With the Aussie dollar so strong, travellers are packing their bags and setting off around the globe. With so many affordable and desirable destinations to choose from, the Getaway
team had their work cut out to select the top 10 Aussie dollar holiday destinations. Coming in at number 10 on our best-value list is Switzerland
Most of Europe has adopted the euro, but the Swiss have stuck to their franc, which is a bit worse for wear against the Aussie dollar over the past year. So in places you've got almost 10 percent extra to spend on sightseeing. Switzerland is really one of those places you should see from top to bottom and Dermott Brereton thinks the best place to start is atop the 2132m-high Mt Pilatus Kulm in the northernmost Swiss Alps.
The summit of Mt Pilatus Kulm gives breathtaking views over central Switzerland and has been a most popular tourist destination since the early 19th century. British and German tour groups climbed its slopes on foot or with the help of mules.
The first written reference to Mt Pilatus dates to the 13th century but even then it was inhabited by Celtic herdsmen.
Since time immemorial, the rugged cliffs above Lucerne have been enveloped in myth and legend. In the Middle Ages, it was believed a dragon with healing powers and spirits inhabited the rocky crevices. It was said that the restless ghost of a Roman governor once found lasting peace in Lake Pilatus. For a long time it was forbidden to climb the mountain should they disturb Pontius Pilate.
When composer Richard Wagner reached the Mt Pilatus summit in 1859, he was so overwhelmed by the vista, he wrote The Ring of the Nibelungs.
Other famous people who have been to the top are Queen Victoria (on horseback), King Don Carlos of Spain and Antarctic explorer Lincoln Ellsworth.
Extraordinary views of the Alps and Vierwaldstättersee (Lake of the Four Forest Cantons, or Lake Lucerne) attract lovers of beauty and nature. These days their journey is much easier and there are several ways of ascending the mountain.
The world's steepest cogwheel railway climbs to Pilatus Kulm from Alpnachstad, easily reached by boat, train or road from Lucerne. Its climb passes meadows carpeted with Alpine flowers, crystal-clear mountain streams and wonderful sheer cliff formations. You may spot ibex, chamois, colourful alpine roses, arnica or gentian on your journey. More than 900 species of plants are native to the Mt Pilatus area, many of them officially protected.
There is also a cable car. Four-seat gondolas from Kriens, a suburb of Lucerne, take 30 minutes to glide up the first section, Fräkmüntegg, where you transfer to an aerial cableway to the top. That takes around five minutes.
On dry summer days, the exhilarating toboggan run takes adventurers down Switzerland's longest run. The 1350m chrome-steel channel has numerous twists, turns and tunnels. You get to regulate the speed you travel, and at the end, the lift pulls you gently back to the start.
If you fancy a rewarding walk, from Alpnachstad it's a five-hour hike to the summit. You may want to take the train back down!
The most popular option is the Golden Roundtrip which combines a trip by a lake steamer to Alpnachstad, a 30-minute cogwheel train climb, a five-minute descent by cable car to Fräkmüntegg and a leisurely ride in a panoramic gondola. It goes through the treetops to Kriens. Then there is a 15-minute bus ride back to the Lucerne train station.
Mt Pilatus Kulm, around one hour from Zurich.
Viator.com has a five-hour Mt Pilatus Golden Roundtrip tour leaving Zurich. It includes transport, summer toboggan run and cogwheel railway. The tour operates between May and October. It costs around $145 for adults and $73 for children.
Swiss Pass offers unrestricted travel on the entire rail, bus and boat network of Swiss Travel System, city trams and buses included. Fifty percent discount on many mountain railways and cableways and free entry to around 450 museums. They are available for four, eight, 15 or 22 days or one month.
Swiss Flexi Pass offers the same network and reductions. They come in three, four, five or six days of your choice within one month.
The Swiss Card includes one-day transfers from airport or border station to destinations in Switzerland and return plus unlimited tickets at half-fare. It is valid for one month.
For further information
Swiss Travel Cards
Visas: Australian passport holders require a valid passport but a visa is not necessary for stays of up to three months.
Electricity: 230V at 50Hz.
Time zone: GMT +1.
Currency: The Swiss franc.
International dialling code: +41.
Travellers should be "in date" for the standard Australia and New Zealand immunisation schedules. Depending on the time of year of travel and exact destination, other health precautions and preventions may be recommended and are best discussed with your doctor. For further information, speak to your doctor or visit www.welltogo.com.au or www.smartraveller.gov.au.
Top 10 best value places for Australians to visit
- US dollar up 20.95 percent
- Mexico peso up 20.80 percent
- Taiwanese dollar up 17.15 percent
- Thai baht up 16.18 percent
- Singapore dollar up 14.86 percent
- Japanese yen up 13.92 percent
- British pound up 12.98 percent
- Indonesian rupiah up 11.59 percent
- Euro up 9.78 percent
- Swiss franc up 9.64 percent
Source: Expedia.com.au. Figures reflect appreciation in the Australian dollar against world currencies over six months to October 2009.