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

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.