Picturesque village

The European city break with a magical welcome and a Harry Potter-style attraction

WITH the other passengers, I jump out of my train seat and rush to the window to see what it’s all about.

I’m just in time to spot a white-haired man standing on a hill in the Alps, proudly waving a huge Swiss flag above his head.

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Sunny Lugano and historic Lucerne, pictured, make a perfect trip between two centersCredit: Switzerland Tourism
The Gotthard Panorama Express is the perfect way to soak up the views

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The Gotthard Panorama Express is the perfect way to soak up the viewsCredit: KEYSTONE

Drivers tell us that for years, Xavier has been welcoming tourists in this way on every passing train.

The Gotthard Panorama Express is the perfect way to soak up the views on your journey through this landlocked country.

With Switzerland, one often imagines a skiing holiday on snowy slopes, but spring sees the slopes come to life with lush green pastures replacing all that ice.

Our cameras capture aqua blue lakes and chocolate alpine villages among verdant valleys.

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We travel to Lucerne in central Switzerland from Ticino, the southernmost and sunniest region.

As I devour a pistachio ice cream on the shores of Lake Maggiore, the feeling of vacation sets in.

Although there are plenty of hotels in the city of Locarno, including the only 4H – Hotel Belvedere – for those watching their holiday there are also budget options, with campsites a short walk from the center on the shores of the lake and the Maggia River.

Later I visit the Termali Salini and Spa where for £30 you can enjoy lake and mountain views all day from the edge of an infinity pool or bathe in natural pools of water salty.

The contemporary spa also includes saunas and steam baths as well as a host of treatments and massages.

It was a taste of luxury after a day of walking through blooming gardens.

The most spectacular are the Brissago Islands, or “floating gardens”, where 1,700 plants, including bamboo and palm trees, grow in a climate similar to Chile, Western Australia and the Mediterranean.

Further south we took a trip to the city of Lugano, where the Gotthard Panorama Express begins.

It certainly has an opulent feel, with cobbled streets lined with designer boutiques.

A walk through the gardens of Parco Ciani is free and we enjoyed pastries from the local bakery while admiring the view of Lake Lugano.

Similar to the bridge leading to Hogwarts

A short drive away is the charming village of Morcote. We strolled through the narrow streets leading down to Lake Lugano, marveling at the calm that reigns.

Morcote’s biggest attraction is the Parco Scherrer, another surprisingly subtropical garden that rises up a hill.

Its views are well worth the walks and there is also a fascinating collection of flora and fauna, artwork and sculpture.

As I devoured a pizza (and a glass of red) at Ristorante della Torre on the seafront, I felt like I was on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. In fact, you can see Italy just across the lake.

This is the specificity of Switzerland. Surrounded by other European nations, it is a mosaic of cultures that you cannot get bored of.

Depending on where you are staying, the Swiss will speak French, German and Italian. So expect to be lost for words if you move between areas where the languages ​​change.

After our train journey from Lugano, we arrive in central Switzerland, in the German-speaking city of Lucerne, fringed by mountains and on the shores of another sparkling lake.

Morcote's biggest attraction is the Parco Scherrer, another stunningly subtropical garden that rises up a hill

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Morcote’s biggest attraction is the Parco Scherrer, another stunningly subtropical garden that rises up a hillCredit: provided
Drinks above Lake Maggiore

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Drinks above Lake MaggioreCredit: provided

The Chapel Bridge takes center stage in this compact city, which seems almost untouched since medieval times.

The bridge dates back to the 14th century and is strikingly similar to the one seen leading to Hogwarts in Harry Potter. It is considered one of the oldest wooden covered bridges in Europe.

Locals say it’s Switzerland’s most picturesque landmark, especially during the summer when its flowerbeds have been planted with thousands of geraniums.

Historic houses decorated with frescoes line the picturesque town square as well as the pedestrianized old town.

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Sunny Lugano and the historic city of Lucerne make a perfect trip between two centers.

Ideal for spring and summer, they offer all the pleasures of sophisticated city living as well as the opportunity to enjoy nature right on their doorstep.

GO: SWITZERLAND

GETTING THERE : Swiss Airlines offer flights from Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham to Geneva and Zurich from £54 one way, including 23kg of checked baggage. See swiss.com.

STAYING THERE: Rooms at the Belvedere Hotel in Locarno start at £260. See belvedere-locarno.com. The Wilden Mann Hotel in Lucerne has rooms from £212. See wilden-mann.ch/en.

OUTSIDE & SURROUNDINGS: The Swiss Travel Pass gives you unlimited travel by train, bus and boat as well as free entry to more than 500 museums and mountain excursions and a 50% discount on mountain trains and funiculars.

Valid from three to 15 days, prices start at £186 for over 25s, £133 for younger ones. Children under 16 are free. See swisstravelsystem.es.

MORE INFORMATION: See myswitzerland.com.