Getting around by boat in Switzerland
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All of Switzerland’s bigger lakes, and a sizeable proportion of its smaller ones, are crossed by regular ferry services of one sort or another. Most run only during the summer season – which can vary, but at its broadest covers the period from April to October – and are primarily pleasure-oriented, duplicating routes which can be covered more cheaply and quickly by rail. However, if you have the time, a leisurely cruise through the Alpine foothills to Interlaken, for example, or between the three lakes of Neuchâtel, Morat and Biel/Bienne, or from shore to shore along the length of Lake Geneva, beat the equivalent train journeys hands down. Apart from on Lago Maggiore (which is mostly in Italy), travel by boat is covered by the Swiss travel passes detailed on p.35, and there’s also a Swiss Boat Pass (Fr.35) available, which is valid for a year and knocks fifty percent off fares on fourteen of Switzerland’s bigger lakes.

Two lakes are worth a special mention, since it would be a crying shame to miss experiencing them from the water. Luzern’s Vierwaldstättersee plumb in the heart of Switzerland and the setting for the William Tell legend, offers some of the most dramatic vistas imaginable – forested slopes emerging from dark, mist-laden waters and crowned by the snowy peaks of the high Alps behind. And the azure Lago di Lugano, on the Italian border flanked by its larger and better-known siblings Maggiore and Como, is in a magically beautiful setting of palm trees and lush, sugar-loaf hills. Both have plenty of boats in summer, while in winter Luzern is one of the few lakes to maintain a skeleton boat service (Geneva is another), mostly for the residents of lakeshore villages hemmed in by the mountains who would otherwise face long and difficult road or rail journeys.

Most of Switzerland’s rivers are too young and fast flowing to be navigable, but three that are offer wonderful riverboat cruises that are well worth going out of your way for. West of Geneva, boats ply the short, wooded section of the Rhône before the French border. Northeast of Biel/Bienne, there’s a lovely stretch of the Aare – which runs past an island stork colony – navigable until Solothurn. But best of all, and one of Europe’s great river journeys, is the uniquely peaceful part of the Rhine between Konstanz (Kreuzlingen) and the falls at Schaffhausen, the sole stretch of that river that is free from any kind of bankside industry. The falls merit a journey in themselves.

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