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Cultural Destinations

Must-Visit Cultural Destinations in Switzerland

The country’s towns and cities are home to great museums and galleries, atmospheric old quarters and spectacular citadels, says Tim Cumming

Switzerland is home to so much more than awe-inspiring mountains, such as Bern’s Unesco World Heritage- listed Old Town. Near Basel, the Fondation Beyeler is hailed as Switzerland’s greatest gallery with its collection of modern and tribal art. Modern architecture buffs can explore Le Corbusier’s colourful Zurich villa, while Lausanne’s Plateforme 10 has taken a whole district of the city and dedicated it exclusively to art.

Abbey Library of St Gallen

Museums don’t get much better than the Swiss National Museum, its collections divided between a late 19th-century fairytale castle and a new Minimalist masterpiece of a building. And if Chillon castle near Montreux doesn’t bring out the inner medieval knight in shining armour, then try nurturing your inner Harry Potter instead at the extraordinary Abbey Library of St Gall.

CASTLE CHILLON, LAKE GENEVA REGION

He may have been mad, bad and dangerous to know, but Lord Byron helped put Chillon on the map with his epic Prisoner of Chillon poem, written in 1816 after he and Shelley took a boat out on to Lake Geneva before torrential rain led them to stop at this remarkable castle built on rock and overhanging the waters of the lake.

Set in the town of St Gallen, the Abbey is one of the world’s oldest working libraries, dating back to the 8th century, when the Abbey of St Gall first opened its doors

Dating from the 12th century, its 25 buildings and three courtyards encompass parade halls, 14th-century wall paintings, the subterranean vaults that inspired Byron, a bedroom preserved in its original form, and the Café Byron, its large bay windows overlooking the castle, a perfect spot for penning an immortal verse or two of your own.

THE OLD TOWN, BERN

Encircled by the Aare River, Bern’s old town dates back to the 12th century, and its 6km of medieval arcades and handsome 18th-century limestone buildings are perfect for a luxurious day of leisurely strolling. A Unesco World Heritage site since 1983, its renaissance fountain and stunning late gothic cathedral are highlights – you can climb the tower for magnificent views of Switzerland’s capital and the snow-capped Bernese Oberland beyond.

Riehen Fondation Beyeler, Basel

Don’t miss the 13th-century Zytgloggeturm tower and its 15th-century astronomical clock. And don’t be deterred by the fact that it was once a prison for fallen women “guilty of consorting with clerics”…

FONDATION BEYELER, BASEL

Art Basel is one of the world’s leading art fairs, but art lovers shouldn’t miss out on visiting Riehen, near Basel, to view Hildy and Ernst Beyeler’s world-class collection of tribal and modern art. Ernst was Europe’s leading post-war art dealer, and the Beyelers opened their museum in the grounds of the Villa Berower in 1997.

Skyline with old-town landmarks, Bern

It is open every day of the year, with a calendar of shows including Rodin and Goya for 2021, and its permanent collection encompasses outstanding works by Picasso, Monet, Matisse and more, with plenty of activities, ranging from meditations in front of Monet to live music to walking tours, art breakfasts and workshops.

LE CORBUSIER, ZURICH

One of the most famous of modernist architects, Swiss native Le Corbusier’s colourful glassand- steel Pavilion overlooking Lake Zurich was his last great project, finished two years after his death, in 1967, and only recently renovated back to its original glory, and repopulated it with reproductions of his original tree-trunk furniture designs and giant light sculptures. It is a fascinating and unique building – Le Corbusier designed everything including the door knobs – and today it houses a range of exhibitions focusing on the architect’s life and work.

SWISS NATIONAL MUSEUM, ZURICH

Zurich keeps the flame of Swiss history and culture alight at its National Museum in the Old City District, set beside the River Limmat and the lovely, regenerated Park Platzspitz. The museum’s permanent collections and temporary exhibitions are divided between a late 19th-century French-style chateau and contemporary minimalist building beside it, the former exploring the country’s history from its earliest archaeology through major collections of gothic art, and the latter, opened in 2016, housing contemporary exhibitions.

Swiss National Museum, Zurich

PLATEFORME 10, LAUSANNE

Plateforme 10 is a visionary project that brings together the Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts (MCBA), the Elysée Museum of Photography, the Museum of Contemporary Design and Applied Arts (MUDAC), and two renowned art foundations.

Plateforme 10, Lausanne

Encompassing a whole district of Lausanne, near the railway station, visitors will be able to experience fine art, photography, design, textile arts, as well as auditoriums, dining spaces, artist residencies, boutiques and bookshops.

ABBEY LIBRARY OF ST GALL, ST GALLEN

Set in the town of St Gallen, the Abbey is one of the world’s oldest working libraries, dating back to the 8th century, when the Abbey of St Gall first opened its doors. A Unesco World Heritage Site, the lavishly elaborate rococo library you enter today dates from the 18th century and, with its magical atmosphere and stunning examples of artistry and craftsmanship on display all around you, this fantastical place makes for an awe-inspiring experience.