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Tips and Advise for visiting Switzerland by Road to Travel Inc.

Friday, August 5, 2016

What to do in the Lake Lucerne Region

The Lake Lucerne Region in Central Switzerland is the best place to start exploring the country on private tours of Switzerland. The region has something for everyone: cultural events, museums, a network of Alpine hiking trails, boat cruises and much more. Here are a few suggestions on what to do in the Lake Lucerne Region.

Lake Lucerne
Immerse in history and culture

Lucerne is a must-see for history and culture buffs. Walk around the city to see iconic Chapel Bridge, the medieval watch towers, the charming old town brimming with architectural gems, stunning Baroque churches. Lucerne hosts many music festivals all year round such as Summer Night Festival (Luzernfest) in August, Lucerne Festival with concert series of classical music, Lucerne Blues Festival, the World Band Festival in September. 

See Lucerne from above

The Hammetschwand Lift is Europe’s highest exterior elevator that will take you to the Bürgenstock plateau. The lift shoots 153 metres in a minute to take passengers to the summit 1132 metres above sea level. The views over the Lake Lucerne an Alps will take your breath away. 

Mount Pilatus
Explore Lake Lucerne by boat

Hop on a boat to see the 38-kilometer-long lake and its shores. The William Tell Express, combines a boat ride with a train excursion through the St. Gotthard Pass. In summer, you can board a historic paddle-wheel steamer heading to the pretty town of Flüelen.

Climb the mountains

Mount Pilatus, the Stanserhorn, the Titlis are all within an easy reach from Lucerne. The Rigi mountain range has many hiking trails and spectacular views over the Alps from the top. If long hikes is not your cup of tea, hop on a cable car that will take you to several summits or take the cogwheel train to the Rigi. 

Cable car on Mount Titlis

Enjoy winter sports

Some of the best winter sports resorts are located in the Lake Lucerne Region. With 500 kilometres of ski slopes, the 8-kilometre Melchsee-Frutt sledging track and 40 kilometres of cross-country ski tracks you will never get bored here in winter.

Photos via Flickr by: Tomasz Trzebiatowski, Devon D'Ewart, Björn Söderqvist.

Exploring Sion

A sunny town of Sion, the capital of the Canton of Valais, is a must-see on private tours of Switzerland. Elegant architecture, excellent museums, music festivals all with the spectacular mountain peaks as a backdrop make the town a popular destination all year round. 

Two magnificent castles, Tourbillon and Valère, stand atop twin hilltops above Sion like ancient guards. The 14th Château de Tourbillon was burnt, rampaged an rebuilt through centuries. Today visitors can see the restored rooms, the keep, the beautiful chapel, frescoes in the castle and admire breathtaking vistas over the town and valley.  The Cantonal Museum of History housed in the Château de Valère tells the fascinating story of Valais. Inside the cathedral of Valère is a 15th century Gothic organ, one of oldest playable organs in the world.

Château de Tourbillon
Stroll around Sion’s charming Old Town to see historic buildings and pretty squares. The Sorcerers‘  Tower is one of the few surviving fragments of the medieval walls that once surrounded the town. It reminds of the famous witches’ trials that took place here between the 15th and 18th centuries. 

Reminders of gory torture used to extract confessions of involvement in witchcraft can be seen inside the tower. The old Town Hall, Cathedral of Notre Dame du Glarier, church of Saint Theodule, Bishop’s Museum will tell you about Sion’s rich fascinating history that goes almost 7000 years back.

Located in the heart of one of the Switzerland’s biggest wine regions, Sion is surrounded by terraced vineyards with centuries-old dry stone walls. Make sure to try excellent local wines the Fendant, Ermitage, Dôle and Syrah that are hard to find outside the country. Take a walk along the vineyards see how much work goes into winemaking here and admire the views over the valley.

Château de Valère
In summer, Sion hosts the International Antique Organ Festival with top-class concerts in the Castle Church of Valère, several other music event as well as “son et lumière” shows with concerts and special lighting effects that turn the of Valere and Tourbillon into a something of a fairy tale setting.

Photos by: Owen Massey McKnight/Flickr, Johannes Löw/Wikimedia Commons, Julian Mendez/ Wikimedia Commons. 

Ruinaulta, Switzerland's Grand Canyon

Dubbed the Grand Canyon of Switzerland, the Rhine Gorge Ruinaulta is a sight to behold on private tours of Switzerland. 

More than 10,000 years ago, during the Flims Rockslide, huge rocks tumbled down into the Anterior Rhine Valley obstructing the Rhine River. Over the course of time, the mighty stream carved its way through the pile up forming the dramatic Ruinaulta. Hundreds metres deep, the canyon is flanked by imposing cliffs and dense forests. Outdoors enthusiasts flock in the area for great rafting, biking, canoeing and hiking. The gorge is also famous for its diverse wildlife and stunning orchid blooms. 

