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Lonely Planet Switzerland

Lonely Planet Switzerland

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Lonely Planet Switzerland

ratings:
3/5 (10 ratings)
Length:
1,029 pages
10 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Jun 1, 2018
ISBN:
9781787018914
Format:
Book

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Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet's Switzerland is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Ogle the glowing Matterhorn and enjoy après-ski in Zermatt, stroll Geneva's Old Town streets, hike through flower-strewn meadows, and hop aboard the Glacier express - all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Switzerland and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet's Switzerland:

  • Colour maps and images throughout
  • Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests
  • Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots
  • Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices
  • Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sightseeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss
  • Cultural insights provide a richer, more rewarding travel experience - covering history, art, literature, music, architecture, landscapes, wildlife, the Swiss way of life
  • Covers Zürich, Central Switzerland, Northern Switzerland, Mittelland, Fribourg, The Jura, Lake Geneva, Vaud, Geneva, Valais, Bernese Oberland, Ticino, Graubünden, Liechtenstein, and more

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet's Switzerland is our most comprehensive guide to Switzerland, and is designed to immerse you in the culture and help you discover the best sights and get off the beaten track.

Looking for wider coverage? Check out Lonely Planet's Western Europe guide for a comprehensive look at all the region has to offer.

About Lonely Planet: Lonely Planet is a leading travel media company and the world's number one travel guidebook brand, providing both inspiring and trustworthy information for every kind of traveller since 1973. Over the past four decades, we've printed over 145 million guidebooks and grown a dedicated, passionate global community of travellers. You'll also find our content online, and in mobile apps, video, 14 languages, nine international magazines, armchair and lifestyle books, ebooks, and more.

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Important Notice: The digital edition of this book may not contain all of the images found in the physical edition.

Publisher:
Released:
Jun 1, 2018
ISBN:
9781787018914
Format:
Book

About the author

Lonely Planet has gone on to become the world’s most successful travel publisher, printing over 100 million books. The guides are printed in nine different languages; English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Chinese and Korean. Lonely Planet enables curious travellers to experience the world and get to the heart of a place via guidebooks and eBooks to almost every destination on the planet, an award-winning website and magazine, a range of mobile and digital travel products and a dedicated traveller community.

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Lonely Planet Switzerland - Lonely Planet

Switzerland

Contents

Plan Your Trip

Welcome to Switzerland

Switzerland's Top 15

Need to Know

What's New

If You Like...

Month by Month

Itineraries

Switzerland Outdoors

Regions at a Glance

On The Road

Geneva

Sights

Activities

Tours

Festivals & Events

Sleeping

Eating

Drinking & Nightlife

Entertainment

Shopping

Lake Geneva & Vaud

Lausanne

Morges

Nyon

The Lavaux

Montreux

The Vaud Alps

Fribourg, Drei-Seen-Land & the Jura

Fribourg

Gruyeres

Charmey

Biel-Bienne

Ligerz

Murten

Neuchatel

Yverdon-les-Bains

La Chaux-de-Fonds

Porrentruy

Val de Travers

Mittelland

Bern

Emmental

Solothurn

Bernese Oberland

Interlaken

Jungfrau Region

Grindelwald

First

Kleine Scheidegg

Jungfraujoch

Lauterbrunnen

Wengen

Stechelberg

Murren

Gimmelwald

The Lakes

Thun

Spiez

Brienz

Meiringen

Kandersteg

Gstaad

Valais

Lower Valais

Martigny

Champery

Col du Grand St Bernard

Verbier

Sion

Sierre

Crans-Montana

Leukerbad

Zermatt

Saas Fee

Brig

Aletsch Glacier

Furka Pass

Ticino

Bellinzona

Lugano

Lago di Lugano

Gandria

Campione d'Italia

Morcote

Mendrisio & Around

Meride

Locarno

Ascona

Valle Maggia

Centovalli

Swiss Lakes

Central Switzerland

Lucerne

Lake Lucerne

Lake Uri

Brunnen

Schwyz

Einsiedeln

Engelberg

Zug

Andermatt

Northwestern Switzerland

Basel

Baden

Aarau

Alpine Villages

Zurich

Sights

Activities

Tours

Festivals & Events

Sleeping

Eating

Drinking & Nightlife

Entertainment

Shopping

Rapperswil-Jona

Winterthur

Northeastern Switzerland

Schaffhausen

Rheinfall

Stein am Rhein

Lake Constance

Kreuzlingen

Arbon

Rorschach

St Gallen

Appenzell

Walensee

Glarus

Braunwald

Graubunden

Chur

Lenzerheide & Valbella

Arosa

Flims, Laax & Falera

Vals

Disentis/Muster

Bad Ragaz & Around

Klosters

Davos

Scuol

Samnaun

Mustair

Zernez

Celerina

St Moritz

Silvaplana

Sils-Maria

Pontresina

Val Poschiavo

Val Bregaglia

Liechtenstein

Vaduz

Malbun

Understand

Understand Switzerland

Switzerland Today

History

Swiss Way of Life

The Swiss Table

Swiss Wine

Survive

Directory AZ

Accommodation

Children

Discount Cards

Electricity

Embassies & Consulates

Gay & Lesbian Travellers

Health

Insurance

Internet Access

Legal Matters

Maps

Money

Opening Hours

Public Holidays

Safe Travel

Telephone

Time

Toilets

Tourist Information

Travellers with Disabilities

Visas

Volunteering

Work

Transport

Getting There & Away

Getting Around

Language

Behind the Scenes

Our Writers

Welcome to Switzerland

Look beyond the chocolate, cuckoo clocks and yodelling – contemporary Switzerland, land of four languages, is all about once-in-a-lifetime journeys, heart-racing Alpine pursuits and urban culture.

Great Outdoors

Switzerland's ravishing landscapes demand immediate action – grab boots, leap on board, toot bike bell and let spirits rip. Skiing and snowboarding in Graubünden, Bernese Oberland and Central Switzerland are winter choices. When pastures turn green, hiking and biking trails abound in glacier-encrusted mountain areas and lower down along lost valleys, glittering lake shores and pea-green vineyards. View the grandeur from a hot-air balloon or parachute, or afloat a white-water raft. Then there's those must-do-before-death experiences like encountering Eiger's chiselled north face up close or reaching crevassed ice on Jungfraujoch. Most extraordinary of all, you don’t need to be a mountaineer to do it.

Urban Edge

The perfect antidote to rural beauty is Switzerland's urban edge: capital Bern with its medieval old town and world-class modern art, deeply Germanic Basel and its bold architecture, chic Geneva astraddle Europe’s largest lake, party-loving Lausanne, tycoon magnet Zug and uber-cool Zürich with its riverside bars, reborn industrial west district and atypical street grit. Castles and craft beer, gigs and new-wave restaurants – you’ll find the lot in Swiss cities. And never has the urban been so close to the outdoors: within minutes you can reach nearby peaks, chill at waterfront bars with Alpine views, or enjoy invigorating swims in the Rhine, Aare and Limmat.

