Switzerland from Above – Top Sights (HD)


Our journey begins to the north of Montreux
at the medieval hilltop town Romont. Heading east and deeper into the mountains,
we’ll discover the Chartreuse de la Valsainte, an ancient hermetic monastery. We’ll fly southward to Lake Geneva, to
Montreux itself: famous the world over for its annual Jazz Festival. It’s then into the mountains, and the famous
ski resort of Verbier. Moving eastward, we’ll weave through the spectacular
mountain passes of Valais, before taking a brief passage through northern Italy. Once back in Switzerland, we’ll visit the
cities of Locarno and Ascona on the shores of Lake Maggiore. We’ll end our journey over the Brissago Islands,
with its unexpected botanical gardens sitting out in the middle of the lake. Here in the French-speaking region of Switzerland,
we find the picturesque medieval town of Romont. Its name is an abbreviation of Rotundo Monte,
or “the round mountain”, describing the gently sloping hill upon which it sits. It is most known for the beauty of its ancient
stained glass windows that decorate many of its old stone churches and sanctuaries. Romont passed between royal houses throughout
the Middle Ages, and eventually sided with the Helvetic Republic, which was the first
early manifestation of Switzerland as a unified state. The town’s well-preserved fortifications,
streets, and buildings are of such great historical significance that the entire town is on the
Swiss inventory of heritage sites. Moving Eastward and deeper into the mountains,
we come to the last remaining Carthusian monastery in all of Switzerland… Chartreuse de la Valsainte. The Carthusian sect has a way of life based
on a mix of hermetic isolation and communal living. Monks here spend most of each day in their
cells – meditating, praying, and writing. But this isolation is interspersed with communal
prayers and long group walks through the mountainous countryside. Although the community feeling amongst the
monks is strong and encouraged, contact with the outside world is limited. Only one visit
a year from family members is permitted. Continuing eastward we arrive at Gruyere castle,
standing guard at the head of the quaint medieval town of the same name. Construction began in the 11th century to
protect the townsfolk in the valley below. From then up until the 16th century the town
flourished; and 19 counts and their families resided here over the years. The last of these,
Michel, fell into financial difficulties in 1554, after which the prominent Bovy and Ballan
royal houses restored the castle into a summer residence. In 1938 the Fribourg municipality bought it,
and now together with its gardens opened it up to the public. The wealth of Gruyere’s old town has traditionally
come from agriculture – most importantly, Gruyere cheese’s now famous the world over. A popular tourist spot, the town has nevertheless
managed to retain the bucolic, peaceful atmosphere for its 1,500 residents. But, despite the town’s love for the old ways
of life, it has produced some very progressive characters. H.R. Giger, for instance, the famous Swiss
designer who is well-known for his work on the Alien movies, was born and raised here.
And recently a museum which holds the largest collection of his works was established. Now we move south and away from the mountains,
to the city of Montreux, on the shores of Lake Geneva. The border between Switzerland
and France runs through the centre of this lake, and as a result Montreux has become
a vibrant intersection of cultures. But without doubt the city is most renowned
for its famous annual music festival. It started in the 1960’s but reached heights of new fame
when Deep Purple wrote the song “Smoke on the Water”, which recounts the night Frank
Zappa set the Casino on fire with a flare gun during a concert. These days Montreux often receives 200,000
visitors a year and throngs of respected international artists. And leading up from the city is this funicular
railway. One of the carriages descends while the other
is pulled upwards, keeping the system always in balance: a very effective and energy efficient
way to gain plenty of altitude in a short amount of time – quite important in these
Swiss mountain towns. The ride takes passengers through fields of
beautiful Alpine flowers in the spring; and provides a quick lift for recreational sledgers
in the winter. As we move along the northern shore of Lake
Geneva over Autoroute 9, you can see why Switzerland is famous for its spectacular mountain roads. The highway below is a perfect example of
the difficult feats of engineering employed to maintain the natural aesthetic of the countryside. And perhaps more enviable than these wonderful
roads, is Switzerland’s remarkably extensive rail network through the alps – which runs
on a highly efficient and practical schedule. Almost all services are timed so that connecting
trains arrive at precise intervals. This means that passengers rarely have to wait around
for a connection. And the services are so dependable, you can
more or less set your watch by them. Located on the eastern shore of Lake Geneva
lies the spectacular Chateau de Chillon. The medieval fortress began as a number of
separate buildings, and over the centuries they merged, serving as a status symbol for
the Savoy family who controlled them. The castle has been taken many times since,
but never through sieges or bombardment. This explains why Chillon has remained beautifully
intact. It’s captured the imagination of artists,
poets and philosophers. 19th century poets Lord Byron and Percy Shelley took a boat trip
