Up next on the travel dream list: an alpine nation with ancient history, landscapes ranging from icy to verdant green, and four different linguistic regions: French, Italian, Swiss-German, and Romansh. Switzerland has lots to offer travelers seeking gourmet dining and outdoor adventure, with unusually easy access to lesser-trod regions. For a 2021 trip, the Swiss Travel Pass provides a ticket to the entire country’s trains, trams, buses, and boats – not to mention several cable cars and chairlifts to high mountain plateaus. All that’s left is to decide where to go. (Pro tip: For the ultimate in comfort and dramatic vistas, put that travel pass to good use on the Glacier Express train, an eight-hour traverse from Zermatt to St. Moritz with window seats offering panoramic alpine views, plus an exclusive bar, a five-course meal, and glasses of local Swiss wine.) Below, we’ve compiled the best Swiss destinations for every interest.
The cosmopolitan alpine resort of St. Moritz blends glamour, lifestyle, outdoor sports, and pristine nature. It even has “diamond dust,” which is not powdered jewels, but a weather phenomenon created by ice crystals. While St. Moritz is a byword for glamour, the rest of the Engadin is unpretentious and often overlooked.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in the Engadin and love the contrast between jet-setting St. Moritz and the historic, diverse alpine villages of Sils Maria, Zuoz, and Pontresina,” says Virtuoso advisor Doris White. “There’s a lot of moderate hiking in the area, with lifts and transportation options if needed.”
Many Swiss consider Romansh-speaking Engadin to be the country’s most down-to-earth region, with a culinary heritage that’s notably different from the ubiquitous raclette found elsewhere in Switzerland. Tasty pear breads, caramelly walnut torten, belly-warming oven-baked capuns (Swiss chard rolls), and maluns (a spaetzle-like dish made with grated potatoes slow-fried in butter) pair beautifully with grauburgunder, the local pinot gris.
Make no mistake, Zürich is an unapologetically modern banker’s town, home to Swiss heavyweights such as UBS and Credit Suisse. But creativity has always coursed through the ancient city. On a hill overlooking Old Town, you’ll find ETH Zürich, one of Europe’s most important universities and the alma mater of modern architects Herzog & de Meuron, Max Frisch, and Santiago Calatrava, not to mention Albert Einstein and 21 Nobel laureates. In recent years, waves of gifted young expats have migrated here, swelling the ranks of the booming design and architecture industries. The Kunsthaus Zürich museum invites visitors to browse almost 100,000 paintings and prints ranging from thirteenth-century masterpieces to works by Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, and Cy Twombly. A sleek new annex designed by British architect David Chipperfield is set to open in autumn 2021.
After a day of art viewing, refresh by going for a swim In the summertime, the city lets its guard down with a bevy of badis, lido-style swimming areas that dot the 40-plus miles of Lake Zürich’s leafy banks, the Schanzengraben Canal, and the Sihl and Limmat rivers.
Ticino, an Italian-speaking region in Switzerland’s southern reaches, lies just 35 miles away from Milan. The town of Lugano on the banks of its namesake lake attracts travelers looking for neoclassical architecture, mountain funicular-railway rides, and tours of its traditional lakeside grottoes, accessible only by boat or on foot. (The grottoes are a great place to order typical Ticino fare: polenta cooked over an outdoor fire, mortadella sausage, and zincarlin cow’s milk cheese, paired with a glass of merlot.)
On the Alps’ southern side, Ticino juggles mountain and subtropical vibes alike – evident in its downhill ski runs; the eucalyptus, azaleas, bamboo, and palms that flourish here; and the wooden lido decks that dot the lakes. Theater festivals, food tours, and visiting photography and art shows, such as the World Press Photo Exhibition, are popular.
This mountaintop glacier pass isn’t for vertigo sufferers. To get there, take a seat on the sustainable Jungfrau Railway – Europe’s highest – originally opened in 1912. The electric-powered train climbs for more than five miles through tunnels and pine forests to 11,332 feet, well above the tree line, where a landscape of cerulean glaciers and frosty white tundra awaits.
Jungfraujoch offers the archetypal Swiss experience: stroll past wooden chalets to visit pristine waterfalls, listening to the bells worn by grazing Braunvieh cows all around you. A perfect start to your journey is Interlaken, nestled between picture-perfect lakes (Brienz and Thun) and home to the Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa. Next up: visit Aletsch Glacier, the Alps’ largest, part of the UNESCO World Heritage-inscribed Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch area, that unites the cantons of Swiss-German-speaking Bern and French-speaking Valais. For chic shopping, check out Gstaad, home to seasonal residents such as Madonna and fashion designer Valentino Garavani and upscale hotel lodging.
With cobbled medieval lanes, a world-class modern-art scene, and a mashup of Michelin-starred and traditional cuisine, “cosmopolitan Basel sits right on the Rhine and remains a melting pot of cultures, with influences new and old,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Susan Boehnstedt.
Hop aboard a zip-line ferry boat for views of the Gothic sandstone Basel Minster cathedral, dating back to ad 1019, and admire the steep, colorful tiled roofs of ancient merchant homes lining the river. Or just jump in – the Rhine has become a popular flussbad (swimming area) for locals, with pop-up floating bars. While Covid-19 nixed most 2020 events, the city’s Basel Christmas Market will be held, with careful social-distancing guidelines in place, November 26 through December 23, 2020.
Few places better exemplify the country’s lush green meadows and alpine lakes than Central Switzerland’s myth-steeped national birthplace, Vierwaldstättersee (better known as Lake Lucerne). Here you’ll find “blessing of the Alps” alphorn ceremonies and yodeling concerts. This area was allegedly home to Swiss hero William Tell, and visitors can trek the scenic five-mile William Tell Path to visit the lake’s historic spots. If you don’t opt for the countrywide Swiss Travel Pass, the Tell Pass allows for unlimited use of Central Switzerland’s trains, trams, ferries, funiculars, and gondolas. “This is truly one of the country’s most magical areas,” Boehnstedt says. “Its crystal-clear lakes, rivers, and streams; majestic mountains; and welcoming country life is by far my favorite part of Switzerland.”
The closer you get to the French border, the better the Swiss food – or so says an old expression. Locals can argue it certainly holds true for Geneva, located at the southwestern base of Lake Geneva, which crosses into France. Traditional old-world Marché de la Fusterie has crêperies, rotisseries, and stalls hawking saucisson sausages, raw-milk cheeses, and organic preserves. Another favorite: Marchés de Carouge, in the expat and bohemian neighborhood of Carouge. Favarger, Geneva’s historic chocolatier, has made candies and brandy-filled truffles for more than two centuries. And A. Pougnier Boulangerie & Pâtisserie bakes croissants and petits fours on par with anything in Paris.
An hour by car from Geneva lies the relatively untouristed Lavaux wine country, home to the country’s most widely planted white-wine grape, chasselas, known for its stony, gunpowder notes. After your winetasting, book a dinner reservation at the three-Michelin-starred Restaurant de l’Hôtel de Ville or, hidden in downtown Geneva, one Michelin-starred bistro La Bottega.
The Matterhorn region, also called Valais, is a prime snow-sports destination. The coming winter season will offer glacier tours in the Saas Valley, adrenaline-racing downhill races, “First Tracks” passes for pristine early-morning runs, and the world’s largest international ski-in, ski-out area.
Experience the joy of learning, seeing, and doing together. Our well-traveled and well-connected team will guide you to the places, experiences, and people that will bring your destination to life. When it feels like time is just unspooling far too quickly, we’ll help you press “pause” and tap into all the wonders this world holds, all together. Immersive adventures and bond-building moments await.
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