Alpine Tradition

Variety is the spice of rural life in this rich, earthy land where Alpine tradition is rooted in the agricultural calendar and soaring mountains are a dime a dozen. Travels are mapped by villages with timber granaries built on stilts to keep the rats out and chalet farmsteads brightened with red geranium blossoms. Ancient markets, folkloric fairs, flag waving and alp-horn concerts engrave the passing of seasons in every soul. And then there's the food: a hearty and flavoursome gastronomic celebration of gooey cheese desperate to be dipped in, along with velvety chocolate, autumnal game and air-dried meats.

Avant-Garde Culture

Ever innovative, the Swiss have always embraced the new and the experimental. Capturing the zeitgeist up and down the country are cultural venues, attention-grabbing architecture and avant-garde galleries. Bern's wavy Zentrum Paul Klee bearing architect Renzo Piano’s hallmark, Basel's Frank Gehry–designed Vitra Design Museum and astounding Fondation Beyeler, Lugano's Mario Botta–splashed centre and state-of-the-art MASI gallery, and Geneva's thought-provoking Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain in a revamped 1950s factory are just the tip of the cultural iceberg. Even in back-of-beyond corners of the Alps you'll encounter unexpected nods to modern aesthetics, contemporary art and fresh-faced design.

A hiker with a view of the Matterhorn, Zermatt | Olga Danylenko/Shutterstock ©

Why I Love Switzerland

By Kerry Christiani, Writer

Der Berg ruft (the mountain calls) and nowhere more so than in Switzerland. My first forays into the country, some 15 years ago, had me hooked: riding a little red train from pine to peak, waking to jangling cowbells on remote pastures, hiking in the shadow of glacier-encrusted summits to rocky ledges where ibex leap, swimming in cold, crystalline lakes, snowshoeing through forests of frosty white. Switzerland effortlessly intermingles the great outdoors and urban culture. Standing on a bridge in Zürich, with the Alps on the horizon, a Swiss friend once said: 'God gave us everything'. Right he was.

Switzerland's Top 15

Matterhorn

No mountain has as much pulling power or natural magnetism, or is so easy to become obsessed with, as this charismatic peak – a beauty from birth that demands to be admired, ogled and repeatedly photographed at sunset, sunrise, in different seasons and from every last infuriating angle. And there is no finer place to pander to the Matterhorn’s every last topographic need than Zermatt, one of Europe’s most desirable Alpine resorts, in fashion with the skiing, climbing, hiking and hip hobnobbing set since the 19th century.

Matterhorn | EMPERORCOSAR/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Hiking in the Swiss National Park

Nowhere else in Europe is more synonymous with magnificent and mighty hiking beneath eagle-dotted skies than Switzerland, and its high-altitude national park, created a century ago, is the place to do it. Follow trails through flower-strewn meadows to piercing blue lakes, knife-edge ravines, rocky outcrops and Alpine huts where shepherds make summertime cheese with cows’ milk, taken fresh that morning from the herd. It's nature gone wild and on the rampage, and is a rare and privileged glimpse of Switzerland before the dawn of tourism.

Swiss National Park | Radius Images / Getty Images ©

Top Experiences

Aletsch Glacier

One of the world’s natural marvels, this mesmerising glacier of gargantuan proportions in the Upper Valais is tantamount to a 23km-long, five-lane highway of ice powering between mountain peaks at altitude. Its ice is glacial blue and 900m thick at its deepest point. The view of Aletsch from Jungfraujoch will make your heart sing, but for a hardcore adrenalin surge nothing beats getting up close: hike between crevasses with a mountain guide from Riederalp or ski above the glacier on snowy pistes in Bettmeralp.

Aletsch Glacier | PETE SEAWARD/LONELY PLANET ©

Top Experiences

Lake Geneva

The emerald vines marching uphill in perfect unison from the shores of Lake Geneva in the Lavaux are staggering. But the urban viewpoint from which to admire and experience Europe’s largest lake is Geneva, French-speaking Switzerland’s most cosmopolitan city, where canary-yellow mouettes ('seagulls') ferry locals across the water and Mont Blanc peeps at the action from above. Strolling Old Town streets, savouring a vibrant cafe society, paddle-boarding on the lake and making the odd dash beneath the iconic pencil fountain is what life’s about for the 180 nationalities living here.

Lake Geneva | ANTARES71/GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Glacier Express

It’s among the world’s most storied train rides, linking two of Switzerland’s glitziest Alpine resorts. Hop aboard the red train with super-panoramic windows in St Moritz or Zermatt, and savour shot after cinematic shot of green peaks, glistening Alpine lakes, glacial ravines and other hallucinatory natural landscapes. Pulled by steam engine when it first puffed out of the station in 1930, the Glacier Express traverses 91 tunnels and 291 bridges on its famous journey. Lunch in the vintage restaurant car or bring your own Champagne picnic.

Glacier Express | PETER STEIN/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Romance in Montreux

As if being host to one of the world’s most famous jazz festivals, with open-air concerts on the shore of Lake Geneva, is not enough, Montreux has a castle to add to the French-style romance. From the well-known lakeside town with a climate so mild that palm trees grow, a flower-framed footpath follows the water south to Château de Chillon. Historic, sumptuous and among Switzerland’s oldest, this magnificent stone château, built by the Savoys in the 13th century, is everything a castle should be.

Montreux | CHRISTIAN DAGNÆS/500PX ©

Top Experiences

Bern

Medieval cobbled streets, arcaded boutiques, a dancing clock and folk figures prettily frolicking in fountains since the 16th century: Switzerland’s capital city, Bern, just does not fit the quintessential ‘capital city’ image at all. Indeed, few even realise that this small town situated in the flat, unassuming middle bit of the country (hence the region’s name, Mittelland), where farms make Emmental cheese, is the capital. Yet its very unexpectedness, cemented by the cutting-edge hills of Renzo Piano’s Zentrum Paul Klee, is precisely its charm.

Bern | BAHDANOVICH ALENA/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Lakeside Lucerne

Medieval-bridge strolling is the charm of this irresistible Romeo in Central Switzerland. Throw sparkling lake vistas, alfresco cafe life, candy-coloured architecture and Victorian curiosities into the cooking pot and, yes, lakeside Lucerne could well be the start of a very beautiful love affair. With the town under your belt, step back to savour the ensemble from a wider perspective: views across the water of green hillsides, meadows and hidden lake resorts from atop Mt Pilatus, Mt Rigi or Stanserhorn will not disappoint.

Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge;) over the Reuss River, Lucerne | Alan Smithers / Getty Images ©

Top Experiences

Jungfrau Region

No trio is more immortalised in mountaineering legend than Switzerland’s ‘big three’ – Eiger (Ogre), Mönch (Monk) and Jungfrau (Virgin) – peaks that soar to the sky above the gorgeous 19th-century resort of Grindelwald. And whether you choose to schuss around on skis, shoot down Europe’s longest toboggan run on the back of an old-fashioned sledge, bungee jump in the Gletscherschlucht or ride the train up to Europe’s highest station at 3454m, your pulse will race. James Bond, eat your heart out.

