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  • 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.