One of the most popular hiking trails runs from Laax to Il Spir, a high observation platform that allows breathtakingly beautiful views over the Rhine Gorge. Lake Cauma is another popular spot where, after a good hike, you can swim in the turquoise waters.  

The gorge can also be reached by the Rhaetian Railway. You can get off at Trin, Versam-Safien or Valendas-Sagogn stations and continue to explore on foot or just relax in your seat and take in the spectacular views of the canyon from your window.

Lake Cauma
There are many picturesque villages along the trails running to the Ruinaulta where you can stop to relax and have a hearty meal. Ilanz sits at the start of the gorge and is a great starting point for adventurous explorers. In winter, the area around the village fills up with winter sports enthusiasts who come here for skiing, snowshoeing, tobogganing, Nordic skiing and winter hiking. In Reichenau, where the Upper and Lower Rhine meet, you can cross a 100-metre long suspension bridge across the river, walk to a spectacular viewing platform in the Bonaduzer Forest or tale a tour and chill out with a glass of wine at the 17th century Reichenau Castle’s winery.

Photos via Flickr by: Rosmarie Voegtli, Kurt Zwahlen.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Vevey: wine, chocolate and Charlie Chaplin

The picturesque town of Vevey on Lake Geneva is a great destination to visit private tours of Switzerland to explore the Swiss Riviera

The town’s lakeside promenade lined with bright flowers and palm trees sets the relaxed atmosphere. Here you can admire the stunning panorama of the Alps and walk all the way to the Chillon castle via Montreux or, alternatively, hop on a historic paddlewheel steamer cruise around the lake.

The historic part of Vevey is full of charming cafes, restaurants, chocolatiers and boutiques that are worth checking out. Pop in to the Vevey Historical Museum or Musée Junisch museum for a doze of fine arts. 

The Nestlé corporation was founded with its headquarters still based here. The company founded the world’s first museum devoted exclusively to nutrition, Alimentarium, where you can learn fascinating facts about the human diet, science and cultural aspects of food and nourishment from interactive displays and artefacts. 

Street in Vevey
Vevey is the birthplace of milk chocolate with many local artisans still continuing the delicious tradition. Head to Confiseur Läderach to take a guided tour of the chocolate factory and taste their delectable products.

The famous comedian Charlie Chaplin spent the last twenty five years of his life in Vevey. You can take a few snapshots of his bronze statue in a rose garden on the lakefront or head to the newly-opened Charlie Chaplin museum in his enormous estate of Manoir de Ban. The museum’s immersive nature allows visitors to experience sitting in a cabin hunging on the edge of a cliff, as Chaplin did in Gold Rush, see the giant machinery from his film Modern Times and check out a replica of the restaurant in which Chaplin’s film character ate his shoe in The Immigrant.

Charlie Chaplin
Board the Lavaux Express, a tractor-pulled train that takes tourists through the Lavaux vineyards where you can taste excellent local wines. The Golden Pass funicular will take you from Vevey through vineyards to the foot of Mont Pélerin. Hike to the top of the mountain for majestic views over the lake and the Alps

Photos via Flickr by: Martin Hapl, Yola Simon, Beat Strasser.

What to do in Davos Switzerland

The highest town in the Alps, Davos is renowned across the globe as the host to the World Economic Forum (WEF) and one of Switzerland’s largest ski resorts. With a huge range of activities it has something to do for everyone on private tours of Switzerland.

Enjoy the outdoors

Davos is a great destination for outdoors enthusiasts all year round. In summer, cable cars take holiday makers to the main hiking areas near the town with 700 km of marked trails. The Davos Lake has a well-equipped swimming area, sailing and surfing centre. In winter, the town attracts many skiing and snowboarding fans who enjoy the world-class facilities with 300 km of slopes, 58 ski lifts, 75 km of cross-country ski tracks, ice-skating rinks and Europe’s largest natural ice rink. If you are not an adrenalin junkie, you can head for horse-drawn sledge ride across the stunning valleys or explore winter footpaths and snowshoeing trails.

Skiing in Davos
Take a train ride

Davos is the starting point for the famous Glacier and Bernina Express train routes. Take your pick: the Glacier Express travels for more than seven hour over 291 bridges, through 91 tunnels and up to the 2033 m high Oberalppass to Zermatt; the Bernina Express crosses beautiful valleys, zooms past snow-capped peaks and majestic glaciers. There is also the Rhätia Pullman Express with its vintage luxurious saloon cars that takes it passengers from Davos to St. Moritz through the romantic Zügen Gorge and over the spectacular Wiesen Viaduct.

