Don’t be surprised if, while wandering around Switzerland this summer, you stumble across a group of tables set up in the middle of town where visitors are enjoying free food, drinks and hospitality.
During the 18th Century it was the custom in Switzerland for a hotel owner to invite new visitors to a special table at which they would have the opportunity to meet other visitors and learn about the food, customs and sites of the area.
This tradition has almost disappeared, but a new version is being introduced by the Swiss National Tourist Office.
The national tourist office has created a special table called “Table d’hote,” which it will send on tour to 16 towns beginning Saturday. In each town the table will be placed in the central square, and around it will be smaller tables and benches where visitors are welcome to “meet the Swiss” and enjoy free food and drinks.
The tour begins in Bern (April 1-5). Then to Geneva (May 9-11), Basel (May 30 to June 1) and Lugano (Sept. 30 to Oct. 1).
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Switzerland has more than 90 youth hostels, and many are near excellent hiking trails, but if you don’t want to try it alone, you can join economical guided tours of small groups of young international travelers. You can make arrangements through Jugi Tours, a travel service of the Swiss Youth Hostel Assn.
Before you commit yourself, make sure that you can take the challenge. A moderate walk for a Swiss hiker who is used to the altitude and terrain can feel much more demanding to an American who is still having trouble catching his breath and whose muscles haven’t been used to the same type of climbing exercise.
The “Hiking Weeks” featured by Jugi Tours offer one advantage in that you don’t have to carry a lot of luggage. The group stays in one hostel and does a variety of full- and half-day hikes.
On seven-day hikes accommodations are provided in dormitory rooms at youth hostels. The fee includes breakfast, dinner and the services of a guide. Groups are limited to 15 international travelers between 16 and 30 years.
Seven-day Hiking Weeks are offered in Zermatt, at the foot of the Matterhorn, for 300 francs (about $200 U.S.). The hikes are scheduled for July 8 and for Oct. 7 and 14.
In the famous ski center of Grindelwald the youth hostel is in a wooden chalet-style building that was once a private home. Hiking weeks begin July 15, Aug. 12 and Oct. 7 and cost 290 francs.
Arosa is a small, charming, resort village with dark blue lakes and a reputation for having an unusually high number of hours of sunshine a year. Hiking Weeks there cost 290 francs and begin July 22, Aug. 5 and Sept. 30.
Maloja is about 10 miles from St. Moritz in the southern part of the Engadine Valley. Hiking Weeks start July 15, July 29 and Oct. 14; cost is 285 francs.
Jugi Tours also operates hiking programs for international travelers from 16 to 30 that require carrying your luggage, with stays at youth hostels almost every night. Most of these programs are two weeks long, and travelers should be in excellent condition.
A two-week hiking trip visiting the famous holiday and skiing resorts of the Bernese Oberland departs July 23 and Aug. 6 and costs 630 francs. That includes accommodations in hostels, mountain shelters or hotels, also breakfasts, dinners and the services of a guide.
It’s important that most meals are included. You’ll discover that restaurant prices in Switzerland are high.
For more information on Jugi Tours, which also include mountaineering courses, bicycle tours and wind-surfing instruction weeks, contact the company at Neufeldstrasse 9 CH-3012, Bern.
For general information on travel to Switzerland, contact the Swiss National Tourist Office, 250 Stockton St., San Francisco 94108, (415) 362-2260.