Landlocked Switzerland, denied access to seas and oceans, makes great use of its rivers and lakes. In addition to swimming and the extensive use of water for hydroelectric power, the Swiss have developed an astonishing infrastructure for terrific boat rides that offer visitors (and locals) first-rate sightseeing. Not only that: While on the boats, you can enjoy musical events as well as good wining and dining. There are fifteen principal lakes for boating in Switzerland, and five of these are epic in terms of a world class experience.
Hint: In order to fully enjoy the boating experience in Switzerland, use the Internet to reserve tables for dining or special events. You can use trains and buses to coordinate pinpoint timing of arrivals and departures, and return to your starting point. It’s flat out magical.
Vierwaldstättersee. The name means, “four-forested canton lake,” and it’s a gem. The enormous body of water is pristine, quiet, and has little private traffic. You can take short excursions from Luzern—Vierwaldstättersee is also known as Lake Luzern—to the Swiss Transportation Museum (perfect for families), which has a great public beach next to it; go further to Weggis and then board a little train to the top of Rigi; head even further southeast past the Rütli, where the Swiss like to say that the country declared its independence in the 14th century from the Habsburg Empire; or continue deep into canton Uri. Several boats are steam-powered and provide old-fashioned, romantic travel. Enjoyable dining with seasonal menus and good Swiss wines add a lot to the experience. In the Fall, for example, a menu of wild game is available, and the dining and boating get very entertaining. Each season has an array of special events.
Brienzersee and Thunersee. These two deep alpine lakes, divided by Interlaken, which means of course, “between the lakes,” are beautiful, green-blue, and serene. After hiking in the Bernese Oberland, where they are situated, a day’s excursion on either or both is a great antidote to fatigue. You can book online and with military precision arrive by train at a docked boat that will take you on a trip that can last a few hours. Fondue evenings are offered seasonally on boats on both lakes; accompanied by traditional and live Swiss folk music, it’s a fun and genuine cultural experience. Other culinary events include fajita trips, raclette evenings, and Christmas celebrations. Steam ships add to the luster, and whether you are seated on an open deck or at a fancy table enjoying a meal, your position will give you wonderful views of mountains and forests.
Zugersee. It’s a small lake and perfect for a day a bit away from crowds that head to the better known lakes. A day spent stopping at the villages on the lake is like a mini-cruise, and if you’re so inclined you can try to get on board for an evening of dancing and live music.
Lac Leman. Also known as Lake Geneva, this long and boomerang shaped lake has boats that offer great day trips with views of Swiss wine country as well as France. As is true with the Swiss-German boats, meals are served in both first-class and second-class. Bonus: The food is French-Swiss.
Lago di Lugano. Lake Lugano is a marvelous lake that unites Switzerland and Italy, and for over a century it’s been a retreat for the world’s elite. These days you can continue to enjoy its unique charm and indolent pleasures, and there is no better way to do so than on board a Swiss ship. The food is Italian, and the atmosphere can be festive. If you time it right, you will find yourself at a salsa festival, a tango night, or an evening of what the shipping line calls Boogie Woogie.