Hiking near Davos
Relax in a spa

Davos boasts some of the best spas in the country where you can chill out. Many of them are located in the local four and five star hotels and offer thermal baths, solariums, saunas, open-air whirlpools with spectacular views over the Alps and a vast range of beauty treatments that will make you feel like a new person.

Devour hearty local dishes

With all the activities on offer, you will have an appetite for the hearty Swiss cuisine and Davos has many excellent restaurants. Grilled meats and sausages, delicious fondue, creamy pastries, nut tarts, crispy local wines and excellent beers will satisfy the most demanding palates.

Photos by: Wikimedia Commons, Toni Birrer/Flickr, Masia Vilalta/Flickr.

Monday, July 4, 2016

What to do in the Canton of Appenzell

The country’s most traditional region, Appenzell Innerrhoden is often included in private tours of Switzerland to showcase its rural customs, folk music and natural beauty. It is a world apart from the glitz and glamour of many other cantons in the Swiss Alps and is perfect if you want to see the authentic side of the country. Here is our list of suggestions on what to do in the Appenzell.

Appenzell Region
Listen to traditional music

This part of Switzerland is renowned for its many folk music festivals where visitors can see locals dressed up in traditional costumes, singing and dancing. Yodelling, Ratzliedli teasing and joking songs, amazing alphorn performances, Schölleschötte (musical chords created with cowbells), Talerschwingen (music created by a group of people spinning coins inside of a bowl) are all part of fascinating musical traditions of the Appenzell

Alphorn Players
Visit farms

You can immerse in local life and visit one of many Alpine farms in the region. Some of them organize cow milking and cheese making for visitors, whey hot baths in wooden barrels, hay making days. If you are feeling adventurous you can even sleep in a hay barn and have a hearty farm-fresh breakfast in the morning.

Enjoy outdoors

Appenzell is paradise for outdoors enthusiasts all year round. There are 1200 km of well-maintained hiking trails for any level of fitness to explore in summer. In winter, visitors avail of 200 km of cross-country ski trails. If you want to admire Alpine views without breaking a sweat head to one of many cableways that will take you the summits of the Säntis, Ebenalp or Hohe Kasten mountains.

Appenzeller Cheese
Gorge on local delicacies

The region has many delectable specialties to devour while visiting or take home as edible souvenirs. Take Appenzeller Bärli-Biber soft gingerbread with an almond filling or Landsgmedchrempfli pastries filled with hazelnuts to snack on during spectacular hikes in the area. 

Try the famous Appenzeller cheese in a sandwich or melted in fondue washed down with an excellent local beer.

Photos via Flickr by: Bo Stern, Alphorn-Weltrekord Gornergrat, Prescott Pym.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

What to do in the Valais Region

The Valais Region is famous for its formidable peaks, glaciers, wines, skiing resorts and thermal springs. It is one of the most visited cantons in Switzerland for good reason: it has everything that makes the country such a great place to visit. Here is a quick pick of things to do in the Valais to whet your appetite and send you packing your suitcase.

Enjoy the outdoors

The region is not only home to the majestic Matterhorn but also other 44 peaks, all over 4000 metres high. The spectacular landscape makes it a dream destination for outdoors enthusiasts all year round. In winter, you can enjoy world-class skiing resorts with 2400 kilometers of slopes. In summer, hike more than 8,000 kilometers of marked walking and biking trails running past glaciers, mountain streams, beautiful lakes and verdant valleys.

Taste local wines

The Valais is Switzerland’s largest wine region with more than 20,000 winegrowers and 700 winemakers. You can taste excellent Pinot Noir, Chasselas, Gamay and other less-known local varieties in many independent wineries of the region that are open for tastings.

Take a relaxing soak

There are several year-round thermal resorts where you can relax, soak in mineral-rich waters and pamper yourself. Such resorts as Leukerbad, Ovronnaz, Brigerbad and many others offer hundreds of wellness treatments that can be combined with outdoors activities and gourmet dining.

See the glaciers

You don’t need to be an experienced alpinist to see the Swiss Alp’s most spectacular glaciers. Hop in a cable car that will take you to Klein Matterhorn where you can admire the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise and visit an ice grotto inside the glacier. In the Upper Rhone Valley a cable car can take you up to the Bettmerhorn, one of the best locations to view the mighty Grosser Aletsch Glacier, the largest glacier in the Alps. 

Visit Alpine towns and villages

Travel through the region exploring picturesque mountain towns and villages, each with its unique architectural gems and traditions. Martigny has beautifully restored Roman temples and medieval churches. In Chandolin, one of the highest, continuously inhabited settlements in Europe, visitors admire charming traditional timber houses and spectacular vistas. In the tiny mountain-top village of Erschmatt you can learn how to make traditional Valaisan  rye bread from local grains. 

