Natural Beauties of Switzerland

YES, it is not necessary to join a climbing party to enjoy the scenery of Switzerland. No place in the world offers greater facilities to the sedentary tourist. There are railways and diligence routes almost everywhere ; and in places, too, there are still retreats for the quiet pedestrian who wishes neither to undertake sensational climbs nor to be carried by railway, but loves quiet paths by hill and lake and forest, taking Longfellow’s advice :

I heard the distant waters dash, I saw the current whirl and flash, And richly, by the blue lake’s silver beach, The woods were bending with a silent reach. Then o’er the vale, with gentle swell, The music of the village bell Came sweetly to the echo-giving hills. . . . If thou wouldst read a lesson, that will keep Thy heart from fainting and thy soul from sleep, Go to the woods and hills ! No tears Dim the sweet look that Nature wears.

It has to be admitted sadly that these opportunities for quiet rambles become rarer with each year as mountain railways are multiplied, and roads supplant the old shepherd paths. But still they exist in some districts of Switzerland, and the conveniences offered to the walker by the public services of the country prove that the Swiss wisely appreciate the value of the patronage of this class of tourist. The roads and paths are wonderfully well sign-posted, and in places where there is a great tangle of paths the device has been adopted of putting vari-coloured marks to indicate different routes. Thus going out from a centre, one walk will be marked by black marks on trees, rocks, and fences, another by yellow, another by red, and so on. But best of all are the few districts still left where there are mountain paths with no trace at all of tourist traffic, along which you must find your way by diligent inquiry, by frequent reference to the map, and always with caution against being tangled up hopelessly in some wild valley.

The Federal post office offers useful service to the walker. You may send on your personal luggage by parcel post very cheaply, and thus walk with very little impedimenta. The happy experience of one tourist was that he walked right across Switzerland, never carried more than seven pounds of luggage on his back, and never wanted a change of clothes in the evening, so reliable was the parcel post system.

Mendelssohn has sung the beauty of Swiss paths :

How beautiful are these paths ! This Canton de Vaud is the most beautiful of the countries that I know. If God should grant me a long old age, this is where I should wish to spend it. What excellent people ! What bright expressions on their faces ! What charming views ! When one returns from Italy one almost melts into tears at the sight of this corner of the world, in which so many good and honest people are still to be met. There are no beggars here, no surly functionaries—nothing but smiling countenances ! I thank God for having let me see so many beautiful sights.

He wrote of a time preceding the modern tourist rush to Switzerland. But such delights can still be had, away from the more popular resorts. In the Zermatt district the walking is particularly good, for it has not yet been ” developed ” at the call of the crowding hordes of tourists. The paths have not been broadened into roads and spoilt in the process, and old-fashioned inns have not been replaced by palace hotels. Summer, of course, is the chief walking season, but there are many paths in some of the lower districts possible in the winter. Certainly those who go to the winter resorts for the sports should make a point of breaking away now and again from skating rink and toboggan run for a quiet prowl along some solitary path, to enjoy in solitude, or in the company of a dear friend, the calm joy of an Alpine sunset such as Mr. Symonds describes :

While the west grows momentarily more pale the eastern heavens flush with afterglow, suffuse their spaces with pink and violet. Daffodil and tenderest emerald intermingle : and these colours spread until the West again has rose and primrose and sapphire wonderfully blent, and from the burning skies a light is cast upon the valley—a phantom light, less real, more like the hues of molten gems that were the stationary flames of sunset. Venus and the moon, meanwhile, are silvery clear. Then the whole illumination fades like magic. . . There is hardly any colour except the blue of sky and shadow. Everything is traced in vanishing tints, passing from the almost amber of the distant sunlight through glittering white into pale grey and brighter blues and deep ethereal azure. The pines stand in black platoons upon the hillsides, with a tinge of red or orange on their sable. Some carry masses of snow. Others have shaken their plumes free. The chalets are like fairy houses or toys ; waist-deep in stores of winter fuel, with their mellow tones of madder and umber relieved against the white, with the fantastic icicles and folds of snow depending from their eaves, or curled like coverlids from roof and window-sill, they are far more picturesque than in the summer. Colour, wherever it is found, whether in these cottages or in a block of serpentine by the roadside, or in the golden bulrush-blades by the lake shore, takes more than double value. It is shed upon the pallid landscape like a spiritual and transparent veil. Most beautiful of all are the sweeping lines of pure untroubled snow, fold over fold of undulating softness, billowing along the skirts of the peaked hills. There is no conveying the charm of immaterial, aerial, lucid beauty, the feeling of purity and aloofness from sordid things, conveyed by the fine touch on all our senses of light, colour, form, and air, and motion, and rare tinkling sound. The enchantment is like a spirit mood of Shelley’s lyric verse.

