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The best of Switzerland - in one day

A few minutes is all you need to see Zurich's old city and Limmat River.

(Switzerland Tourism)

If it's Tuesday it must be Switzerland. If this is the case, then here is the best way to pack mountains, lakes, cities and culture into a few hours.

The first stop is Zurich railway station. If you have 30 minutes to spare - as well as cash - then step outside the station immediately onto the Bahnhofstrasse, Switzerland's most exclusive shopping street. It is lined with over 100 trendy boutiques.

The Bally shoe and accessory store has a range of handbags to have and to hold. Bucherer means the most expensive handcrafted Swiss watches, and Teuscher is a chocoholic's dream.

If it's "haute culture" you want, then you don't have to leave the station.

Guardian Angel

In the station's great hall, built in 1871, look heavenwards to find the Guardian Angel; a giant, Fernando Botero-style sculpture designed by Nicki de Saint Phalle. The angel watches over the passengers who take the 1,600 trains that pull out of the station daily.

Every Wednesday at the station is market day, so stock up on fresh fruit, meats and Swiss cheese for the onward journey. Also, there are two hundred shops in the railway hall, as well as a wide selection of cafés and bistros.

Roman ruins

Zurich tour guide, Regi Lacona encourages travellers with even just 15 minutes to spare between trains, to head out of the station's far right exit towards a small hill called Lindenhof.

Lindenhof, a park these days, provides a panorama of the city. Below the park lie the ruins of a Roman customs post and a late Roman fortress. Take a picnic there and watch the tourist boats float down the Limmat River.

Next stop: Lucerne

The Medieval city of Lucerne is just 50 minutes away from Zurich by train. The station is rather dingy inside and again, it is worth strolling outside to take in the magnificent view of the lake that is framed by a medley of fancy hotels.

Ten minutes is all you need to see the famous wooden Chapel Bridge. Head out of the station, and keep going straight towards the lake. Be careful not to get run over by a bus and cross the road to your left. Photos of the bridge complete with swans floating by will make great snapshots for the family album.

Culture centre with wings

With 30 minutes and upwards to spare, it is worthwhile turning right out of the station to the Lucerne Culture and Convention Centre. A couple of years old, the Centre was designed by the celebrated French architect, Jean Nouvel.

The café on the ground floor provides an excellent resting place for weary travellers to enjoy a snack while taking in excellent views over Lake Lucerne and the mountains of central Switzerland.

Upstairs is Lucerne's Art Museum, but the Centre itself is a work of art. Nouvel's philosophy for the Centre was light.

"He talks about inclusion where he tries to bring the exterior together with the interior," effused my guide, Denise Fehlmann.

"And Nouvel is always looking at the effect of light on the materials he uses whether it be glass or stone, there's always incredibly beautiful reflections and different atmospheres according to light," she buzzed.

There is no mistaking that Nouvel succeeded in drawing light into the building. Lucerne is reflected in the huge glass windows, and people are reflected on the stone terrace.

The white roof, the size of two football fields, extends over the building like giant albatross wings. Water is pulled from the lake into the museum by way of streams and fountains.

Look up to the white roof as the water casts shadows of boats asymmetrically floating along peacefully.

That is about half an hour taken care of, so it is off to French-speaking Switzerland, and the Swiss jazz capital of Montreux.

Final stop: Montreux

This requires changing trains in Lausanne. From here, the train travels along the very edge of Lake Geneva. The spectacular beauty of the lake and Alps that seem to rise out of the water has inspired many thinkers, writers, performers and other laureates.

To get the best shot of the scenery, step in to the Swiss Majestic Hotel that is situated directly opposite Montreux station. Its terrace is the perfect place to sip a Kir Royal and appreciate the spell the region once cast on Victor Hugo, Vladimir Nabokov, Charlie Chaplin and Ernest Hemmingway, to name but a few.

Belle époque, belle vue

The Belle-Epoque interiors of the hotel evoke an age gone by, a world that Hemingway inhabited while in Montreux, and loved. His short story "Homage to Switzerland" takes the reader to the cafés at Montreux, and nearby Vevey and Territet railway stations.

"Inside the station café it was warm and light. The wood of the tables shone from wiping and there were baskets of pretzels in glazed paper sacks. The chairs were carved, but the seats were worn and comfortable...Outside the window it was snowing..."

Although the café described in Hemingway's story is now an office, I highly recommend sipping a coffee in the Swiss Majestic's café where the wooden chairs are very comfy.

To get the spirit of an elegant age gone by, ride the hotel's one hundred-year-old elevator down a floor as it drops you on the Grand Rue or lake road.

Montreux Tourism director, John Harry, recommends walking 10 minutes to the romantic Chateau de Chillon castle. Lord Byron immortalised the figure of Francois Bonivard, imprisoned in the castle from 1530 to 1536, in his poem "The prisoner of Chillon."

Lacking the relaxed itinerary of literary greats of a bygone era, it is forward march to Geneva airport which is only an hour away.

While Swiss airports are rather soulless, a train trip around Switzerland is a window onto a country famed for its tidy cities, mountain scenery and placid lakefronts.

And who says you can't see it all in one day?

by Samantha Tonkin

PS: Helpful Tips-

Luggage can be conventiently stored in lockers to be found in all stations. Make sure you have change, a large locker costs about SFr5.

Unfortunately, Switzerland does not offer one-day rail passes, a minimum 3-day pass costs SFr230 ($138). The whole journey by rail in a second class compartment as described above costs SFr95 ($57).

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