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AFAR’s Cofounder on Where You Should Go Next

Since Joe Diaz and I started AFAR, people have often asked me where my favorite place to travel is. I struggle with how to answer, because I really love to go to places I’ve never been before. And I also feel that you can have a good experience in a not-so-great place—and you can have a bad experience in a great place—depending on whom you are with and what happens to go down on that trip.

So I vary my answers with different places that suit my fancy on any particular day, but invariably I include Switzerland on my list.

That sometimes gets a surprised reaction, particularly from people who know me well.

I love to get off the beaten path and to get beneath the surface of a place. Sometimes that means getting my hands dirty and exploring the underbelly of a place to discover its true essence. Places on my current “want to go to soon” list include Beirut, Tehran, and Myanmar—all very different places than orderly, peaceful, and meticulous Switzerland.

I should disclose here that AFAR is working with Switzerland Tourism to introduce travelers to all that Switzerland offers. AFAR has created itineraries, called AFAR Journeys, that cover highlights of the country and can be booked with an AFAR travel advisor. While I have a vested interest, my love for Switzerland dates from long before this partnership.

I just returned from ten days in Switzerland, where I got to experience so many of the country’s wonders: sailing on Lake St. Moritz, water skiing on Lake Maggiore (in the Italian-speaking Ticino region), and swimming in Lake Zurich, as well as non-water related activities, like hiking in Gstaad, wine tasting in Saint-Saphorin (in the French-speaking Lavaux wine region), and biking in the shadow of the Eiger. Of course, it was not always perfect. There was a rainy afternoon or two—the Swiss say, “God occasionally has to wash our mountains to make them so green and beautiful.” (Or another of my favorites, “The weather is never bad; just sometimes we are not properly dressed.”) But it was still a ten-day trip filled with beautiful sights and incredible people.

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This brings me to another part of Switzerland that I loved: the hospitality of the Swiss people. I know from the travel business, many of the best hoteliers in the world were born or trained in Switzerland. They are, by nature, great hosts.

Switzerland Tourism has a video series with their “ambassadors” Sebi and Paul that I love. One that I particularly enjoy, Summer Holiday, shows Sebi and Paul helping Switzerland transition from a winter holiday destination to a summer one. They trim grass, polish rocks, clean a lake with a pool skimmer, and vacuum a swimming deck, among other silly things. What makes it clever is that Switzerland really does seem to be so “perfect” that it is easy to imagine somebody must miraculously be doing all these little things to make it so.

Switzerland is the opposite of that dirty underbelly I so often seek in my travels. But it’s just naturally like that. No one came in and sanitized the country, tearing down the old and building new replicas. You won’t find fake waterfalls and “lazy river” rafting pools. For 200 years, the neutrality of Switzerland has been respected and the country has avoided the devastations of war. It became successful not through ravaging its natural resources but through hard work and making its beauty accessible to all.

Sometimes, I just want to visit a great destination: One that is amazingly easy to explore, where multiple languages are spoken (the four national ones, Swiss German, French, Italian, and Romansh, while English is common as well), history is all around, there’s beauty everywhere you look, and there’s always an interesting or exciting activity waiting. If that sounds like what you want in your next vacation, I recommend Switzerland.

Want to go to Switzerland with us? Check out our AFAR Journey itineraries!