Jungfrau Region | IAKOV KALININ/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Splash of the Rheinfall

So moved were Goethe and Byron by the wispy cascades of Staubbach Falls, their fairy-tale threads of spray ensnaring the cliff side in Lauterbrunnen, that they composed poems exalting their ethereal beauty. Yet it is the theatrical, crash-bang-wallop splash of the thunderous Rheinfall, guarded by a twin set of medieval castles, in northeastern Switzerland that really takes your breath away. To appreciate the full drama of it all, ride the panoramic lift up to the Känzeli viewing platform in medieval Schloss Laufen.

Rheinfall | GEVISION/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Sion & Valaisian Wine

Swiss vintages are hardly plentiful outside Switzerland, making their tasting and discovery in situ a rare and joyous experience. Gentle walking trails thread quietly through steeply terraced vineyards in Valais, producer of the country’s most rated wines, and many vignerons (winegrowers) open their doors for tasting and buying. Pair a vineyard walk with the region’s autumnal brisolée, the traditional harvest feast built around chestnuts, cheese, cold meats and vin nouveau. The town of Sion, with its cinematic twinset of castles and plethora of gourmet addresses, is the place to taste, appreciate and enjoy.

Vine-terraced hills of Sion | NIKONOMAD/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Zürich Lifestyle

One of Europe’s most liveable cities, Zürich in German-speaking Switzerland is an ode to urban renovation. It’s also hip (yes, this is where Google employees shoot down a slide to lunch). With enough of a rough edge for it to resemble Berlin at times, Zürich means drinking in waterfront bars, dancing until dawn in Züri-West, shopping for recycled fashion accessories in Kreis 5 and boogying with the best of them at Europe’s largest street party, the city’s wild and wacky, larger-than-life Street Parade in August.

Zürich | GEVISION/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Art & Architecture in Basel

World-class contemporary architecture is Basel’s golden ticket – the work of seven winners of architecture's Pritzker Prize can be ogled in and around this city on the Rhine. Kick off with a hop across the German border to the Frank Gehry–designed Vitra Design Museum, before devoting time to Switzerland’s best private modern-art collection at the Renzo Piano–designed Fondation Beyeler – the dream fusion of art and architecture. Linking the two is a new art-focused, 24-stop walking trail, the Rehberger-Weg, bearing the hallmark of German sculptor Tobias Rehberger.

Detail of the Basel Rathaus facade (Town Hall) | IZABELA23/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Lago di Lugano

An intrinsic part of Switzerland’s unique charm is its mixed bag of languages and cultures. And no spot on Swiss earth exalts the country’s Italianate soul with such gusto as Ticino's Lago di Lugano, a shimmering Alpine lake fringed with palm-tree promenades and pretty villages of delicate pastel hues. Lugano, the biggest town on the lake and the country’s third-largest affluent banking centre to boot, is vivacious and busy, with porticoed alleys, cafe-packed piazzas and boats yo-yoing around the lakeside destinations.

Lago di Lugano | GEVISION/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Rural Jura

Tiptoe off the tourist map and into clover-shaped Jura, a fascinating backwater on the French–Swiss border woven from thick, dark forests, gentle rolling hills, medieval villages and a go-slow vibe. No piece of scenery is too large, too high or too racy here. Rather, travel in rural Jura is an exquisite sensory experience laced with inspirational bike rides, cross-country skiing through silent glades, fragrant nights in hay barns, fabulous farm feasts and cheeses cut in the shape of flowers.

Rural Jura | PHILIPPE SONDEREGGER/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Need to Know

For more information, see Survival Guide

Currency

Swiss franc (official abbreviation CHF, also Sfr)

Language

German, French, Italian, Romansch

Visas

Generally not required for stays of up to 90 days. Some non-European citizens require a Schengen Visa.

Money

ATMs are at every airport, most train stations and on every second street corner in towns and cities; Visa, MasterCard and Amex widely accepted.

Mobile Phones

Most mobile phones brought from overseas will function in Switzerland; check with your provider about costs. Prepaid local SIM cards are widely available.

Time

Central European Time (GMT/UTC plus one hour)

When to Go

High Season (Jul, Aug & Dec–Apr)

A In July and August walkers and cyclists hit high-altitude trails.

A Christmas and New Year see serious snow-sports action on the slopes.

A Late December to early April is high season in ski resorts.

Shoulder (Apr–Jun & Sep)

A Look for accommodation deals in ski resorts and traveller hotspots.

A Spring is idyllic, with warm temperatures, flowers and local produce.

A Watch the grape harvest in autumn.

Low Season (Oct–Mar)

A Mountain resorts go into snooze mode from mid-October to early December.

A Prices are up to 50% lower than in high season.

A Sights and restaurants are open fewer days and shorter hours.

Useful Websites

My Switzerland (www.myswitzerland.com) Swiss tourism.

ch.ch (www.ch.ch) Swiss authorities online.

Swiss Info (www.swissinfo.ch) Swiss news and current affairs.

Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com/switzerland) Destination information, hotel bookings, traveller forum and more.

SBB (www.sbb.ch) Swiss Federal Railways.

Important Numbers

Swiss telephone numbers start with an area code that must be dialled every time, even when making local calls.

Exchange Rates

For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.

Daily Costs

Budget: Less than Sfr200

A Dorm bed: Sfr30–60

A Double room in budget hotel: from Sfr100

A Lunch out and self-catering after dark: from Sfr25

Midrange: Sfr200–300

A Double room in two- or three-star hotel: from Sfr200 (Sfr150 at weekends)

A Dish of the day ( tagesteller , plat du jour , piatto del giorno ) or fixed two-course menu: Sfr40–70

Top End: More than Sfr300

A Double room in four- or five-star hotel: from Sfr350 (Sfr250 at weekends)

A Three-course dinner in upmarket restaurant: from Sfr100

Opening Hours

Each Swiss canton currently decides how long shops and businesses can stay open. With the exception of convenience stores at 24-hour service stations and shops at airports and train stations, businesses shut completely on Sunday. High-season opening hours appear in listings for sights and attractions; hours are almost always shorter during low season.

Banks 8.30am–4.30pm Monday to Friday

Restaurants noon–2.30pm and 6pm–9.30pm; most close one or two days per week

Shops 10am–6pm Monday to Friday, to 4pm Saturday

Museums 10am–5pm, many close Monday and stay open late Thursday

Arriving in Switzerland

Zürich Airport Up to nine SBB (www.sbb.ch) trains run hourly to Hauptbahnhof from 5am to midnight; taxis cost around Sfr60 to the centre; during the winter ski season, coaches run to Davos and other key resorts.

Geneva Airport SBB trains run at least every 10 minutes to Gare de Cornavin; taxis charge Sfr35 to Sfr50 to the centre; in winter coaches run to Verbier, Saas Fee, Crans-Montana and ski resorts in neighbouring France.

