feel that the text conveyed much in the way of passion or enthusiasm for Switzerland on the part of the author. A note on the inside back cover tells me that he has also written the Rough Guides to the Italian lakes and Jordan respectively but there's no mention of how much time he has actually spent in Switzerland and, personally, it's the guidebooks that are written by people who've spent years in a country that I usually find are the best.
Geneva, although not the capital, is given the most pages and is really excellent. As well as describing the most obvious tourist attractions, there were some more unusual suggestions such as visiting a housing estate with some rather memorable architecture and by taking up this suggestion we stumbled on a lovely quiet area of the city with some lovely shops and an adorable cafe-bakery where we ate delicious croissants for breakfast for a fraction of what the same meal would have cost in the heart of Geneva.
This is a great book for anyone who's going to be spending a while in Switzerland or who envisages going there on several occasions. It is, however, just a bit heavy and cumbersome to go in a day-pack, or in your carry on luggage if you're flying with hand luggage only. Rough Guides also have the Pocket Series and titles include Barcelona, London and New York. I think it would be great if they did a Geneva Pocket Guide as so many people visit the city but don't necessarily venture much further.
Although it may lack a little personality this is still a professional and comprehensive guide book offering detailed practical information and a well researched and written selection of cultural and historical texts.
Full priced at £14.99 but available new through Amazon priced at a reasonable £8.04 (including postage). Kindle edition costs £10.99
I have visited alot of Europe, although not nearly as much of it as I would like to visit, but so far on my travels, Switzerland is the most beautiful place I have ever been to. I am not about to launch into an essay of the type I would usually write about places I have visited, as I admit that I don't know as much as perhaps you would like to know about the place, as I went there six years ago at the tender age of 15. However, it is the one place that has had such an impact on me, that it is a dream of mine to return. Contrary to popular belief, Switzerland is not only a holiday destination for thrill seekers on skiing holidays. I visited Switerland in the height of summer, and I can't think of a better time to see it in all it's glory. We arrived in Switzerland with a bang after a twenty four hour journey in a clapped out school bus. Nightmare. It was evening when we got there, and not having slept for twenty four hours, we all headed straight to the showers and then to bed. As it was dark, none of the scenery was visible and to be honest, we weren't really interested at the time. Waking up at eight in the morning to a soggy tent, and poking my head outside to be greeted by thick fog was hardly awe inspiring, so we all trogged off to the bus to pick up our instruments and get to a band practice- it was the first day of our school brass band tour. Two hours later, we emerged from the building we were practising in to glorious, hot sunshine. I glanced up to my right to see snow-capped mountains, and down to my left to see a glorious, tranquil lake, and fell in love with the place. I was staying in the German speaking part of Switzerland, quite near to lake Lucerne. Our campsite was near another, smaller lake, fed by a glassier way up in the mountains. Each morning, before we went out to play concerts for the day, we were able to escape the scorching hot sunshine, and dive into the ice cold water of t
he lake. The most stunning areas to visit though, had to be the mountains. You can take the cable car up a mountain which, if I remember correctly, is called Grindelwald. This is one of the highest mountains in Switzerland, and when you get there, you can build snowmen in your shorts and T-shirt. There is still snow up there, as it is so high up, but the tepmerature is still boiling in the summer. Another mountain we visited, near lake Lucerne, had a fennicular (but not spelt like that i wouldn't imagine!) railway up the side of it. This was quite an experience, as it is an almost verticle climb and descent- not for the faint hearted!! Lake Lucerne itself was equally stunning. The buildings around the area are in true Swiss style, adding to rather than detracting from the appeal of the area. If you visit the lake, and you enjoy music, don't miss the violin factory near the lake. They give guided tours and, as a violinist myself, it was an incredibly interesting experience to see how some of the best violins in the world are made. Switzerland is renowned for being expensive. I am not, I'm afraid, going to even try to convince you of the contrary. That said, if you are looking for general groceries and supermarket shopping, do look around before you just buy it from the local shop. There are a few supermarkets where prices are certainly no more expensive than they are here, and maybe even slightly cheaper. As for the people, I know the Germans have a reputation for being rude, but firstly, I would have to disagree with that entirely, and secondly, the Swiss are a completely different breed from the Germans, although they speak the same lingo! The Swiss are one of the most friendly bunches of folk I've ever come across. Not only were they incredibly supportive of us playing our instruments in obscure places, they also made sure that we had drinks, food, souvenirs to take home and even an nice donation to
our collection box at the end of each performance. All in all, I can't praise the place enough. It's similar to Austria, but I've been to both and Switzerland definately wins. So if you are looking for a summer holiday in the sun with a bit more than just a beach to amuse you, look no further.