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  • Writer's picturehilde

Switzerland, what’s not to love?



Updated: 4 days ago

Probably the expenses! But otherwise, I fell head over heels for this tiny country which holds so much natural beauty. Switzerland is approximately the same size as the Netherlands, and has the Alps going through much of the country, stunning mountain lakes, beautiful towns, lots of folklore, a funny German dialect (besides 3 other languages), and chatty people (okay some people beg to differ).


Lake Lugano

In the past I visited Switzerland a couple of times for work and leisure, but I really got to know Switzerland when I was living 2 winters ago in a ski resort close to Zürich. I worked part-time in a hotel and was skiing pretty much every afternoon, if not exploring the surroundings on my days off. After leaving the seasonal job, I kept coming back to visit other parts of Switzerland.


Tips

In this blog, I'll share places that I actually got to spend a little time, and that left a lasting impression on me. Even though it's a small country, there are still tons of places I haven't visited yet (mainly in the non German speaking parts). In the years to come, I'll likely keep adding places to this blog, so keep an eye out. At the bottom of this page, below the places to visit, I also left some general impressions and tips for travel.


Zürich: I have spend much time in and around Zürich, and hence dedicated a special blog post to this city, which you can read here. Other bigger cities, such as Luzern, Basel, Bern, Lausanne and Geneve, I only visited a couple of times, so I cannot give tips in details. From the above mentioned bigger cities, Luzern is top recommendation to visit! The city, set by a lake, is stunning, rich in history, and so close to many spectacular mountain peaks.


Rhine falls

Rhine falls

Europe's biggest waterfall, about an hour train ride away from Zürich. Great for a day trip, to walk around the waterfall and the Rhine, and have lunch in Schaffhausen, a beautiful small town nearby.


Lauterbrunnen: What's in a name? This valley, with 72 waterfalls, directly translates to "mere springs", and is one of the biggest protected nature reserves of Switzerland. Arriving with the train in Lauterbrunnen town, you immediately see the dazzling Staubbachfall which falls more than 300 meters down a steep cliff. From Lauterbrunnen, there's a panoramic train going up to Wengen which had me gasping the whole 11 minutes, as you get a spectacular view over the valley and its waterfalls. Wengen looked like a charming ski town with cute chalets and a nostalgic feel to it.


Lauterbrunnen

Gimmelwald (and surroundings): Hello dream town up in the mountains! This charming mountain town is just a bus and cable car ride away from Lauterbrunnen. Having read the below text on the blog 'my wanderlusty life', I knew I had to visit this place one day.


"Gimmelwald is a place so peaceful, so idyllic, you won't believe it even exists. It's wonderfully silent, expect for the cowbells and watersfalls. At night it's pitch dark and perfect for stargazing. The air is clean and fresh and the roads are devoid of cars and trucks. It's nothing less than pure Alpine bliss."

Through workaway I managed to stay a couple of weeks in Gimmelwald. Early morning and afternoons, I was working on a traditional organic beef farm, and in the afternoons and weekends, I got to explore the surroundings.


The town is tiny and peaceful, so I was really happy to find an awesome hostel in town, with a great community feel, regular live music and a terrace overlooking the steep mountains at close distance. It's called Mountain Hostel. With Janine, the owner, I did my first podcast interview ever. Have a listen how this adventure-loving lady ended up starting this hostel in one of the most idyllic places of Switzerland.

Another great place with awesome terrace, and lovely owners is pension Gimmelwald, which is right behind the hostel. They also have a lovely restaurant with a fire place, traditional dishes and a good beer selection. I hung out there a couple of times on lonely afternoons, and felt really welcome.


One mountain town up from Gimmelwald, is Mürren. You can take the gondel up but the walk is lovely (and with enough snow, you can slet back down!). Mürren is a bit bigger ski town, with some great eateries, and a supermarket for your groceries. Café Liv is awesome for coffee, cakes and hot chocolate, and it offers a few daily sandwiches. If you're more hungry, I'd recommend Alti Metzg. which has good food and great views!


There are three hikes that I like to mention because they were all amazing in their own way: hiking up to Almendhubel, the Northface Trail and the trek to the Sprutz waterfall. While visiting the waterfall in winter is not easy, I took the chance during milder temperatures. With nobody else around and icicles framing the waterfall, which you can pass beneath, it was a truly spectacular experience.

From Mürren, you can take the cable car all the way up to Schilthorn, the summit at 2970 meters. Some James Bond movie is filmed here (who cares 😉... but if you do, there was a little museum as well). In Mürren is also a train station, which takes you in a (spectacular!) 19 minutes panoramic train ride to Lauterbrunnen.