Getting Around

Switzerland’s fully integrated public-transport system is among the world’s most efficient. However, travel is expensive and visitors planning to use inter-city routes should consider investing in a Swiss travel pass. Timetables often refer to Werktags (work days), which means Monday to Saturday, unless there is the qualification ausser Samstag (except Saturday). For timetables and tickets, head to www.sbb.ch.

Bicycle Switzerland is well equipped for cyclists. Many cities have free-bike-hire schemes. Bicycle and e-bike rental is usually available at stations.

Bus Filling the gaps in more remote areas, Switzerland's postbus service is synchronised with train arrivals.

Car Handy for hard-to-reach regions where public transport is minimal.

Train Swiss trains run like a dream. Numerous discount-giving travel cards and tickets are available.

For much more on gettnig around, see here

What's New

Grand Tour of Switzerland

The newly launched Grand Tour of Switzerland (http://grandtour.myswitzerland.com) brings together the country's greatest hits – from glaciers to culture-loaded cities, medieval villages to vine-fringed lake shores – in one epic 1643km road trip. As of 2017, it's also doable by electric vehicle (the E-Grand Tour), giving it impeccable eco-credentials.

Food Zürich

Zürich goes to town with markets, pop-ups, workshops, brunches, starlit dinners and more at this new festival in September.

LAC – Lugano Arte e Cultura

Lugano's shiny new cultural centre, the LAC, has made the city one to watch when it comes to the arts. At the forefront is its superb MASI gallery, staging a top-drawer roster of modern and contemporary art exhibitions.

Gotthard Base Tunnel

It was a long time coming, but finally it's here: the flat-track tunnel providing high-speed connections under the Alps is the world's longest at 57km. Full operation began in December 2016, carving 30 minutes off travel times between northern and southern Switzerland.

Crans-Montana Youth Hostel

Switzerland's newest youth hostel opened its doors in 2017 in a 1930s sanitorium. The views are out of this world.

FIFA World Football Museum

It's all about the game at this footy-crazy museum in Zürich, which hit the ground running when it opened in 2016.

Il Fermento

Craft beer is having something of a moment in Swiss cities, and cool new microbrewery Il Fermento is embracing the trend. It's perfect for quaffing a nicely chilled IPA on a warm summer's evening in Ticino.

Funky Chocolate Club

Make your own chocolate and feast on the results at these fun new workshops in Interlaken. What's not to love?

Treasure Chamber

This new museum in Vaduz sparkles with Liechtenstein's well-hoarded treasures, from jewels to weapons, royal gifts to Russian eggs.

Null Stern Hotel

How clever: this zero-star hotel, open entirely to the elements in the heart of the Appenzell Alps, comes with a butler, starry nights and big views.

Museum of Communication

Following a total overhaul, Bern's Museum für Kommunikation is set to open its doors in August 2017.

Rehberger-Weg

Outdoor art courtesy of German sculptor Tobias Rehberger stops you in your tracks on this new 24-stop trail in ever-innovative Basel.

For more recommendations and reviews, see lonelyplanet.com/switzerland

If You Like...

Mountain Vistas

Swiss mountain panoramas are gargantuan, magnificent, soul-soaring. The only requirement to venerate these astonishing vistas: a clear blue sky.

Eiger, Jungfrau & Mönch Switzerland’s big trio; hike from Grindelwald/Wengen or take a cable car to Kleine Scheidegg for close-ups.

Matterhorn Ride Zermatt's Gornergat Bahn or Matterhorn Glacier Paradise to admire the unfathomable trigonometry of Switzerland's icon.

Aletsch Glacier Shimmering 23km-long glacier that's best seen from Bettmerhorn or Eggishorn in the Upper Valais.

Schilthorn Enjoy a 360-degree view of 200 peaks stretching from Mt Titlis to Mont Blanc in France.

Jungfraujoch An uplifting lookout on 4000m peaks, the Aletsch Glacier and the Black Forest beyond.

Monte Generoso The 1704m summit offers a vista of the Italian lakes, Alps and Apennines.

Männlichen Incredible views of the Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen valleys reached via Europe’s longest cable car.

Art Museums

There's far more to Switzerland than chalet farmsteads with red geranium blossoms and milk churns on a bench waiting to be filled. Exhibit A: this stunning array of art museums.

Fondation Beyeler, Basel Switzerland’s best collection of contemporary art.

Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern The Swiss answer to the Guggenheim.

Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Martigny Picasso, Cézanne et al.

Sammlung Rosengart, Lucerne Blockbuster Picasso collection.

Fondation Pierre Arnaud, Lens Dazzling architecture and gallery, on a lake shore near Crans-Montana.

Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, Geneva Installation art in a 1950s factory.

Sammlung Oskar Reinhart am Römerholz, Winterthur All the modern masters, on a country estate.

Stiftung Langmatt, Baden Wild-card choice in a homey mansion with relatively unknown pieces by famous artists.

Family Travel

Switzerland’s Alpine playground ticks off activities for all ages. But kidding around isn’t only about kipping with the cows. Urban Switzerland woos kids with some catchy museums too.

Verkehrshaus, Lucerne Fly a plane or to the moon at the Transport Museum.

Col du Grand St Bernard Cuddle and walk St Bernard dogs.

Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein Zip down Carsten Höller’s whimsical 38m-long corkscrew slide.

Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, Zermatt Slide on ice in a glacial palace and snow tube at 3883m.

Saas Fee Feed wild marmots and shoot down the mountain on a scooter.

Gstaad Loop-the-loop Alpine Coaster, husky rides and guided llama and goat hikes.

Swiss Knife Valley Museum, Brunnen Build your own souvenir Swiss Army knife.

Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern Interactive art exhibits and workshops.

Alimentarium, Vevey Cookery workshops.

Castles & Abbeys

A smattering of fairy-tale castles and abbeys enhances Switzerland’s natural photogenic looks. Perched on hills or snuggled on the water’s edge, they're in picture-perfect settings.

Chillon Follow the Floral Path from Montreux to this huge stone castle on Lake Geneva.

Thun No schloss (castle) in Germanic Switzerland is as fairy tale as Thun’s red-turretted beauty.

St Gallen This grand abbey safeguards an extraordinary rococo library.

Bellinzona Unesco-listed trio of medieval castles in Italianate Ticino.

Sion Bewitching pair of 13th-century châteaux on rocky outcrops above vines.

Müstair Unesco treasure: Carolingian and Romanesque abbey frescos.

Baden Schloss-hop in a region straight out of Arthurian legend. Favourites: Lenzburg, Wildegg, Habsburg and Hallwyl.

St Gallen | BORIS STROUJKO/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Chocolate

No country is more synony­mous with chocolate. More than half of all Swiss chocolate is consumed by the Swiss, making this the obvious place in which to savour it.

Chocolate Train Ride in a belle époque Pullman car from Montreux to a chocolate factory.

Funky Chocolate Club, Interlaken Get messy making your own chocolate (and gorging on it) with the fun team here.

Schokoland, Lugano A spin through the history of chocolate and tastings.

Maison Cailler, Broc Create the chocolate bar of your dreams during a hands-on workshop at this chocolate factory.

