At 41,000 square kilometres, about two-thirds the size of Tasmania, it’s blissfully possible to see the diversity of Switzerland in a relatively short time. Linda Moon joins Tourism Switzerland’s Grand Tour to check out the best sights of the country…
From the Goldenpass line train, a panorama of crisp hills and villages glide away. Red geraniums paint the hillsides, blazing from window boxes hung from farmhouses. It’s quaintly green, as charming as a child’s picture book. This is the quintessential Swiss countryside with a summer hue, though the country’s winter alter-ego equally attracts those seeking a romantic getaway.
The less known lures to Switzerland – ranging from strolling though World Heritage-listed vineyards to romantic lake cruises of a balmy evening in a land where the summer sun stays up late – are now on show in the Grand Tour of Switzerland, a tour launched earlier this year by Switzerland Tourism. A pre-planned route, the Grand Tour covers over 1600km, crosses four language regions, climbs five alpine passes, and glimpses 22 lakes, 11 UNESCO World Heritage sites, and a biosphere, all over the course of one week. It’s a tour which encompasses culture, history, scenery, food and adventure, where couples can choose to participate in portions of the self-guided tour to suit their own interests and desires for their romantic getaways.
Within this week, I have experienced plenty. I’ve visited medieval villages and cruised upon shining lakes. I’ve prepared fondue on a mountain, bathed in frigid natural streams at a kneipp and traipsed across a glacier. I’ve dined in a château overlooking the mountains, explored a 12th Century castle, and visited museums, spas, vineyards and medieval vineyards. And that’s just the beginning.
While the tour showcases popular highlights of the country, it also aims to reveal some of Switzerland’s less known attractions, hidden from tourists for years. “The tour not only features the iconic spots such as Zurich, Basel, Lucerne, Mount Titlis, Interlaken, Jungfrau and the Vaud region, but introduces many lesser-known towns and villages such as St Gallen, Brig and Neuchâtel,” says Mark Wettstein, director of Switzerland Tourism. “It really shows off Switzerland’s untouched, picture-perfect scenery and diversity in the country’s cultures and traditions.”
And show it off, it does. My journey has been undertaken by coach, scooter, tram, train, electric tour bus, paddle steamboat, gondola, cable car and plane. Bicycles and convertibles offer other tempting means for traversing the country, while there’s ample opportunity for simply walking through the cities, laneways, hillsides, forests and lakesides. It’s indicative of the varied modes for scoping the country (and the Swiss love of transport), but also the diversity of attractions on offer.
With so many novel experiences, it’s hard to choose which I like best. Is it perhaps the hike through the emerald mountains of Gstaad? Or the exhilarating scooter ride down Wispile Mountain, amidst the ringing of cowbells? Or perhaps it’s the waterways that criss-cross across the land and impart lifeblood to the country, bounding rivers, flowing streams and great glittering lakes. Among them are Lake Lucerne and Lake Geneva, adorned by banks of flowers and romantic mountain vistas, and the startlingly blue Lake Brienz in the Bernese Oberland.
Equally stunning is the scenery from the top of the Alps, accessed only by cable cars and cogwheel trains. Even in summer it’s possible to gaze upon glacial ice and snow from the mountains such as Mount Titlis, the highest vantage point in Central Switzerland and only an hour by fast train from Zurich.
Yet it’s the unexpected moments and the small details that have delighted me the most: the glitter of water fountains among the towns and cities; the banks of grapevines basking in the sunset along Lake Geneva; the magical thrill of being lost in a mirrored labyrinth at Lucerne’s Glacier Museum; the poignant history behind the lion monument of Lucerne; the sight of dairy cows meandering down the mountain to graze in the village of Gstaad.
On the final night of my tour, I watch the stars peek out over the city of Zurich from the rooftop thermal bath of Zurich’s Thermalbad and Spa. Tonight, I’m staying at the adjacent B2 Boutique Hotel. A former brewery dating from the 19th Century, its modern refurbishment and 33,000 book library lounge is a nice contrast to the grand quarters of the Lausanne Palace and Spa Hotel, or the laid-back mountain atmosphere of Saanewald Lodge in the mountains of Gstaad.
Delightfully satiated by my evening meal at cult eatery Restaurant Hiltl (the world’s first vegetarian restaurant, circa 1898), I’m able to relax and reflect on a perfect week. Gazing down on the sleeping medieval city and beyond in to the rim of mountains, I’m inspired to return here and indulge in another blissful adventure in this romantic, fairytale-filled land.
Getting around in Switzerland
The Swiss Travel Pass covers unlimited travel by train, bus and boat, including panoramic routes and public transport. It also includes 50% off most mountain railways and free admission to over 480 Swiss museums. It’s also possible to purchase a Swiss Half Fare Card.
Some highlights of the Grand Tour of Switzerland
- Château de Chillon, Montreax – medieval moated castle
- Jungfraujoch – look out on the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau at the highest railway staion of Europe
- Entelbuch Biosphere – moors and rugged karst
- Lavaux terraced vineyards – 830 hectares of vines along Lake Geneva
- Villages of Appenzell, Grimentz, Gruyeres and Willisau
- Old Towns of Bern and St-Ursanne
- Lucerne – city of light and water
- The castles of Bellinzona
- The Swiss Riviera
- Thermal baths of Leukerbad
...and that’s just a start!
For more info on the Grand Tour of Switzerland, check out Switzerland Tourism.