Brienzer See

Brienzer See area: Thun is a lovely town with a charming old center, located on the shores of Brienzer lake. I suggest taking a walk along the sunny north side of the lake starting from Brienz rail station, where you'll pass through some cute towns. Near Brienz rail station, you can also rent a hot tub boat and enjoy a relaxing soak while floating on the lake, even in freezing temperatures! If you're into second hand or need some ski gear, there's a big and really affordable (not like the expensive hipster second hand stores in Zürich 😉) in Brienz called Brockenstube. I saw ski shoes, ski's and outfits starting at 15 franks!


Clouds over Brienzer lake

On the south side of the Brienzer See there's a lovely hike up and along the Giesbach waterfall. Or you can take one of the many hiking trails passing through the fairytale like village Iseltwald and its surrounding forests. I also hiked up to Hinterburgseeli from Schweibenalp, a spiritual center I volunteered for a month, when it was full on winter. This made it a little challenging, but the reward of coming up to a frozen lake, which was tucked away in snow covered peaks, and veiled in patches of fog, was well worth it. The trail along the way is called the woodcarving trail, so around every corner you are pleasantly surprised with some fine wood crafts!


Arosa: From Chur, a one hour train ride climbing 1000 meters up, takes you into Arosa, a Kurort with a huge skiing area, as it's connected to the slopes of Davos and Lenzingerheide. The town, which lies at an altitude of 1800 meters, is snow-safe in winter time. The ski slopes are amazing; wide and with a good variety of gentle and advanced slopes, making it suitable for beginners too. The area is quite fancy, so do expect to pay a little more for everything. The town offers some great eateries, such as Aifach, which has stunning views and a very friendly service, and Güterschuppen, situated in a former train station, with a cozy lounge area centred around a fireplace. During my stay, I even happened to find oat cappuccino, which is so rare in mountains towns! I found it at this little Italian place close to the train station, with super friendly owners, called Caffè Spettacolo.

There's a squirrel route in town (just type it into google maps), and as the name suggests, you'll meet lots of curious squirrels, which is so cute! There's also a natural ice bath with sauna, called Eisbadi Arosa, which I imagine to be a perfect visit on snowy days (do check the opening hours). There's a ton of hikes to do. We took a little hike up to Schwellisee, but weren't prepared for the winter conditions (see left picture below). The lake was completely covered in snow, and you definitely needed snow shoes to explore the area in a safer way.


Skiing & hiking on winterish days in Arosa


Val Lumnezia: Oh, the valley of light! I stayed a week in this sunny alpine village with stunning panoramic views! I feel this is one of the lesser known regions for skiing and hiking in the Graubunden region. At least, I didn't see any tourists. Here, they speak Romansh, which is only spoken by 0,5% of the Swiss population.

Last August, I visited the area to see a friend and go hiking. The municipality offers free rides from the valley towns up to the mountains, saving you from the steep ascent. You simply need to call a number and reserve one of the set time slots. Since it was off-season, the transportation arrived promptly – what a luxury! Unfortunately, upon reaching the mountain, I realized I was ill-prepared for the intense heat (I'm more of a spontaneous hiker 😏). I began my hike at noon, carrying only minimal water and snacks, intending to stop at restaurants along the way. However, I discovered that most of them were closed. Instead of trekking along the peaks, I descended into one of the towns for a substantial lunch. Despite the change in plans, it was still a delightful hike, and I enjoyed observing the senior locals conversing in Romansh.


Click to expand


With temperatures up to 28 degrees, my only goal was to keep cool on the remain of my holiday. I found 2 stunning lakes in the area: Caumasee (which is paid and fenced but nonetheless incredible with its green water), and Crestasee (middle picture above), which is als paid, but not fenced and thus felt a little more 'natural'. Both are lovely, and so is the approx 1 hour 15 minute hike between those lakes. The forest is like from a hobbit movie! On the way, I took a little detour to pass by the viewpoint "Conn", which is, for lacking words, like from the movies. 360 degrees of views of the winding river through the valley, and on the other side this serene grass landscape at a backdrop of, of course, more mountain peaks! Another option to cool off in summer, is to take a train from Ilanz to e.g. Versam-Safien, which takes you right into the canyon (first photo above), as the train route is along the river Rhein. You can hike along the river and find a shallow place to dip. The river is pretty wild so also great for river rafting/canoeing.


Saas Fee: You know that video clip 'Last Christmas' from Wham? That was shot in Saas Fee! This place is like a fairytale! The old charming town is flocked with beautiful old chalets and little cabins on stilts! And of course, it's a great place for skiing. It is a bit of a place for the "high society", so it's more expensive than average. It's a while ago that I visited, but I recall there were a lot of places to enjoy cheese fondue, in all kinds of varieties.



Meiringen-Hasliberg

What can I say? This is just one of many of such regions with mid-sized ski slopes, stunning mountain vistas and a relaxed charm spread throughout its quaint mountain towns. In this area there are numerous houses designed by a student of John Wright, a famous American 20th century architect and founder of the "organic architecture" movement. I had the luck to stay in one of such houses (see photo above), with lots of glass and wood elements, that completely immerse you in the surrounding landscape.


