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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 23, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 12
Gay-friendly Switzerland an eye-popping destination
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Gay-friendly Switzerland an eye-popping destination

by Jerry L. Peerson - SGN A&E Writer

Some joke that CH - the country abbreviation for Switzerland online - stands for the land of cheese and chocolate. Switzerland may be well-known for its delectable delicacies, but CH actually represents the country's official name in Latin - Confoederatio Helvetica - partially in order not to favor any of its four national languages: French, Italian, German, and Romansch. English could just as well be the fifth, since you'll hardly have an issue conversing with the multi-lingual residents. The ease of communicating with locals some 5,000 miles from home is just one of many impressive experiences you'll have in Switzerland. Known for its majestic Alpine scenery, precision engineering, and lederhosen, this tiny country in the center of Western Europe is more than Heidi's backyard.

From its welcoming and progressive culture (in 2005 the Swiss people approved a same-sex partnership law) to its scenic beauty, high water quality, and transit efficiency, Switzerland will amaze even the most seasoned traveler. You can begin your journey by experiencing the joy of flying with Swiss Air (www.swiss.com). Direct flights to Zürich from the west coast leave San Francisco and Los Angeles daily. An extensive selection of on-screen entertainment, immaculate cabins, roomy seats, tasty food, and friendly attendants all come complimentary on each flight. All this makes it easy to sit back and dream of the wonderland you'll soon be immersed in.

Zürich
Switzerland is noted for its progressive, liberal values, and this atmosphere creates a welcoming environment to LGBT travelers. Zürich, under its openly Lesbian mayor Corine Mauch, enjoys a vibrant Gay scene and notably accepting attitudes throughout the city. In 2011, Gaycities.com nominated the city in the category of world's best up-and-coming destination. With a smorgasbord of events and locations to see and be seen at, it's simple to understand why the town deserves this honor. Movie buffs will adore Pink Apple, the country's biggest Gay and Lesbian film festival, which takes place in Zürich and the neighboring city of Frauenfeld each spring. Though Zürich is Switzerland's largest city and economic hub, it is easy to navigate on foot. The historic heart of this surprisingly quaint riverside city is only a 10-minute ride on punctual public transportation from the airport. You can start your afternoon at the cozy, Gay-friendly Platzhirsch Hotel bar (www.meinplatzhirsch.ch) to enjoy a drink while peeking out the windows at medieval rooftops and iron street lanterns. Afterward, wander down ancient cobblestone alleys and gaze into myriad shops hawking all sorts of wares. From delectable chocolates and baked goods to intricate watches, jewelry, and silk, you can see master Swiss artisans in action throughout town. For nightlife excitement try Cranberry Bar, a treasured two-story cocktail lounge that offers an array of unique concoctions and a hospitable, relaxed environment (www.cranberry.ch). If you fancy a more raucous and pulsating evening, top off your night at the T&M Club (www.aaah.ch), only a couple minutes walk from the Cranberry. This hot, multi-story dance club has just about everything from cabaret shows to strippers to its infamous 'dark rooms.'

After a day of taking in the city's historic center and a night out on the town, spend some time the next day exploring Zürich's modern side. Zürich-West - once a run-down, industrial zone - is now a Bohemian-chic district with dozens of innovative art galleries and boutique shops. Architects and entrepreneurs have infused the formerly derelict area with a stylish new renaissance. A concentrated effort has been made to maintain architectural components of the transformed factories, warehouses, and railway stations while invigorating them with contemporary design.

Freitag (www.freitag.ch) is one such project. It stands out as a creative re-imagining of industrial waste: The bag fashioner's flagship store is a colorful tower composed of refitted cargo containers. The district's grimy warehouse façade is rejuvenated with modern glass and metal styling's to give it a special 21st-century hipness while preserving and glorifying its blue-collar past. After wandering through this post-industrial district, join the young mix of urban hipsters and Swiss entrepreneurs for a delicious lunch of gnocchi at Studer's on Hardstrasse (www.studers-restaurant.ch). A great place to spend the night near the area's multitude of bars and clubs is the Renaissance Zürich Tower Hotel. The hotel boasts a sleek new design and towering views of the city (www.renaissancezurichtower.com).

Luzern
Before leaving Zürich, pick up a Swiss Pass (www.swiss-pass.ch) for easy travel and open access to 400+ museums throughout the country. Use the pass to take the train just an hour and a half west to the lovely city of Luzern. One of the most visited places in Europe, Luzern is steeped in culture and located on the shores of the picturesque aquamarine waters of Lake Luzern. The walkability of the city will allow you to stroll through a multitude of art galleries, museums, and lakeside cafes as you explore the charming center. With your Swiss Pass you'll gain access to the Museum Sammlung Rosengart (www.rosengart.ch), an absolute must-see for any art aficionado. The museum houses the world's largest private collection of Picasso pieces, in addition to works by other masters of 19th- and 20th-century art including Klee, Modigliani, Matisse, and Chagall. If you're lucky enough you may even get a tour from Angela Rosengart, the curator of the collection and model for some of Picasso's pieces on display. Rosengart's charm and charisma add genuine depth to the collection, and she peppers her tours with anecdotes from her relationship with the great artist.

If all this art whets your palate, you can make like any famous artist and head straight to the Whiskey Lounge at Hotel Montana to sample their assortment of libations (www.hotel-montana.ch). Adjacent to the Whiskey Lounge is the Scala Restaurant, offering an exquisite fine dining experience in a luxurious palace-like atmosphere. Be sure to mention to the wait-staff if you have diet restrictions - the chef is capable of creating delicious vegetarian meals not listed on the menu. The views over the lake and surrounding mountains, coupled with live jazz performances on many evenings, make it a perfect place to wind down your day. If you're looking for something a bit more modern, just a quick stroll away and in the heart of Luzern you'll find another fine lodging option: the Hotel Astoria (www.astoria-luzern.ch). The recently renovated Astoria features large immaculate rooms, some with frosted glass walls dividing the main room and the bath area. The spacious bathrooms offer another great place to unwind whilst enjoying the rain-like water flowing from enormous showerheads. After being rejuvenated, head up to the Penthouse Bar for panoramic views.

Weggis
For an exhilarating day trip from Luzern, you can take the 45-minute ferry across the lake to the quaint village of Weggis (pronounced like Vegas). The ferry drops you off nearly at the doorstep of the chic Post Hotel (www.poho.ch) where you can stop in for a nice lunch while gazing out the enormous windows at the beautiful view of the lake and surrounding mountains. After lunch, wander around the town to visit the old church (whose steeple is the tallest structure in town) and walk past villas owned by some of Switzerland's past elite. For a truly breathtaking experience, take the cable car up to the top of Mount Rigi, rising 5,896 feet directly behind Weggis. The glass-enclosed car can feel as tightly packed as a Tokyo subway, but you'll hardly notice as you take in the incredible vistas unfolding before you on your ride to the top. On days when it's cloudy down below, you can take the ride up through the clouds and marvel at the mountains peeking through the cloud cover all around you. This is an absolute must-do on any visit to Switzerland. After taking in the nature trails at the top of Mount Rigi and taking the cable-car back down, you might fancy spending the night in town rather than taking the ferry back to Luzern. The Post Hotel is absolutely the top pick for accommodation. Many of the rooms have lake-facing balconies and the dimly lit, blue-lighted pool is certainly worth a dip. The hotel is popular with LGBT travelers, so you're likely to be toasting with newfound friends, celebrating your grand Swiss adventures!

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