Photos via Flickr by: Matthias Burch, Jessica Gardner, Mark Goebel.

Natural wonders in Switzerland

Switzerland’s awe-inspiring natural beauty makes it a dream destination for anyone. Formidable mountain peaks, glaciers, alpine lakes, verdant valleys attract millions of visitors every year. Although almost every corner in Switzerland is breathtakingly beautiful, there are several very special natural wonders that stand out.

Aletsch Glacier
Aletsch Glacier

Europe’s longest glacier, this living reminder of the Ice Age is 23km long and 900m thick holding up to 27 billion tonnes of ice. You do not need to be an experienced alpinist to reach this natural wonder, just hop on a cable car in Bettmerhorn and be prepared to be awestruck by the glacier’s immensity. 

Rhine Falls

Located on the Upper Rhine, the Rhine Falls are the largest in Europe pushing more than 700,000 litres of water each second in the peak season from the height of 23 metres. You can stand on a platform nearby and hold your breath in awe watching the waters roar past you or, if you wish to get closer to this natural wonder, take a boat trip to the island in the middle of the falls.

Rhine Falls
Lauterbrunnen Valley

The ethereal beauty of this glacial valley in the heart of the Alps inspired J.R. Tolkien's Rivendell and Middle Earth. Flanked by sheer cliffs, the valley is only one kilometre wide but over three kilometres deep. It is famous for its 72 waterfalls cascading from the mountains. The most spectacular ones are the Staubbach Falls, the highest free-falling waterfall in Europe, and the Trümmelbach Falls that carved its way inside a mountain. 

Öeschinensee Lake
Oeschinensee Lake

Locals in Kandersteg will tell you that that Öeschinensee is the most beautiful lake in the Alps. Its turquoise waters reflect the steep, most over 3000m, snow-capped peaks that surround it. To get to the lake hop on the chairlift and then walk a few kilometres. The higher you climb the more arresting the views are.

Photos via Flickr by: Pierre-Alain Maire, Denis Costa, Bauke Karel.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

St. Gallen: the city of history, opera and embroidery

Nestled in a valley between Lake Constance and the Appenzell Alps, the buzzing university city of St. Gallen is a great destination for culture and history buffs. 

St. Gallen was founded in the early 7th century when the Irish missionary monk Gallus who set up a hermitage here. For many centuries the city played an important role as an educational and cultural centre in Europe. From the 18th century, St. Gallen also became famous for its elaborate embroidery with the industry still going strong and supplying embellished fabrics to some of the biggest fashion houses in Europe.

St. Gallen
The Old Town is a maze of charming narrow streets and beautiful squares. Here you can admire a typical feature of St. Gallen’s architecture, oriel windows that adorn the old houses built by rich resident some centuries ago. 

The city’s most famous landmark is the Baroque Cathedral of St. Gall, which is part of an old abbey complex declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1983. Step inside the church to admire the vibrant décor with elaborate stucco, intricate carvings and an impressive organ. The Abbey Library houses one of the world’s richest medieval libraries with almost 170,000 documents some of which are over 1000 years old. The library’s Baroque hall is an overwhelmingly beautiful example of whimsical rococo style, the most spectacular in Switzerland.

St. Gall Cathedral
Near the abbey, you will find the Mühleggbahn, a self-service funicular that will bring you up the hill for stunning vistas over St. Gallen and Lake Constance. In summer months, you can enjoy a swim in the splendid art-nouveau Dreilinden-Weiher open-air pool while admiring views over the city.

Every summer the city hosts St.Gallen Festival, an open-air classical music bonanza when the Abbey courtyard is transformed into an opera setting. Another great event that is worth a visit is St.Galler Genusstag (Indulgence Day) held in September. At this large food market you can indeed indulge and gorge on some of the best produce from the area such as cheese, cured meats, jams and many other delicacies.

Photos via Flickr by: Stephan Ohlsen, JJ Hall.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The best festivals to visit in Switzerland

Switzerland has it all: excellent hiking trails, world-class ski slopes, great spas, upmarket shopping. The list can go on. In case you need another excuse to visit the country, here are the best festivals in Switzerland that attract visitors from across the globe.

International Balloon Festival
International Balloon Festival, Château-d'Oex

Château-d'Oex is not only famous for its excellent ski slopes. Its unique microclimate makes it the perfect place for … the International Balloon Festival. Colourful hot air balloons fill the sky above the picturesque Swiss resort every years in January. Teams from over twenty countries compete with pilots demonstrating their skill and precision in navigating the balloons. Spectators can also take a flight above the beautiful Pays-d'Enhaut valley. 