Villars Chocolate, Fribourg Factory-price chocolate made from rich Alpine Gruyère milk and hot chocolate with chocolate shavings.

Verkehrshaus, Lucerne Funfair-car ride through the world of chocolate.

Café Sprüngli, Zürich Cafe and chocolaterie that's been the epicentre of sweet Switzerland since 1836.

Milk Bar, Verbier Legendary cafe in a chic ski resort with some of the country's finest hot chocolate.

Month by Month

Top Events

Lucerne Festival, April

Montreux Jazz, July

Swiss National Day, 1 August

Zürich Street Parade, August

L’Escalade, December

January

The winter cold empties towns of tourists, but in the Alps the ski season is in full swing. Glitzy celebrity station, lost Alpine village – Switzerland has a resort for every mood.

z Harder Potschete

What a devilish day it is on 2 January in Interlaken when warty, ogre-like Potschen run around town causing folkloric mischief. The party ends on a high with cockle-warming drinks, upbeat folk music and fiendish merrymaking.

z Vogel Gryff

An old folkloric celebration, this street party sees a larger-than-life savage, griffin and lion chase away winter in Basel with a drum dance on a city bridge. The savage sails into town on a raft afloat on the Rhine.

z World Snow Festival

Grindelwald glitters with astonishing ice sculptures during this six-day festival in late January. Sculptors from across the globe gather to flaunt their ice-carving skills, with everything from giant animals to abstract creations.

February

Crisp, cold weather in the mountains – there is lots of blue sky now – translates to ski season in top gear. Families mob resorts during the February school holidays and accommodation is at its priciest.

z Carnival

Never dare call the Swiss goody two-shoes again: pre-Lenten parades, costumes, music and all the fun of the fair sweep through Catholic cantons during Fasnacht (Carnival). Catch the party – stark raving bonkers – in Lucerne or Basel.

March

The tail end of the ski season stays busy thanks to temperatures that no longer turn lips blue and, depending on the year, Easter holidays.

3 Engadine Ski Marathon

Watching 11,000 cross-country skiers warming up to the rousing sound of 'Chariots of Fire' is unforgettable – as is, no doubt, the iconic 42km cross-country marathon for the athletes who ski across frozen lakes and through pine forests and picture-perfect snow scenes in the Engadine.

April

Spring, with its pretty, flower-strewn meadows, suddenly pops into that magnificent Alpine vista and the first fair-weather walkers arrive. By the end of the month, most ski resorts have gone into hibernation.

3 Lucerne Festival

Easter ushers in this world-class music festival, with chamber orchestras, pianists and other musicians from all corners of the globe performing in Lucerne. True devotees of the festival can return in summer and November.

June

As the weather heats up, so Switzerland’s events calendar increases the pace with a bevy of fabulous arts festivals. In the mountains, chalet hotels start to emerge from hibernation to welcome early-summer hikers.

z Pride

Zürich sings a rainbow at this huge LGBT street festival. Expect a high-spirited roster of parties, parades, concerts, shows and events.

3 St Galler Festspiele

It’s apt that Switzerland’s ‘writing room of Europe’, aka St Gallen, should play host to this wonderful two-week opera season. The curtain rises in late June and performances spill into July.

July

The month of music: days are hot and sun-filled, and lake shores and Alpine meadows double as perfect summer stages for Swiss yodellers, alpenhorn players and flag throwers.

3 Montreux Jazz

A fortnight of jazz, pop and rock in early July is reason enough to slot Montreux Jazz into your itinerary. Some concerts are free, some ticketed, and dozens are staged alfresco with lake views from heaven.

3 Paléo

A Lake Geneva goodie, this six-day open-air world-music extravaganza – a 1970s child – is billed as the king of summer music fests. Nyon in late July are the details to put in the diary.

3 Verbier Festival

Verbier's high-profile classical-music festival lasts for two weeks from July to early August. There are plenty of free events during the fringe Festival Off, alongside the official fest.

August

It's hot and cloudless, and the sun-baked Alps buzz with hikers, bikers and families on holiday – a pedalo on Lake Geneva is a cool spot to watch fireworks on 1 August, Switzerland’s national day.

z Swiss National Day

Fireworks light up lakes, mountains, towns and cities countrywide on this national holiday celebrating Switzerland’s very creation. Some of the most impressive illuminations light up the Rheinfall.

3 Schwingen

This high-entertainment festival in Davos sees thickset men with invariably large tummies battle it out in sawdust for the title of Schwingen (Swiss Alpine wrestling) champion.

z Street Parade

Mid-August brings with it Europe’s largest street party in the form of Zürich’s famous Street Parade, around since 1992.

z Fêtes de Genève

Geneva hosts one of summer's hottest festivals, with pop-ups, parties and concerts aplenty over 10 days in August.

September

Golden autumn days and grape harvests make this a great month for backcountry rambles. In the Alps, the cows come home in spectacular style.

z La Désalpe de Charmey

The cows descend from their summer grazing pastures in folksy style, adorned with elaborate floral headdresses and accompanied by costumed locals.

October

As the last sun-plump grapes are harvested and the first bottles of new wine are cracked open, sweet chestnuts drop from dew-strung trees. It’s nippy now, especially at altitude, where the first snow closes mountain passes.

3 Foire du Valais

Cows battle for the title of bovine queen on the last day of the cow-fighting season at this 10-day regional fair in Martigny in the lower Valais. Everyone rocks up for it, and it's a great excuse to drink and feast.

December

Days are short and it's cold everywhere. But there are Christmas markets and festive celebrations around the corner, not to mention the first winter Alpine skiing from mid-December on.

z L’Escalade

Torch-lit processions in the Old Town, fires, a run around town for kids and adults alike, and some serious chocolate-cauldron smashing and scoffing make Geneva’s biggest festival on 11 December a riot of fun.

Itineraries

Lost in Graubünden & Ticino

2 Weeks

Swinging through the rugged Alpine landscapes of Graubünden and the sunnier climes and lakeside towns of Italian-speaking Ticino, this circular route of Switzerland's southeast can be picked up at any point.

From Chur, head north for a detour to pretty Maienfeld and its vineyards. Spin east to ski queens Klosters and Davos, then surge into the Engadine Valley, with pretty towns like Guarda and Scuol (and its tempting thermal baths). The road then ribbons southeast to the Austrian border, which you cross to head south through a slice of Austria and Italy before veering back into Switzerland to contemplate frescos at Müstair. Continue southwest through picture-postcard Zuoz to chic St Moritz. Climb the Julier Pass mountain road and drop down the Via Mala gorges.

The southbound road crosses into Ticino and Bellinzona. Steam on past lakeside Locarno and up the enchanting Valle Maggia. Backtracking to Bellinzona, the main route takes you along the Valle Leventina before crossing the St Gotthard Pass to Andermatt. Nip into the monastery of Disentis/Mustér before plunging into designer spa waters in highly recommended Vals, the last stop before you arrive back in Chur.