To the tourist who contemplates a first visit to Switzerland, and can give but little time to the country—making the visit, let us suppose, as part of a European tour,—perhaps the best centre of interest is Lucerne. There he may enjoy at the outset all the characteristic charms of Swiss scenery—the beautiful lakes, the meadows, and orchards stretching up from the blue waters to the hills, the great mountains of Rigi, Pilatus (said by an ancient myth to have been the refuge of the despairing Pontius Pilate), and the Stansenhorn. There, too, may be found the delight of the Alpine pine forests and of the Alpine flowers. There, too, are splendid survivals of the picturesque life of medieval Switzerland. And, as the Swiss gate of the St. Gothard Pass, Lucerne offers at once the opportunity to explore one of the most wonderful paths of the world, and to pass quickly through to the Italian lakes when the time that can be given to Switzerland has been exhausted.

The St. Gothard Pass was a Middle Ages’ track across the Alps. It was not known to the Romans, who used the passes of the Valais and the Rhaetian Alps. From the oldest document in which the Gothard is mentioned, it seems that in the middle of the thirteenth century the pass was already frequented by pilgrims. Following the pilgrims came merchants from Lucerne, Zurich, and Basel, to trade with the rich towns of fertile Lombardy. Originally the St. Gothard Pass was a narrow mountain – path gradually widening into a mule-track. It was not until the early part of the nineteenth century that the pass was made accessible to carriages, and the highway constructed which still is a fine example of a mountain road. Under the most favourable conditions four days was the time required to pass from Lucerne to Milan, and inclement weather would often force the traveller to take shelter for days. Now the pass is traversed in a few hours by the St. Gothard railway built jointly by Italy, Germany, and Switzerland. After tedious conferences, a treaty was signed by these three countries in 1871, providing that subsidies to the work should be granted by the contracting parties. The share of Germany and Switzerland was fixed at £800,000 each, and that of Italy at £1,800,000. During the process of construction, however, a material increase was necessary, so that Germany in the end contributed £1,200,000 to the cost, Switzerland £1,240,000, and Italy £2,320,000.

In September 1872 work was begun, and on February 29, 1880, after nearly eight years of dangerous work, the piercing of the tunnel was accomplished. The courageous chief engineer, Louis Favre, eight months before the completion of the tunnel, fell a victim to its close, heavy air, and died of heart failure whilst in the workings. The line was opened in June 1882 and is still a great highway of railway traffic, though the Simplon railway and the new Loetschberg railway have come as rival trans-Alpine routes.

The oldest pass of the Alps is that which is now called the Great St. Bernard, the Summus Penninus of the Romans. Mr. Coolidge, in Swiss Travel and Swiss Guide-Books, states that the first known guide-book was written for the crowd of pilgrims crossing this pass, by the Abbot of Thingor in Iceland, about 1154. There was a shelter building on the pass before the year 812. A century later the Little St. Bernard was similarly provided. The Simplon was equipped with a shelter before 1235, the St. Gothard before 1331, and the Grimsel before 1479.

But before leaving Lucerne by the St. Gothard Pass, the traveller with any claim to historic imagination will visit Schwyz, the cradle of Swiss independence and the various shrines of the heroes of the Forest Cantons. Zurich, too, is easily accessible from Lucerne ; also the battlefield of St. Jacob on the Birse, where, in the year 1444, 1500 valiant Swiss held their ground against a force of French more than twenty times as great. When night fell, this band, defying death with the cry, ” Our souls to God, our bodies to the Armagnacs,” was almost annihilated. Along the St. Gothard Pass are the records of another great military exploit, Suwarow’s passage of the Alps. At the Devil’s Bridge, over the Reuss, a Russian cross records the desperate fight between the French and Suwarow’s army in 1799.