World Snow Festival, Grindelwald

Every January, for six days, the charming village of Grindelwald turns into a winter wonderland with masterpieces created from snow. Teams of international artists chisel enormous blocks of snow into animals, mythical creatures, abstract forms. Anyone can vote for their favourite team in the Public Choice category. During the World Snow Festival Grindelwald fills with buzz and excitement. If it gets too chilly outside you can pop in to any bar or restaurant for a glass of hot wine or hearty fondue.
Montreux Jazz Festival
Montreux Jazz Festival

The biggest jazz festival in Europe has been running in July on the shores of Lake Geneva since 1967. Some of the biggest international names in music participate in the festival that attracts almost 200,000 spectators. Over the years, it has become a multicultural music with all genres played at venues across the city, from hip-hop to acid jazz, techno to indigenous African bands. 

Yodel Fest, Brig-Glis 

The largest folklore event in Switzerland, the Federal Yodel Fest (Eidgenössisches Jodelfest) is close to the Swiss heart. Every three years (the next festival takes place in June 2017) yodel groups from across the country gather in the pretty town of Brig-Glis to show off their yodeling skills dressed in colourful folk costumes. Yodeling, a special vocal technique with rapid pitch changes, has been part of the local culture in the Swiss Alps for many centuries and is widely popular in rural areas. If you want to see Switzerland beyond its glossy touristy side, this is a great event to learn about the country’s rural traditions.

Photos via Flickr by: Ricardo Hurtubia, Katia Herrera.

Exploring the Swiss Wine Route

Just 30 minutes from Geneva, high above the lake sprawl 800 hectares of the historic terraced Lavaux vineyards (Terrasses de Lavaux). In the area between Vevey and Lausanne you can taste excellent wines and sample hearty local dishes while hiking or riding a train between picturesque winegrowing towns on the Lavaux Vineyard Trail. 
Lavaux Vineyards
Lavaux has been known for its winemaking traditions since Roman times. However, the steep terraces with vineyards as we see them today were built by local monks in the 11-12th centuries. If you fancy a comfortable ride from one wine cellar to another, you can hop on the Train des Vignes, Lavaux Panoramic or Lavaux Express that run through the Lavaux vineyards. Hope off at one of the stops to taste wines, eat in charming family-run mini-restaurants called pintes and take short walks among the vines. Another leisurely way of exploring Lavaux is by a boat that stops in the towns of Rivaz and Cully on the shore.

If you are feeling up to it, you can hike along the Lavaux Vineyard Trail, wondering from one village to another. For a full day of hiking, take the Discovering the Terraces of Lavaux route (Grand Traversée de Lavaux) which runs from Ouchy to Chateau de Chillon Castle between Montreux and Villeneuve. In September, when grape harvesting starts, you will see many other fellow hikers along the trail and locals in the vineyards. 

St. Saphorin
There are many shorter scenic walks, such as from St. Saphorin to Chexbres or Cully to Riex. The views of the Lake Geneva, the Alps and the endless terraced vineyards are breathtakingly beautiful here. Each village has several wine cellars open for tastings, restaurants and bars. In the medieval St. Saphorin you can admire characteristic winegrowers' houses from the 16th-19th centuries and an excellent Michelin star restaurant Auberge de l'Onde serving local delicacies. The delightful village of Chexbres is often called the balcony of Lake Geneva for its magnificent views of the area. Cully has a picturesque old town centre with many historic buildings. 

The wine route is suitable for all levels of fitness but if you get tired of walking you can always hop on the train or boat to head back as all villages and towns are very well connected.

Photos via Flickr by: Laurent Bernier, Patrick Nouhailler.

Monday, April 4, 2016

What to do in the Pays-d’Enhaut region, Switzerland

The tranquil Pays-d’Enhaut Mountain Region is nestled between Lausanne and Interlaken, in the pre-Alps of the Canton Vaud. It is a beautiful place to visit on private tours of Switzerland as there are many things to see and do.

Enjoy the outdoors

All year round, outdoors enthusiasts can enjoy many activities in the Pays-d’Enhaut Region. In summer, there are more than 300 kilometers of hiking and mountain bike trails to explore. In winter, you can go skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing or sledging.  

Explore the Alpine villages

The traditional Alpine villages in the Pays-d’Enhaut offer a fascinating journey into the history of this stunning corner of Switzerland. In Rougemont, Rossinière and L’Étivaz you can see historic churches, old timber houses and chalets, and many historic monuments. Local artisans pass their skills from one generation to generation and visiting their wood carving, patchwork, lace making and pottery  workshops is like stepping back in time.

The Hot Air Balloons Festival
Ride a hot air balloon

Château-d’Oex is the world’s capital of hot air ballooning. The stunning views over the Alps, from Mont-Blanc to the Eiger, the Matterhorn, the Jura and Lake Geneva will take your breath away. Here you can also visit a hot air balloon museum, Espace Ballon, to discover how they are operated and learn how the first around the world hot air balloon flight was launched from Château-d’Oex in 1999. 

