Swiss settlements are the epitome of mountain towns. Picture this: sunny skies, legendary peaks, green meadows, colorful wildflowers, crisp blue lakes, tall, narrow waterfalls, clanging cowbells, and quintessential chalets complete with the country's red and white flag. That is an unbeatable formula and one that is exemplified (with some interesting variations) all across the inspiring land. Here are eight selections, and a few other shout-outs (or should I say yodels?), to demonstrate what life is like in Switzerland's superb mountains.
Interlaken is wonderfully situated in the Bernese Oberland, in the Bern region, looking up to the domineering peaks of Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau and between the healing waters of Lake Thun and Lake Brienz. The primary strength of the largest town on this list is that it kicks off a slew of breathtaking stops as one rides the Bernese Oberland and other alpine railways ever higher towards the roof of Switzerland. One can arrive quickly from the major Central Swiss cities of Lausanne, Bern, or Zurich, enjoy the pretty sights and more-prevalent amenities and then proceed on to the variety of quaint towns.
The next stop on the Bernese Oberland Railway is the village of Lauterbrunnen, also in the Bern region. The magic only builds in this Yosemite-esque valley, framed by massive rock faces that would give Alex Honnold a run for his money. Lauterbrunnen offers the chance for a more secluded mountain meander. The valley is one of the largest nature conservation areas in the country. It protects wildflower meadows and 72 narrow waterfalls that zip down the vertical cliffs, hence the name Lauter Brunnen, which means "many fountains." These waterfalls piqued the muse of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who wrote the poem Spirit Song Over the Waters while visiting the valley village.
From Lauterbrunnen, be sure to continue on the Wengernalp Railway to the car-free village of Wengen (pronounced Ven-gen) in the Jungfrau Region. Visitors can enjoy the more relaxed pace of life while taking in the sites of the quintessential timber houses and chalets and enjoying the sounds of the rattling cowbells and distant waterfalls. The train adventure can continue to Kleine Scheidegg, an alpine resort that gives an up-close and personal view of the infamous North Face of the Eiger (nicknamed Mordwand, meaning "Murder Face). From Klien Scheidegg, those hungry for altitude should tack on the Jungfrau Railway up to Jungfraujoch, the highest railway station in Europe!
Another branch-off option from Lauterbrunnen is another car-free mountain village that can only be reached by cable car. Gimmelwald, which is back in the Bern Region, maintains the stunning aesthetic of the other towns en-route and boosts the authentic, less-traveled factor by a good margin. The 13 farms here are the backbone of the settlement and, other than the always impressive mountain views, serve as the focal point attraction for tourists. While strolling about the meadow footpaths, one can wander by the traditionally decorated farmhouses and buy Swiss specialties like cheese and sausages directly from the source. Do not forget about the village of Mürren on your way up/down. This list could easily just entail the towns of the Bernese Highlands, but I'll switch gears now and mix it up.
Moving on over to the Valais region, the village of Zermatt cannot be missed. The historic settlement lies at the base of the Matterhorn, easily Europe's most recognizable mountain. The striking peak has a catastrophic track record from early expeditions but has long since become a monument to the triumphant human spirit. Like Wengen and Gimmelwal, Zermatt is a car-free settlement and is best reached by train. This is a place for exploring the snow-capped mountains and rolling green foothills and cozying up in old-fashioned pubs and restaurants at the end of a tiring yet satisfying day.
Now let us bring it back to the unbeatable combination of a freshwater lake backdropped by snow-capped mountains. This is the setting for Montreux in the Lake Geneva Region (Vaud) in Western Switzerland. Just a stone's throw from Lausanne, Montreux sits quietly tucked away on the Eastern Shore of the pristine Lake Geneva. The Alps, though slightly more distant than in previous mentions, are still a palpable part of the experience. This town has inspired many artists, and for good reason. Sometimes keeping beauty just out of reach is the best way to strike the imagination and the muse. But that is just in terms of the mountains. The lake does away with the teasing and practically demands daily shoreline strolls or summertime swims.
Soglio, also known as "the gateway to paradise," is in the Bergell region of Southeastern Switzerland, near the border of Northern Italy. As a result, it has a distinctive aesthetic from its Bernese brethren. Though, of course, still engulfed in picturesque mountains, the soft browns and beiges of the humble buildings soften the village into the landscape rather than pop with bright reds and bold browns of the quintessential Swiss connotations. The main point of visual contrast in Soglio is the bell tower of the acclaimed Church of St. Lorenzo. Relax on the community's natural sunny terrace, take in the views, and mingle with the few hundred permanent residents.
Rounding out this Swiss list is the former fishing village of Morcote, in the canton of Ticino, in the far South. The settlement is built on the shore of Lake Lugano and proceeds up the hill in a photo-inducing manner. In fact, it is not only one of the most photographed sites in the region, but in 2016 Morcote was voted the most beautiful village in all of Switzerland. This time the sharp, snowy Alps are traded in for lush, verdant, rolling hills surrounding the lake. The infrastructure offers a unique contrast of its own. The simpler shoreline architecture is referred to as the secular layer, whereas the upper slopes, with the churches and other inspired buildings, make up the ecclesiastical section.
It does not get much better than that. Switzerland has a wealth of towns and villages scattered throughout her bosom. They strike the perfect balance of unsullied and minimally modernized while also having excellent railways and other welcoming infrastructure to make visiting these places much more appealing. So start practicing your triumphant mountain song now; you are going to need it.