The Ticino feel in one picture

Ticino

Ohhh, I feel my innermost being screaming from excitement as I'm writing the words: TICINO! Aaaah, this region! I've spend about a month in this Italian like province in southern Switzerland. It was mid-February, but I could sun bath in bikini most days. I cat sitted in a little town just outside of Lugano for 3 weeks and have been travelling around for about a week in Valle Maggia. The region is one of my top favourite places ever: so stunning, sunny, serene and pristine, incredible old towns with ancient architecture, great food and amazing lakes, rivers and the mountains never far away. I'll dedicate a separate blog to this, but in a nutshell, visit stunning Lugano and the surrounding lake, walk the olive trail to Gandria and have lunch at Locanda Gandriese. Dip in one of the ice cold bright green looking rivers in Valle Maggia, hike up to waterfalls, and visit one of the many ancient picturesque towns.


Appenzell (Silvesterchlausen): a region full of folklore

Ah, this was such a special experience! When I was living and working in a ski town close to Zürich, I woke up one morning feeling like I wanted to experience Swiss folklore. I googled a little and exactly at that day, the 13th of January, Silvesterchlausen was celebrated! It's an ancient new years celebration, first mentioned in scriptures of 1663, and is likely much older!

So off I went, not knowing what to expect. I saw masked men, dressed up in incredible costumes, called the beautiful, the pretty-ugly and the ugly. They run in small groups through the valley from town to town, with 40 kilo heavy bells around their necks, singing and yodelling everyone a happy new year, and in return receive a shot of alcohol (nowadays at least). They start early mornings and go on past midnight! It's truly an incredible sight. It blew my mind that such oldskool festivities still exist in Europe. The museum about this tradition is also really fun and informative (lots of music is coming from this region too!) and you can try on the heavy bells that these dudes walk around with for up to 24 hours!


General tips & impressions


Languages & culture

In Switzerland there are 4 official languages, of which Swiss German is by far the most common language (spoken by 62,3%), followed by French (20,8%) Swiss-Italian (8%), and a tiny population speaks Romansh (0.5%) which sounds like a mix of Latin and German to me.

And in a way Switzerland feels like 4 different countries. When I ask Swiss people what unites them, they don't really have an answer but they do feel they're all Swiss. It's funny to me, that organisation's also often work in their language region, e.g. an architect bureau in Zürich is likely to work for the Swiss-German speaking region and not for any of the other regions. So language in that sense really does pose a barrier. I also noticed that not many people speak another language of the country, but rather speak English as a second language.


Pride & belonging (Swiss vs foreigners)

I have yet to meet a Swiss person who is not incredibly happy to be Swiss. The number of times I've heard: "We have got it all", often referring to the countries incredible natural diversity and beauty, on top of being one of the wealthiest countries in the world. They are certainly not like the Dutch who love to complain about their country (although I also think we have more reason to complain with our many grey and rainy days 🤪).


Contrary to the Swiss pride, many expats struggle to feel at home. I heard this numerous of times in my own circle of acquaintances that are living in Switzerland, as well as seeing it's the most common topic in facebook groups of "expats in Switzerland". 'How to make friends' or 'how to find a relationship', seem to be the number one questions, followed by a ton of (depressing) replies that say the Swiss are closed off and impossible to befriend. Whilst I think this also depends on your own personality and cultural background (the Dutch way is likely not that different from the Swiss way as e.g. when you're from the US), I do see the Swiss as not being the most open-minded country. They are pretty inward looking & traditional (both on a political and personal level). Yet, I have also come to know them as chatty. It's been quite common for random people to talk to me at a restaurant, or on the streets. Likely because they assume I'm Swiss, and the fact that I speak fluent German helps. But for those that struggle to make friends, don't give up! Talk to random people, invite others to your house when you feel you get along and don't take a first "no" as a final no. You have to be a bit bold and persistent, but friendships are totally possible. It could also be helpful to ask in your own circle and amongst your social media connections whether they can introduce you to Swiss connections. Also volunteering, joining a sports club or creative course are ways to get in touch with locals.


Public transport

If you are planning to travel a lot by public transport (which I'd advice!) and stay at least a month, or planning to come back more often throughout the year, it might be worthwhile to look into a halbtax pass with which you get 50% discount on your train tickets. Costs 185 franks and pays back insanely fast, if you realise that a 2 hour trip (one way) can easily cost up to 70 franks. There’s also a general all-in-one pass for tourists which you can purchase for the days that you are in the country and covers all your travel + some extras such as free entrance to 500 museums. Check it here.


Best time to visit

Year round, depending on if you are a winter sports kind of person, or more of a hiking and ‘chilling by the lake when it’s warm’-type of person. Autumn is also lovely for the changing colours of the beautiful forests and less touristy.


What's your take on Switzerland? Where should I head next?


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