Every year, the town hosts the International Hot Air Balloons Festival that attracts visitors from across the globe.

Étivaz Cheese
Sample local Alpine cheese

Do not miss a chance to taste the famous Étivaz mountain cheese that has been made in the area since the 12th century. In the charming village of L’Étivaz you can visit the maturing cellars and learn how the cheese is produced from the fragrant milk of the indigenous Simmental cows, one of the world’s oldest breeds of cattle. The best way to enjoy the Alpine flavours of Étivaz is in a local bar with a glass of crisp Swiss wine admiring the snow-capped peaks around the village.

Photos by: Roland Zumbühl/Wikimedia Commons, Festival International de Ballons à Château-d'Oex/Facebook, Joselu Blanco/Flickr.

Blooming beautiful: flower events in Switzerland

If you think Switzerland is all about snow-capped peaks and ski resorts think again. On private tours of Switzerland in spring and early summer you can also see some spectacular bloom displays that will take your breath away.

The Tulip Festival in Morges
The Tulip Festival, Morges

From mid-April for six weeks more than 120,000 tulips of 300 varieties burst in bloom in Parc de l'Indépendance in Morges, on the shore of Lake Geneva. This much anticipated free event attracts thousands of locals and tourists alike who come to the town to admire the riot of spring colours that the festival is. The event has been organized by the Lake Geneva Horticultural Society since 1971 with horticulture apprentices tending to the tulip bulbs in the park. Morges itself is a very pleasant town with several historic sites such as prehistoric pile dwellings, a castle, old inns and Bronze Age settlements.

Jardin des Iris
The Iris Garden at Vullierens Castle, Vullierens

In the Iris Garden (Jardin des Iris) 50,000 irises of over 500 varieties bloom for four weeks from mid-May at the private Vullierens Castle. American-born Doreen Bovet, the owner of the castle, started the irises collection in 1950 opening her garden to the public in 1955. Set against dramatic views of the Alps, you can admire irises in all imaginable shades and colours: honey, purple, orange, mahogany with many new varieties added every year. At the castle, you can also taste the excellent wines produced on its grounds and see a large collection of sculptures. After the irises finish blooming, the garden fills up with fragrant lilies until the end of August.

Alpine Flowers
Alpine Garden, Schatzalp

From June to September the two-hectare Alpine Garden (Alpinum Schatzalp) becomes a colourful display of blooming high-altitude flowers from the Pyrenees, New Zealand, China, Nepal and Tibet. The garden, which is part of the historic Hotel Schatzalp, is surrounded by dense forests, alpine pastures and is a pleasure to walk in listening to the sound of birds and running mountain brook at a distance.

Photos by: Maarten Danial, Jardin des Iris/Facebook, Peter Stevens.

Sechseläuten, springtime festival in Zurich

In mid-April, as the weather get warmer and trees burst in blooms, a springtime festival, Sechseläuten, is celebrated in Zurich. It is a beautiful event that attracts tens of thousands spectators and can be visited on private tours of Switzerland.

Sechseläuten in Zurich
The festival’s tradition goes back to the 16th century, when the City Council decided that in summer work should stop an hour later than in the winter. The second largest bell rang out at 6.00pm to introduce the new working hours and the beginning of spring for Zurich’s residents. The festival’s name, Sechseläuten, literally means “the six o’clock ringing of the bells”.

In the 19th century the bell ringing was combined with another great tradition that existed in the city, - burning of a snowman-like figure called Böögg to chase winter away. 

The festival opens on Sunday afternoon with up to 3,000 children marching through the city dressed in historic costumes.

Parade of the Guilds
On Monday afternoon, the Parade of the Guilds takes place with 3,500 members of the various city’s guilds walking through the streets accompanied by 350 horsemen, 50 horse-drawn parade floats and 30 music bands. Until the end of the 18th century, the guilds, associations of craftsmen, played an important role in governing the city, however, nowadays, they mainly carry out social functions.

Burning of the Böögg
The climax of the festival is the burning of the Böögg at 6pm on Sechseläutenplatz, on the shore of Lake Zurich. The snowman figure is 3.40m high and is placed on the top of a 10m tall bonfire. The popular believe is that the faster the fire reaches the snowman figure and his head explodes, the hotter the summer will be. If it takes 10-15 minutes for the Böögg to explode, summer will be rainy and cold. Horse riders gallop around the burning snowman, music plays and everyone cheers waiting for the explosion to greet arrival of the spring. 

The festival continues with a street feast of grilled sausages and other local delicacies. 