out on the lake to visit the famed Chateau. Inspired by the story of a monk who was imprisoned
here for his beliefs, Byron wrote the famous poem Prisoner of Chillon. And in more recent times, Freddie Mercury
–of the group, Queen, stopping for a visit here after playing at the Montreux Festival,
said of the place: “This must be heaven”. Now we’ll travel East from Lake Geneva, to
the most mountainous region in Switzerland. Here, it seems quaint settlements are nestled
in each valley. Before modern transport these small agricultural
villages would have been largely inaccessible to each other. As a result each habitation, only separated
by a few kilometres, developed dialects so vastly different that sometimes residents
from neighbouring villages couldn’t even understand each other. The mountains in this area are considered
to be some of the best off-piste skiing locations in the world. The powdery snow plasters these peaks and
valleys in the wintertime, drawing tourists from around the world. And perhaps the most popular ski resort in
all of Switzerland is here in the town of Verbier. At the turn of the century this place consisted
of a few huts; and its economy revolved entirely around dairy farming and cattle rearing, like
most other small villages in the region. But then, in 1925 a group of mountaineers
explored the area, discovering the fabulous skiing potential here. Soon afterwards a small
commercial operation was established. The business was slow to take off: late in
the 1950’s the resort still only had three employees. That was quick to change in the
1970’s, when a worldwide ski boom propelled this once quaint town into stardom. Now it
is a major winter sports hub with its population rising to nearly 40,000 during the season. The minimal rainfall, plentiful running water,
and ample sunshine make these mountain valleys ideal for vineyards. Wine-making has been a major part of Swiss
agricultural life for hundreds of years, and its success is largely attributed to the sophisticated
irrigation techniques developed long ago and continually refined to this day. ‘Bisses’, or water channels that run in abundance
down the mountainsides are designed to provide the grape vines with just the right amount
of moisture. The waters from these valleys and mountain
streams are all part of the vast Rhone River Basin. All in all, Switzerland has 5% of the
continent’s fresh water supply, and so is often referred to as “Europe’s water tower”. A few valleys over we come to Sion, one of
the country’s oldest settlements. There’s evidence that Neolithic farmers were
working the land here over 6,000 years ago. It later became a busy trading post during
the Roman Empire. The town is flanked by twin fortifications
standing on rocky outcrops which were carved out by glaciers in the last ice age. In the foreground is the Valere Basilica,
the more well-maintained and well-known of the two. This hilltop church was commissioned
by the Bishop of Sion soon after the city was established as Switzerland’s first Catholic
Diocese in the 4th century. And due to the city’s close relationship with
Christian Roman power, the Bishops were able to wrangle almost complete sovereignty for
Sion. Today, Valere Basilica is home to what is
thought to be the oldest organ in the world still in continuous use; built in 1435. And on the opposite hill is Tourbillon Castle.
Now little more than a ruin, this fortress – with its thick walls, and numerous towers
and battlements – was once a formidable deterrent to invading forces. Sion was attacked by the French in the 14th
century, forcefully incorporated into the Helvetic Republic in the 16th century, and
ransacked by various powerful families in the region over the years. It figures that
Tourbillon saw its fair share of action. Despite the city’s tumultuous history of warfare
the castle managed to remain intact until 1788, when it was devastated by fire. The stones were scavenged for a number of
years to reinforce other buildings in the town, until finally what was left of Tourbillon
was officially protected by the local government. Further west we find one of the most breath-taking
backdrops to any sport. Spread out at 1,800 metres above sea level,
and perched over the picturesque Rhone Valley, is the Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Course. The sport was played here casually since 1905,
as prior to WWI golf was almost solely the prerogative of the British Gentry. As a result
the venue wasn’t established in a big way until 1939 when it hosted its first European
Masters Tournament. About 20 years ago the course got its second
boost, when Severiano Ballesteros, the famed Spanish golf star, was commissioned to re-design
the grounds. Now it’s considered to be one of the top courses in the world. The Valais region covers some of the most
beautiful and rugged terrain in Switzerland, and has presented builders and engineers throughout
the centuries with irresistible challenges. … Like these bridges that cross one of the
countless sharp and deep ravines. The gorge has been carved out by running water over
thousands of years and is now roughly 800 metres deep. The old stone bridge and the modern car crossing
side by side is a wonderful example of how the Swiss merge the past and present with
seamless grace. The Alps make up 65% of Switzerland, so the
country’s engineers had to become experts in mountain travel if they wanted to get anywhere! And tunnels are their forte. The first Swiss
mountain tunnel was built in 1708; and now they’re woven beneath a large portion of the
alps. Traditionally Swiss villages were weeks of