For the tourist who would mingle with his enjoyment of natural beauty visits to famous literary centres, Geneva of course will be the Swiss headquarters. From there stretch right and left the storied shores of Lake Leman. He may visit in turn Ferney, Coppet, and Lausanne, where the gloomy austerity of Genevan Calvinism seemed to take on something of a comic spirit. There the use of tobacco and snuff was forbidden under the Seventh Commandment 1 ” Here,” said a preacher, ” we snuff only the Word of God.” Montreux can be visited, or can be made the headquarters of a stay by the Lake of Leman if economy is a consideration, for it has the reputation of being the cheapest Swiss place to live in.

Near Montreux is the Castle of Chillon, which Byron made famous in his ” Prisoner of Chillon ” with more regard for sentimentality than for truth. His Prisoner of Chillon was in truth no stainless patriot imprisoned by a tyrant’s rage, but a rather rowdy layman prior, Francois Bonivard. He conspired against the Duke of Savoy, entered into a rather undignified kind of civil war, and was imprisoned in the Castle of Chillon. For some time he was treated fairly well, but afterwards thrust into a dungeon below the level of the lake where he was kept four years. In 1536 he was released, and was appointed Historian to the Genevan Republic. He did not get on well with Calvin and was frequently before the Genevan Consistory on various charges of moral wrongdoing. (That argues nothing serious against his character.) He seems to have been an average human man. But Byron’s poem thrust him on to a pedestal which he did not deserve. The Castle of Chillon did not end its history as a prison with Bonivard’s release. It was used as a jail in the days of the French Revolution, and its last notable prisoners were some members of the Salvation Army, accused of causing street disorders by their ministrations. It was a picturesque incident this ” persecution ” by Calvin’s Lake of Leman of a new form of Protestantism. But the persecution was not savage. The Salvationists (English lasses chiefly) were very well treated in Chillon.

To mingle a study of modern Swiss history with worship of the Alps, Berne would be the best centre for the tourist. Berne dates its foundation back to Berchtold V., who in the year 1191 erected a stronghold on a rocky promontory on the Aare, which was to serve as a rampart against the attacks of the Burgundian nobles. The town takes its name from a bear which was killed whilst the building was in course of construction. To safeguard the western part of the ‘city, Agrippa d’Aubigne, the Huguenot leader, commenced the erection of a circle of ramparts, completed in 1646, parts of which still remain and are known as the ” greater ” and ” lesser ” ramparts. In 1218, after the Zaeringer dynasty had died out, Berne became independent, subject only to the German Emperor, and remained faithful to the House of Hohenstaufen. During the Interregnum, Berne was forced to place herself under the protection of the Duke of Savoy, in order to be able to resist her numerous enemies. In the Burgundian war of 1474 — 77, Berne was victorious at Grandson, Morat, and Nancy, and obtained a strong foothold in Vaud, which entered entirely into her possession in 1536, so that her dominion extended from the Lake of Geneva to the Reuss, and from the source of the Aare up to its juncture with the Rhine. The upheaval caused by the French Revolution brought about the fall of the Bernese Republic. In 1798, after the battles of Neuenegg and Grauholz, the French entered the town under General Schauenburg, and Berne lost her independence.

Since the Constitution of 1848, Berne has been the capital of the new Confederation, the seat of the Federal Council and of Parliament. It is also the headquarters of many international organisations. Switzerland excites no jealousy among the European Powers and is usually chosen as the summoning nation for conferences in which international agreements are discussed. Berne has some fine old monuments ; and its mediaeval fountains are particularly interesting.

The bear-pit, which has been kept up for centuries in record of the city’s ancient association with the bear, is worth a visit. From the Bernese public gardens and from the Gurten (2800 feet high—reached by a funicular railway) there are marvellous views of the Alps. There ” soul of man has fronting him earth’s utmost majesty.” Lucerne, Geneva, Berne—these are the three centres I would recommend to the traveller with but a short time available for a Swiss tour and seeking to get a general impression of the country : and of the three Lucerne is the best centre. But with a month to spare all three may be visited and a very good idea of Switzerland obtained. The best time for such a sight-seeing trip is the late spring or the summer, preferably the spring, for with the summer often come dust and flies.