Swiss sightseeing with kids? Grin and bear it

Switzerland is a country most of us dream of visiting at least once in our lives, but we may not have planned to see it with a small child in tow. If you are lucky enough to find yourself in Switzerland with a youngster, you're both in for a treat. Not only does most of the country look like a page from a book of fairy tales, but the Swiss love children and go out of their way to make them happy and comfortable.

Zurich is a fine city in which to begin your Swiss adventures. It is conveniently located and offers every possible amenity for you and a young companion. There are swimming and boating on Lake Zurich, and stargazing, weather permitting, through a powerful Zeiss telescope at the Urania Observatory Tower. There are several fascinating museums, among them the Swiss National, or Landsmuseum, offering guided tours in English and displays of old toys and dolls.

June is festival month in Zurich and the city offers special attractions and musical activities for all ages.

Children demand frequent stops for food and rest, and Zurich will never let you down. The city is dotted with snack stands selling wurst and sandwiches. You're always welcome in tearooms and cafes, where you can sit undisturbed for as long as you like.

An interesting way to meet the Swiss people is to register for the "Don't Miss the Swiss" program through the Zurich Tourist Office. They will introduce you to a family with interests similar to yours and with a child or children of comparable age. You and your new friends take it from there. You may decide to tour the city together, or the Swiss family may invite you for a day's visit in their home or for an excursion to the Alps.

From Zurich there are train and bus excursions to many of the interesting sights of Switzerland. If you rent a car, so much the better. You can investigate all the little villages along your way and give your energetic child a chance to run off steam on the hilly terrain. Stop at a bakery for fresh bread and at a butcher shop for cold meat and you can picnic whenever you wish.

Among the most interesting Swiss sights for small fry are the Rheinfall -- an enormous waterfall on the Rhine -- where you can enjoy a boat ride beneath the falls, the fairy tale village of Zermatt, reached by train only, and Grindelwald , where fat cows wearing clanging bells swing through the main street each evening at dusk.

Zermatt, at the foot of the Matterhorn, deserves special mention for older children interested in hiking. There is safe, easy hiking at Riffleberg, with a guide if you prefer. Younger children will be thrilled with rides on cable cars , chair lifts, and the highest cog railway in Europe.

On a quiet afternoon roam the magnificent fields of wildflowers or visit St. Bernard Hospice. You will be welcomed by smiling monks and exuberant friendly dogs that are no longer used for rescue work but still love company.

Grindelwald also offers good hiking and a magnificent train ride up the Jungfrau through a setting straight out of "Heidi."

The village at Altdorf is the legendary site of the William Tell adventure. Children will be fascinated by performances of Schiller's "William Tell," which are presented here against a backdrop of meadows and chalets.

Basel, second largest city in Switzerland, boasts one of the world's best zoos.

Bern is the "Bear City" where you can feed the city's mascots in bear pits dating from the 15th century. Children will also love the Zeitglockenturm, where a crowning rooster, bears, and other mechanical figures announce the hour. Bern also offers good fishing in several lakes.

Lugano has water sports and expensive St. Moritz offers many summer activities for children and skating and skiing lessons in winter.

If you are Geneva or Zurich or another of the major cities on Aug. 1, National Independence Day, your offspring will be entertained by fireworks, parades, and bonfires on the mountain peaks.

Dining out will be one of the high points of your child's travels. Most children are fascinated by fondue and want it three times a day. They also enjoy Raclette, another tasty cheese dish, and the many varieties of wurst. Most Swiss breads and meats are free of chemicals. Fresh cold milk is almost always available.

Desserts are a child's delight. There is Schaffhauserzungen -- rich cream filled cakes -- dessert souffles, and lots of chocolate.

Souvenirs include music boxes, hand carved toys, dolls in regional dress, and embroidered clothing.

The only problem you're likely to encounter with a child in Switzerland is convincing him or her that it's time to go home.

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