Photo via Flickr by: Conrado Plano, Adnan Yahya, Denis De Mesmaeker

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Saas Fee, the Pearl of the Swiss Alps

At the foot of the Dom, the highest mountain in Switzerland that rises 4545m above sea level, lies a glacier village of Saas Fee. It is often called the Pearl of the Swiss Alps for the stunning views of the thirteen high peaks that surround the village.
This gorgeous little town is the perfect destination for unforgettable Private Tours of Switzerland!

Saas Fee
Good reliable snow at an altitude between 2500m and 3500m makes Saas Fee a popular winter sports resort. With its 22 lifts, 62 miles of ski pistes, 12 miles of winter walking trails, many toboggan runs and a long cross-country ski trail keep the visitors busy. 

Saas Fee is also a busy destination in summer as outdoors enthusiasts love the 200 miles of walking trails and the “adventure forest” with various obstacle courses, rope bridges, the «Feeblitz» summer toboggan run and a network of mountain-bike tracks.

Friendly Marmots
Adrenalin junkies enjoy crossing the Alpin gorge between Saas-Fee and Saas-Grund, swinging on ropes and squeezing past steep rock walls accompanied by a mountain guide. Nature lovers can observe wild live and befriend a few marmots who love getting treats from humans.

One of the most stunning attractions is the Ice Pavilion, a 200-feet long tunnel inside an ancient glacier that is located at the Mittelallalin stop of the subterranean Alpine train (Metro Alpin). Saas Fee is also home to the world's highest revolving restaurant called “Threes!xty”, which sits at an altitude of 3500 metres allowing breathtaking panoramic views of the Swiss Alps.

Saas Fee form above
The traditional village of Saas Fee is car-free and has charming narrow streets with old wooden chalets. There are many excellent restaurants for all budgets. The Michelin-starred Fletschhorn restaurant serves such local delicacies as reindeer, white asparagus and an impressive range of Swiss cheeses. The cosy Vieux Chalet is famous for hearty fondue, raclette and röstis. The village’s several bars and clubs offer great entertainments, live music, wine and beer. 

Photos via Flickr by: Vismar Ravagnani, Andy Harbach, Martha de Jong-Lantink.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

International horse race on ice in St. Moritz

Every February, the glamorous town of St. Moritz hosts the White Turf Horse Races. One of the top events in Switzerland, it attracts almost 35,000 spectators from all over the world. The setting cannot be more spectacular: the frozen expanse of the Lake St. Moritz with the majestic Engadine Mountains as a backdrop. 

International jockeys on fine thoroughbreds race at a dizzying speed on the frozen lake three Sundays in February. The event has been running since 1907 and requires a minimum of 12 inches of ice on the lake. Although mild winters are rare in this part of Switzerland, once in a while the race are cancelled due to insufficient ice.

The jockeys compete for Switzerland's most generous race prize of almost half a million Swiss francs (about 490,000 USD). The racing programme is adapted to the winter conditions and includes a trotting race where jockeys ride in a sled and traditional-style horse races. However, the event’s highlight is, undoubtedly, the skikjöring race with male and female jockeys on skis pulled by thoroughbred horses along a 2,700-m-long track. Skikjöring is the only race of its kind in the world and exclusive to the White Turf event. The horses run at a speed up to 31 miles per hour with the skiers being able to control not more than 10 percent of the horses’ movements. Apart from daredevil courage, the race requires exceptional strength, skills in handling the thoroughbreds and high level of preparation. The jockey who collects most points over three Sundays wins a money prize and the title of “King of the Engadine”. 

Apart from enjoying the races, there are many other things to do. You can enjoy a drink or two in a pop-up bar set up in a decommissioned submarine, browse temporary exhibitions in the tent city covering 130,00 square metres, gorge on hearty Swiss dishes, shop at gastronomic stands or people watch while sipping your champagne.

Photos via Flickr by: Lisa Mardell, Robert Varadi.

Horn sled races in Switzerland

In winter, many horn sled races take place in Switzerland keeping an age-long tradition going. Once farmers used the horn sled to transport hay in winter but they were replaced by modern tractors. The sled has handles that look like ram’s horns, hence the name of this sports equipment Hornschlitten (“horned sled”). 
The sled races are believed to have started in Swiss Valley of Grindelwalder in the Bernese Oberland and have a nostalgic tone to them as some teams sometimes dress traditional folk costumes for the competition and load the sled with hay and wood. The world’s first international sled competition took place in Davos in 1883 with nineteen participants from England, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia and the United States racing on a three mile kilometre stretch of road. 
The horn sled has no steering or breaks and is different from other types of sled because of its shape and the upright riding position. It is often referred to as a Grindelwalder after its birthplace and notoriously difficult to ride, as it was not designed for high-speed trills. 