Itineraries

The Glacier Express

1 Day or 1 Week

This 290km train journey has been a traveller must since 1930 and the birth of winter tourism in the Swiss Alps. Undertake it any time of year – in one relentless eight-hour stretch or, perhaps more enjoyably, as several sweet nuggets interspersed with overnight stays in some of Switzerland’s most glamorous Alpine resorts.

This trip is spectacular in either direction, but boarding the cherry-red train in St Moritz (grab a seat on the left (southern) side of the carriage) in the Upper Engadine Valley makes for a gradual build-up to the journey's inevitable climax: the iconic Matterhorn. About an hour from St Moritz, just after Filisur, the narrow-gauge train plunges dramatically out of a tunnel onto the six dark limestone arches of the emblematic Landwasser Viaduct (1901–02), built 65m above the Landwasser River in a considerate, photographer-friendly curve. Switzerland's oldest city and Graubünden's capital, Chur, about 2½ hours from St Moritz, makes a lovely overnight stop with its quaint old town, historic hotels and busy cafe and bar scene.

From Chur the track snakes along the Rhine Valley, through the spectacular Rhine Gorge (Ruinaulta in Romansch) with its bizarre limestone formations – the gorge is known as Switzerland's Grand Canyon. Next it's a gradual climb to Disentis/Mustér, home to an 18th-century Benedictine monastery, and then a stiff ascent to the Oberalp Pass (2044m), the literal high point of the journey, snow covered from November to April. Next stop is ski resort Andermatt, another perfect place to stretch cramped legs and overnight. The roller-coaster journey continues with a descent then a steady climb to the Furka Pass, enabled by Switzerland's highest Alpine tunnel (and, at 15.4km, the longest of the 91 tunnels on this journey). Next port of call is Betten, cable-car station for the drop-dead gorgeous, car-free village and ski resort of Bettmeralp. Hop off here or in neighbouring Fiesch and spend a day hiking or skiing and staring open-mouthed at the gargantuan icy tongue of the Aletsch Glacier.

From here the Glacier Express swings southwest along the Rhône Valley into Valais, stopping at Brig, its eclectic schloss (castle) topped with exotic onion domes; wine-producing Visp; and – drum roll – final destination Zermatt, where that first glimpse of the Matterhorn makes a fitting finale.

Itineraries

Switzerland's Greatest Hits

1 Month

This is the big one, bringing you the best of Switzerland in one epic, month-long, circular tour – from lakes to vineyards, mountains to meringues.

Start in Geneva with its vibrant museums and signature pencil fountain. Then take the slow road east along the southern shore of the lake in France – stop for lunch in Yvoire – or the fast road (A1) shadowing the Swiss northern shore (possible lunch stops are Lausanne, Vevey or Montreux). The next port of call is art-rich Martigny and châteaux-crowned Sion, worth lingering in for its wealth of vineyards, wines and memorable Valaisian dining. Continue east along the Rhône Valley, nipping up to Leukerbad to drift in thermal waters beneath soaring mountain peaks. In Visp, head south to obsessively stare at the iconic Matterhorn from the hip streets, slopes and trails of stylish, car-free Zermatt.

In the second week, get a taste of the Glacier Express with a train trip to Oberwald. Stop off in Betten for a cable-car side trip up to picture-book Bettmeralp, with its car-free streets and amazing vistas of the 23km-long Aletsch Glacier from atop Bettmerhorn. From Oberwald, drive north over the Grimsel Pass (2165m) to Meiringen (eat meringues!) and west into the magnificent Jungfrau Region with its once-in-a-lifetime train journey up to Europe’s highest station; base yourself in Interlaken or Grindelwald. If you have a penchant for Italian passion rather than hardcore Alpine extremes, stay on the Glacier Express as far as Andermatt instead, then motor south into Italianate Ticino for shimmering lake life in the glitzy and gorgeous towns of Lugano and Locarno.

The third week unveils a trip north to Lucerne, where you can cruise on a boat to lovely Lake Lucerne resorts like Weggis and Brunnen. Feast on Kirschtorte (cherry cake) in rich medieval Zug, then hit big-city Zürich to the north for a taste of urban Switzerland at its best (five days in all). Should you fancy some border-hopping, Vaduz, the tiny capital of tiny Liechtenstein, is very close by. Unesco-listed St Gallen is the next stop, from where you can spend a week lapping up Switzerland’s north.

Ending up in the Jura, it’s a quick and easy flit south to Neuchâtel on the northern shore of Lac de Neuchâtel, from where the motorway speeds to Lausanne on Lake Geneva and, eventually, Geneva.

Itineraries

City to City

2 Weeks

This Geneva-to-Zürich, 385km trip is for urbanites keen to mix metropolitan fire with small-town charm. It's eminently doable by car or public transport. Fly into one city and out of the other, or zip back to point A by train in 2¾ hours.

Landing in Geneva, explore Switzerland’s most cosmopolitan big city, then trundle along the shore of Europe’s largest Alpine lake to bustling Lausanne, a hilly lakeside town with a lively bar and cafe scene and a sweet old town. Continue along the same glorious route, aptly dubbed the Swiss Riviera, to the Lavaux wine region and beyond, past lakeside Château de Chinon, to Montreux. Head north next to Gruyères, land of chateaux, cheese, cream and pearly white meringues. Further north, you arrive in Fribourg on the French–German language frontier – cross it to pretty Swiss capital Bern. Later, drop down to the lakeside towns around Interlaken (there are plenty of top skiing, hiking and other outdoor options around here), then swing north to another bewitching lake lady, Lucerne. Rolling onwards, via tycoon magnet Zug, to Switzerland’s most hip 'n' happening city, Zürich, the atmosphere changes completely.

Itineraries

Northern Treasures

1 Week

Artistic, architectural and natural wonders are in the spotlight on this week-long spin through the country's oft-overlooked north.

In spite of all its natural wonders, Switzerland boasts overwhelming human-made beauty too, and there's no finer spot to appreciate this than in St Gallen, the seat of a grand abbey and church complex safeguarding one of the world’s oldest libraries (hence its privileged Unesco World Heritage Site status). Say cheese in Appenzell, a 50-minute journey from St Gallen on a narrow-gauge railway, then bear west along the southern shore of Lake Constance (with great summer outdoor action) or to Winterthur (with art museums and a kid-friendly science centre). Both routes end up in Schaffhausen, a quaint medieval town that could easily be German. Don’t miss standing in the middle of Rheinfall, Europe’s largest waterfall.

Next, continue further west to art-rich Basel, either direct or via a pretty southwestern detour through Baden and Aarau, two picture-postcard addresses that allow you to get lost in cobbled old-town streets. From Basel, it's an easy drive west again into the depths of Switzerland’s unexplored Jura. Push west to La Chaux-de-Fonds to discover several early works by architect Le Corbusier, who was born here.

Plan Your Trip

Switzerland Outdoors

In a country where a half-day hike over a 2500m mountain pass is a Sunday stroll and three-year-olds ski rings around you, it would be an understatement to call the Swiss 'sporty'. They're hyperactive. Why? Just look at their phenomenal backyard, with colossal peaks, raging rivers and slopes that beg outdoor adventure.

