Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Naturalist Abroad: Travels in Switzerland

Eric and I recently returned from three weeks of traveling in beautiful Switzerland - the land of my ancestors!  We visited my family members who live there and took in our fill of historic sites and glorious hikes.  From exploring Roman ruins and Medieval castles (my husband is a history professor, after all!) to hiking in the Swiss Alps (sometimes barefoot), Switzerland delighted us with one incredible experience after another. 


For those interested in all that nature has to offer, Switzerland is an ideal place to visit (or live!)  There is no shortage of activities available to the outdoor enthusiast, ranging from more low-key pursuits, like walking and hiking, to daring adventures in paragliding and mountaineering.  Spend a day out with the locals and it will become very clear that the Swiss dearly love their lakes, forests and mountains, as well as their gardens and outdoor eating areas.  The Swiss are a hardy, lively and very outdoorsy group of people!  Walking, hiking, biking, swimming, boating, paddle boarding, and surfing (yes, surfing) are all popular summertime activities (winter brings an entirely different selection of outdoor recreational opportunities!)  With a country as beautiful as Switzerland, who would ever want to stay indoors?! 


As you may know, my favorite things are often the simplest, and I prefer walking, hiking and swimming to most other faster-paced activities.  Hiking allows for the opportunity to notice things I might otherwise miss: butterflies sipping nectar from wildflowers, a raptor drifting high above on thermals, the intricate folds in an outcropping of ancient metamorphic rock. 


Alpine wildflowers bloom in splendid abundance during Switzerland's somewhat short summer, and all those blooms attract a host of winged beneficiaries, bees and butterflies that thrive on the great cornucopia of nectar.  As Eric and I commented each time we sat down for a picnic among the wildflowers, surrounded by the buzzing, chirping and fluttering of tiny alpine critters, "Insect life is flourishing in the alps!"  The midsummer show of dazzling wildflowers is not to be missed!


But there is more to Switzerland than it's signature stunning mountains.  Beech and spruce forests cover rolling green hills, and turquoise glacial lakes nestle in valleys.  Walking paths, called wanderwegs, weave across the entire country in dizzying array, through cities, villages, fields, forests and mountains.  For the naturalist, there is much to see in Switzerland!  Nature is, essentially, what drives one of Switzerland's thriving economies: tourism.

Since 2003, the slogan for Swiss tourism has been, "Switzerland.  Get natural."  And luckily, protecting all of that beautiful Swiss nature is a major interest for those promoting the country's tourism.


In 2014, EcoWatch rated Switzerland as the world's 6th greenest country.  Different sources list Switzerland with varying degrees of "eco-friendliness," but it consistently shows up on the lists of countries that are getting it right in regards to protecting the environment.  And it's obvious when you visit: streets, parks, lakesides and other public places are all immaculately clean!


So when you visit Switzerland, live like an eco-conscious Swiss local: Take advantage of the country's incredible system of well-signed walking and biking paths; hop on impeccably-timed public transportation - buses, trains, cable cars, boats and more; be sure to bring your own bag to the grocery store; and fill your reusable water bottle at any of the elaborate fountains found in every city and town.  Walk in the green forests, relax by turquoise lakes and enjoy the abundant natural beauty that Switzerland is known for!

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