travel apart from each other, and inaccessible most of the year; but now almost every isolated
hamlet is no more than a day’s travel by train. Eastward, the mountains become ever-more imposing. With over 47 peaks in Valais above 4,000 metres
in height, we are now moving into the heart of the Swiss Alps. The area may look unpopulated, but hill top
villages and tucked away hamlets dot the countryside. Transit across the alps has played an important
role ever since medieval times. But large-scale alpine tourism only began around the mid 1800s,
when British mountaineers travelled here to ascend the peaks. And perhaps the most popular Alpine crossing
point is here, the Simplon Pass. At 2,005 metres, the road offers dizzying views over
the valley below. This spot has been used for centuries, with
the first documented crossing by Kaspar Jodock von Stockalper in the 1600s, who carted salt
up from the Mediterranean on the backs of mules. But it wasn’t until Napoleon’s march across
Switzerland in the 19th Century that the pass was significantly developed into a highly
accessible thoroughfare. Napoleon’s army used this crossing point to
cart canons and artillery down towards Italy, but these days it’s open to everyone; and
thanks to recent strengthening and avalanche-protection procedures the pass is open all year around. Now we descend into the Simplon Valley. Italy
draws closer, and the climate becomes ever more Mediterranean. And as we edge ever closer to the Swiss and
Italian border, German fades away into Italian, which is the dominant language throughout
this area. The villages in the Valais region are sustained
largely by livestock rearing, and the fruit that’s grown here which make up the ingredients
for their famous regional cognacs Moving over the Zwischbergen Pass, we begin
our brief crossing of Italy. Here, human habitation appears in the most
unlikely of places. There are many larger settlements, too, nestled in the valleys… …like Rasa, a car-free Hamlet that’s home
to an eclectic mix of the descendents of persecuted protestants; and hippies who settled here
in the 1960s. Or, the town of Craveggia, whose name derives
from the Italian meaning “Goat Pasture”. Its 756 residents live primarily in centuries-old
farm houses with tall stone chimneys. Old, hand chiselled stone and wrought iron railings
comprise most of the abodes here, and a large portion of the residents live in the same
houses that have been in the family for countless generations. A devoutly Christian population that values
an honest life, their coat of arms motto reads: “fear not if thou do-est good”. And a few valleys down we come to the village
of Re. In the 15th century, the quiet settlement
was declared the site of a miracle by the Catholic church when a fresco of the virgin
Mary started to bleed profusely after a rock was thrown at it. This massive complex, the ‘Santuario della
Madonna del Sangue’, was built up around the miraculous fresco, and has become a popular
place of pilgrimage ever since. And following the lush Italian valley of Vigezzo
takes us back into Switzerland where we find our last stop on this journey… …the glorious Lake Maggiore Over 60km in length, it serves part of the
border between Italy and Switzerland. The Lake is less than 200 metres above sea
level, making it one of the lowest points in Switzerland and a popular summer retreat
for Swiss wanting to escape the cold mountain life. The towns and gardens sit at the foot of the
majestic Swiss alps, creating an atmosphere that has lured artists and intellectuals for
hundreds of years. On the southern tip of lake Maggiore is the
city of Locarno, an Italian speaking centre with a population of 150,000. It has been important since Roman times, and
in the mid 1900’s over 50 roman graves were discovered beneath its streets. This was the first evidence of Roman burials
and cremations from the same era taking place side by side. Like many cities in Switzerland, Locarno was
a stronghold of Catholic power, until it was incorporated into the Swiss Confederation
after the Napoleonic wars. Close by we come to Ascona. At 196 metres
above sea level it is the lowest-lying town in all of Switzerland. As well as being a popular destination with
its own jazz festival, it has developed a reputation for revolutionary thought. At the turn of the 20th century, a group of
idealists set up a thriving commune that rejected established conventions in favour of closer
links with nature. Though the commune is now long-gone, the tradition
for radical thinking continues in Ascona, through seminars held by the Universities
of Zurich and Lurcerne. And finally, we venture into the heart of
the lake, to the botanical gardens of the Brissago Islands. In stark contrast to the snow-capped peaks,
the climate here is subtropical and the exotic plants on the smaller of the two islands are
left mostly to grow wild. But its larger and more cultivated neighbour,
San Pancazio, is the main attraction for tourists. It was once a refuge for persecuted Christians. But in the 1880s, the local baroness created
exotic, subtropical gardens where artists, musicians, and writers were invited to meet
and work in an inspiring setting. Stone sculptures, and even Roman-style baths
were added to enhance its splendour. In the 1950s, district locals bought the island,
and opened it to the public. Finding Mediterranean, Asian, Australian,
and African plants growing in the middle of a Swiss lake is a reminder of just how surprising
and diverse this country can be. It’s a perfect place to end this journey.

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