Climbing a rock face over Aletsch Glacier, Valais | LOST HORIZON IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES ©

Best Outdoor Adventures

Best Skiing

St Moritz Excellent varied terrain, a whopping 350km of pistes, glacier descents and freeride opportunities.

Best Hiking

Faulhornweg A classic high-Alpine hike, with photogenic views of the glacier-capped Jungfrau massif and Lakes Thun and Brienz.

Best Climbing

Zermatt A holy grail of mountaineering where rock climbers can get to grips with the 4000ers and measure up to the Matterhorn.

Best Rafting

Swissraft Roll along the fast-flowing Vorderrhein and past bizarre limestone formations in the Rhine Gorge.

Best Mountain Biking

Klosters & Davos Freeride heaven with 600km of mountain-bike tracks, including some challenging descents and single tracks.

Planning Your Outdoor Experience

Your outdoor experiences in Switzerland are far more likely to run smoothly with a little planning. Bear in mind that you'll need to book hiking huts well in advance (particularly during the peak summer months). Or pick a central base and plan day hikes from there. Other activities in popular adventure destinations also get booked up well ahead, so arrange these before you go to avoid disappointment. You can often beat the queues and save money by purchasing ski passes and organising ski hire online.

When to Go

Alpine weather is notoriously fickle. Even in August it can feel like four seasons in a day, with sun, fog, storms and snow; so check the forecast on www.meteoschweiz.ch before you head out.

December to April The slopes buzz with skiers and boarders until Easter. Prices skyrocket during school holidays.

May and June Crowds are thin and the weather is often fine. Snow patches linger above 2000m. Many huts remain closed and mountain transport is limited.

July and August A conga line of high-altitude hikers and cyclists makes its way through the Swiss Alps. All lifts and mountain huts are open (book ahead).

September to early October Pot luck: can be delightful or drab. Accommodation prices drop, as do the crowds, but many hotels and lifts close.

Mid-October to November Days get shorter and the weather is unpredictable. Expect rain, fog and snow above 1500m. Most resorts go into hibernation.

Skiing & Snowboarding

In a land where every 10-person, 50-cow hamlet has a ski lift, the question is not where you can ski but how. Ritzy or remote, party mad or picture perfect, virgin or veteran, black run or blue – whatever your taste and ability, Switzerland has a resort to suit.

Ski Run Classifications

Ski runs are colour coded according to difficulty:

Blue Easy, well-groomed runs that are suitable for beginners.

Red Intermediate runs that are groomed but often steeper and narrower than blue runs.

Black For expert skiers with polished technique and skills. They are mostly steep and not always groomed, and they may have moguls and vertical drops.

Safety on the Slopes

A Avalanche warnings should be heeded and local advice sought before detouring from prepared runs.

A Never go off-piste alone. Take an avalanche pole, a transceiver or a shovel and, most importantly, a professional guide.

A Check the day’s avalanche bulletin online at www.slf.ch or by calling 187.

A The sun in the Alps is intensified by snow glare. Wear ski goggles and high-factor sunscreen.

A Layers help you adapt to the constant change in body temperature. Your head, wrists and knees should be protected.

A Black run looks tempting? Make sure you’re properly insured first; sky-high mountain-rescue and medical costs can add insult to injury.

Passes, Hire & Tuition

Yes, Switzerland is expensive and no, skiing is not an exception. That said, costs can be cut by avoiding school-holiday times and choosing low-key villages over upscale resorts. Ski passes are a hefty chunk out of your budget and will set you back around Sfr70 per day or Sfr350 for six days. Factor in around Sfr40 to Sfr70 per day for ski hire and Sfr20 for boot hire, which can be reserved online at www.intersportrent.com. Equipment for kids is roughly half price.

All major resorts have ski schools, with half-day group lessons typically costing Sfr50 to Sfr80. Schweizer Skischule (www.swiss-ski-school.ch) has a clickable map of 170 ski schools across the country.

A good deal for keen skiers is the new Magic Pass (www.magicpass.ch; adult/child Sfr1299/799), which aims to attract more skiers to the country's lesser-known resorts. It covers 25 resorts and is valid for an entire winter season (November to April). Promotional rates are sometimes available online.

TOP SLOPES FOR...

Snowboarding Saas Fee, Laax or Davos.

Families Arosa, Lenzerheide, Bettmeralp or Klosters.

Off-piste Engelberg, Andermatt, Verbier or Davos.

Glacier skiing Glacier 3000 near Gstaad, Mt Titlis in Engelberg or Saas Fee.

Scenic skiing Zermatt or Männlichen.

Scary-as-hell descents The Swiss Wall in Champéry or the Inferno from Schilthorn to Lauterbrunnen.

Cross-country skiing Davos, Arosa or Kandersteg.

Non-skiers Gstaad or Grindelwald.

Regions

Switzerland has scores of fantastic resorts – the following ski regions are just a glimpse of what is up in the Alps.

Graubünden

Rugged Graubünden has some truly legendary slopes. First up is super-chic St Moritz, with 350km of groomed slopes, glacier descents and freeride opportunities. The twin resorts of (pretty) Klosters and (popular) Davos share 320km of runs; the latter has excellent parks and half-pipes. Boarders also rave about the terrain parks, freeriding and après-ski scene in Laax. Family-oriented Arosa and Lenzerheide in the next valley are scenic picks for beginners, intermediates and cross-country fans. Want to give the crowds the slip? Glide across to the uncrowded slopes of Pizol, Scuol, Samnaun or Pontresina.

Valais & Vaud

Nothing beats skiing in the shadow of the Matterhorn, soaring 4478m above Zermatt. Snowboarders, intermediates and off-pisters all rave about the car-free resort's 360km of scenic runs. Almost as gorgeous is Crans-Montana, a great beginners’ choice with gentle, sunny slopes, and Matterhorn and Mont Blanc puncturing the skyline. Verbier has some terrifically challenging off-piste for experts. Hard-core boarders favour snow-sure, glacier-licked Saas Fee. Snuggling up to France’s mammoth Portes du Soleil ski arena, Champéry has access to 650km of slopes. Queues are few and families welcome in lovely, lesser-known Bettmeralp in a quiet corner of Valais.

Bernese Oberland

At its winter-wonderland heart is the Jungfrau Region, an unspoilt Alpine beauty criss-crossed with 214km of well-maintained slopes, ranging from easy-peasy to hair-raising, that grant fleeting views of the ‘Big Three’: Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. Grindelwald, Wengen and Mürren all offer varied skiing and have a relaxed, family-friendly vibe. For more glitz, swing west to Gstaad, which has fine downhill on 220km of slopes and pre- and post-season glacier skiing at nearby Glacier 3000.

Central & Northeastern Switzerland

Surprisingly little known given its snow-sure slopes and staggering mountain backdrop, Engelberg is dominated by glacier-capped Mt Titlis. The real treasures here are off-piste, including Galtiberg, a 2000m vertical descent from the glacier to the valley. Wonderfully wild Andermatt is another backcountry ski-touring and boarder favourite.