Horn sled race
The races run from January and run until March in the cantons of Graubünden, Valais, Glarus and Bernese Oberland. Teams of two or three people ride the sleds downhill at a breakneck speed of up to 50 miles per hour. Spectators stand along the route and cheer on the racers zooming past them. The competitions are so popular in Switzerland that they are always more than 100 sleds racing in each location. A great comradery exists between racers and they always greet each other with a traditional exclamation “Horn heil!” (“Hail horn!”). 

Each race is more like a festival than just a sports competition. There is always a great atmosphere with folk music, dances, gastronomic stands selling local delicacies and plenty of hearty food and 
drinks to keep the spectators warm and happy.

Photos via Flickr by: Ethreon, Renate Dodell. 

Celebrating the Swiss carnival Fasnacht

It is carnival time in Switzerland from February to March with more than 200 of them celebrated across the country.  The Swiss carnival, Fasnacht, differs from town to town but all of them are noisy, colourful and fun events to see.

Celebrated since the 14th century from Monday to Thursday following Ash Wednesday, Fasnacht in Basel is the largest Swiss carnival. Up to 20,000 dressed up members of local cliques participate in the only Protestant carnival in the world attracting large crowds of spectators. 

Carnival in Basel
The festivities start as the clock strike four in the morning with flute players and drummers in masks costumes march through the old centre. The Cliquen, groups of local carnival participants, carry nine feet high lanterns, as the street lights are switched off for the event.

Costumed parades with floats are organized for Monday and Wednesday afternoon. On Tuesday evening, masked musicians (Guggenmusigen) spill out on the streets trying to outplay each other, the louder and more out of tune the better. Dressed up characters walk from one bar to another reading out loud Schnitzelbank, short satirical verses in Swiss German criticizing and ridiculing politicians, the church and celebrities.

Lucerne Fasnacht
One of the main events during Fasnacht celebrations are fire ceremonies. Oversized brooms (Chienbäse), wooden sculptures (Chluri) or straw figures (Böögg) are burnt to symbolise the end of winter. In Sissach, a town near Basel, a wooden figure depicting a public figure is burnt to the crowd’s cheering. The Böögg (the boogie man) is set on fire in Winterthur on the last day of the carnival. 

Carnival in Lucerne

Lucerne’s Fasnacht lasts for six days and is as noisy and colourful as it the famous carnival in Basel. Here, the carnival’s symbols are Fritschi, an elderly man with his wife known as Fritschene, and their child, Fritschikind. The Lucerne carnival is more chaotic and merry than the one in Basel as masked characters and musicians mingle with the crowds rather than march orderly along the streets.

Photos via Flickr by:  Noel Reynolds, Benjamin Chaulet, Roger Levy.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

What to do in the Jungfrau Region

The Jungfrau Region is renowned worldwide for its stunning mountains, skiing resorts and picture-perfect villages. Three big peaks, Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, dominate the region and attract outdoor enthusiasts, climbers and skiers from all over the world. There is something to do and see for every age and taste in the Jungfrau Region all year round.

The Jungfrau Region

Go skiing 

With almost 130 miles of breath-taking ski slopes, the region is a perfect destination for beginners and experts alike. Some of the ski runs are as long as seven miles with excellent snow cover. If you get tired, you can always hop on one of many cableways that will take you to a mountain summit to admire the majestic panorama.

The Jungfrau Train
Ride the Jungfrau train

Hope on a train to reach the Jungfraujoch, the highest railroad station in Europe at 3,454 meters. The station opened in 1912 and today looks like a small village with a hotel, restaurants and bars. Once there you can walk to a viewing platform at the Sphinx Summit to see the Aletsch Glacier and the Alpine Peaks.

Visit Grindelwald

The small village of Grindelwald is filled with beautiful traditional chalets and alpine meadows. In summer head to the Terrassenweg panoramic path for spectacular views of the Alps. In winter the village hosts the World Snow Festival where international artists create massive ice sculptures. Not to be missed!

Admire the Trümmelbach Falls

Europe's largest subterranean waterfalls rush down in ten cascades hidden in a vertical gorge. You will take an elevator to go inside the mountain through galleries, tunnels and see the falls that carry over 5000 gallons of water per second with rocks and boulders swirling down in it. 

Piz Gloria Restaurant

Dine in a revolving restaurant

Take the Schilthornbahn cableway that ascends to the Schilthorn peak where the restaurant Piz Gloria is located. In the 1960s the futuristic looking restaurant with its splendid panoramic views was featured in a James Bond film. Here you can have a special Bond Breakfast menu, see interactive Bond exhibits and memorabilia, and gaze in awe at the magnificent 360-degree panorama with the three peaks of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau.

Photos via Flickr by: Olaf Mündelein, Brad Scruse, Thomas Wenger, Richard Cassan.