Skiing near the Matterhorn, Zermatt | GORILLAIMAGES/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Resources

Books

A Which Ski Resort – Europe (Pat Sharples and Vanessa Webb) This well-researched guide covers the top 50 resorts in Europe.

A Where to Ski and Snowboard (Chris Gill and Dave Watts) Bang-up-to-date guide to the slopes, covering all aspects of skiing.

Websites

A Bergfex ( http://www.bergfex.com/schweiz ) Comprehensive website with piste maps, snow forecasts and details of 226 ski resorts in Switzerland.

A On the Snow ( www.onthesnow.co.uk ) Reviews of Switzerland’s ski resorts, plus snow reports, webcams and lift-pass details.

A If You Ski ( www.ifyouski.com ) Resort guides, ski deals and info on ski hire and schools.

A MadDogSki ( www.maddogski.com ) Entertaining ski guides and insider tips on everything from accommodation to après-ski.

A World Snowboard Guide ( www.worldsnowboardguide.com ) Snowboarder central. Has the low-down on most Swiss resorts.

A Where to Ski & Snowboard ( www.wheretoskiandsnowboard.com ) Resort overviews and reviews, news and weather.

ONLINE SKI DEALS

A For last-minute ski deals and packages, check out websites like www.igluski.com , www.j2ski.com , www.snowfinders.co.uk and www.myswitzerland.com .

A Speed to the slopes by prebooking discounted ski and snowboard hire at Ski Set ( www.skiset.co.uk ) or Snowbrainer ( www.snowbrainer.com ).

A If you want to skip to the front of the queue, consider ordering your ski pass online, too. Swiss Passes ( www.swisspasses.com ) gives reductions of up to 30% on standard ski-pass prices.

Walking & Hiking

It's only by slinging on a backpack and hitting the trail that you can begin to appreciate just how big this tiny country really is: it's criss-crossed by more than 60,000km of marked paths.

Walk Descriptions

A Times and distances for walks are provided only as a guide.

A Times are based on the actual walking time and do not include stops for snacks, taking photos or rests, or side trips.

A Distances should be read in conjunction with altitudes – significant elevation can make a greater difference to your walking time than lateral distance.

Safe & Responsible Hiking

To help preserve the ecology and beauty of Switzerland, consider the following tips when hiking.

A Pay any fees required and obtain reliable information about environmental conditions (eg from park authorities).

A Walk only in regions, and on trails, within your realm of experience. Increase length and elevation gradually.

A Stick to the marked route to prevent erosion and for your own safety.

A Where possible, don’t walk in the mountains alone. Two is considered the minimum number for safe walking.

A Take all your rubbish with you.

SOS SIX

The standard Alpine distress signal is six whistles, six calls, six smoke puffs – that is, six of whatever sign or sound you can make – repeated every 10 seconds for one minute.

Walk Designations

As locals delight in telling you, Switzerland’s 62,500km of trails would be enough to stretch around the globe 1.5 times. And with (stereo)typical Swiss precision, these footpaths are remarkably well signposted and maintained. That said, a decent topographical map and compass are still recommended for Alpine hikes. Like ski runs, trails are colour coded according to difficulty:

Yellow Easy. No previous experience necessary.

White-red-white Mountain trails. You should be sure-footed, as routes may involve some exposure.

White-blue-white High Alpine routes. Only for the physically fit; some climbing and/or glacier travel may be required.

Pink Prepared winter walking trails.

Regions

Alpine hikers invariably have their sights set high on the trails in the Bernese Oberland, Valais and Graubünden, which offer challenging walking and magnificent scenery. Lowland areas such as the vine-strewn Lavaux wine region and the bucolic dairy country around Appenzell can be just as atmospheric and are accessible virtually year-round.

In summer some tourist offices, including Lugano's, run guided hikes – free with a local guest card. Other resorts, such as Davos-Klosters and Arosa, give you a head start with free mountain transport when you stay overnight in summer.

Best Hikes

High-Alpine day hike Strike out on the Faulhornweg for spellbinding views of Lakes Thun and Brienz, Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.

Epic mountain trek Gasp at mighty Matterhorn on the Matterhorn Glacier Trail, a hike taking in wild glaciers and 4000m peaks. Or get close-ups of Eiger and the other Jungfrau giants on the Eiger Trail from Kleine Scheidegg.

Glacier hike Be blown away by the Aletsch Glacier and keep an eye out for black-nosed sheep.

Family hike Please the kids on the action-packed Globi Trail in Lenzerheide, the marmot-filled Felixweg at Männlichen or by walking a St Bernard at the high mountain pass of the same name.

Vineyard walk Take a family-friendly stroll through the vine-strewn Rhône Valley on the Sentier Viticole from Sierre to Salgesch. It's never lovelier than on a golden September day during the grape harvest.

Off-the-beaten-track hike Admire the pristine beauty of the Swiss National Park on the challenging Lakes of Macun hike.

Summer stroll Amble through rustic hamlets and along old mule trails on the Cima della Trosa walk, with bird’s-eye–Lago Maggiore views.

Pushchair hike Walking with tots is a breeze on the buggy-friendly trails in Zermatt and Verbier.

Hiking near the Matterhorn, Zermatt | IOANA CATALINA E/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Accommodation

One of the hiker's greatest pleasures in the Swiss Alps is staying in a mountain hut, and the SAC (SAC; www.sac-cas.ch; per person non-members Sfr20-40, members up to Sfr28) runs 152 of them. Bookings are essential. Annual membership, costing between Sfr80 and Sfr175, entitles you to discounts on SAC huts, climbing halls, tours, maps and guides.

If you are walking in the lowlands and fancy going back to nature, consider spending the night at a farmstay. Explore your options with Agrotourismus Schweiz %031 359 50 30; www.agrotourismus.ch) and Swiss Holiday Farms %031 329 66 99; www.bauernhof-ferien.ch).

KID MAGNETS

A Cow trekking along the Rhine in Hemishofen ( %052 742 40 48; www.bolderhof.ch; Bolderhof 1, Hemishofen; 90min trek per person Sfr95, half-day trek incl picnic Sfr150)

A Zipping above Grindelwald on the First Flyer ( h10am-5.30pm late Jun & Aug, to 4.30pm Sep, to 4pm Oct, noon-3.45pm mid Jan–mid-Apr)

A Taking a husky-drawn sleigh ride at Glacier 3000 near Gstaad

A Dashing through the snow on the 15km toboggan run from Faulhorn ( hDec-Apr)

A Racing helter-skelter down the mountain on trotti-bikes (scooters), jumbo scooters or dirt bikes at resorts up and down the country

A Swinging above the treetops at the Rheinfall’s Adventure Park

A Catapulting down the super-speedy Feeblitz luge track in Saas Fee

Resources

Books

Rother (www.rother.de) and Cicerone (www.cicerone.co.uk) publish regional walking guides to Switzerland.

A Walking Easy in the Swiss & Austrian Alps (Chet Lipton) Gentle two- to six-hour hikes in the most popular areas.

A 100 Hut Walks in the Alps (Kev Reynolds) Lists

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