Off the beaten track: 10 less-visited Swiss destinations


Get thet ‘Top of the World’ feeling on the cliff walk at First. — Photos: DAVID BOWDEN

Despite soaring summer temperatures, Europeans are on the move, heading to their favourite holiday destinations. Tourists from around the world are also attracted to countries like Switzerland to make the most of the warmer weather.

Of course, this means crowds, queues, and possible delays, making less-visited destinations more appealing for those seeking crowd-free holidays.

Switzerland is on most travellers’ radar, and it’s a country that I’ve enjoyed exploring over the years. While popular destinations like Zurich, Lucerne, Interlaken, and the Jungfrau are essential sights for first-time visitors, escaping to remote valleys, alpine peaks, and lakes is more appealing to me.

There are many qualities I like about Switzerland: Snow-capped mountains, cheese, chocolate, alpine meadows, and, of course, its national flag, is a big plus.

Travelling to remote Swiss destinations is well organised with one of the world’s finest public transport systems, which is used by many Swiss people. Foreigners should purchase a Swiss Travel Pass, which provides unlimited access over a set period on trains, ferries, and buses in most parts of the country.

Here are 10 places that have captured my imagination and are worth considering on your next Swiss holiday.


FIRST

First things first. First (pronounced fear-st) is located above the tourist town of Grindelwald, one of the stops on the train route to the famous Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe, snow-capped alpine region and one of Europe’s highest railways.

Alight from the train in Grindelwald and ride the cable car up to First, 2,168m above sea level. There are numerous thrill-seeking activities here, including the Tissot cliff-face walk, the just-opened First View, First Flyer, First Glider, and hiking.

My preferred descent is on a Trottibike, which is like an e-scooter with a brake. As it’s all downhill, the bike is gravity-propelled; it’s exhilarating, a little frightening, but a lot of fun once mastered.

ANDERMATT

Located with links to three strategic alpine passes (Oberalp, Gotthard, and Furka), the small alpine village of Andermatt can be explored on foot or on a Segway.

The village with 1,500 German-speaking residents is a stop on the famous Glacier Express train that operates between St Moritz and Zermatt.

Alight from the express and stay in the lodge-like, the Chedi Andermatt, play golf at the championship course, or ski the nearby slopes in winter.

ASCONA

Switzerland has four official languages, with Italian spoken in the canton of Ticino in the southeast on the border with Italy. Ascona, on the foreshores of Lake Maggiore, offers visitors a Mediterranean ambience with a relaxed lifestyle, but it operates with Swiss precision.

Check into the Hotel Tamaro to take in the lake views, and dine nearby at Osteria Nostrana with classic dishes like pizza and risotto (Ticino is the world’s most northern region where rice is grown).

Merlot wines produced at nearby estates like Terreni alla Maggia are served in Ascona restaurants – many are called grottos here. Swiss PostBus connects Ascona to the nearby town of Locarno.

Trains from Locarno pass through the picturesque Centovalli towards Domodossola in Italy and then back into Switzerland at Brig.

HALLAU

Hallau is a small wine-producing market town in the country’s far north, west of Schaffhausen, near the German border.

If you time your visit with the beginning of autumn (that’s September), you will avoid the crowds and be able to take in the autumnal hues of the vineyards that surround Sankt Moritz, the town’s landmark church.

Swiss wines are rarely seen outside Switzerland, as most are consumed domestically. This makes another great reason to visit towns like Hallau to enjoy Pinot Noir wines such as Magistral produced in Weinkellerei Rahm.

Several wine bars and restaurants line Hauptstrasse, and wine lovers could check into hotels like Berghof Hallau to enjoy wondrous walks among the vines and along rural backroads.

LIGERZ

Ligerz is located in the French-speaking canton of Bern on the shores of Lake Biel (or Bienne) in western Switzerland, near the border with France.

Visitors can stay and dine at Restaurant Kreuz and See Bistro in this small lakeside village and enjoy unique wines such as Oeil-de-Perdrix (a Rosé wine with a colour resembling the eye of a partridge) produced by estates like Ritter Wines.

History first noted Ligerz in 1261, when its church, located amongst vineyards, was a refuge for religious pilgrims. Ligerz is located along the train line between Bienne/Biel, a Swiss watchmaking town and home to the Omega Museum, and Neuchâtel (another watchmaking centre).

Travel on the railcar from Grütschalp to the pedestrian-only village of Mürren. Check out more pictures in the Media Gallery at the bottom of the story..Travel on the railcar from Grütschalp to the pedestrian-only village of Mürren. Check out more pictures in the Media Gallery at the bottom of the story..

MÜRREN

Interlaken is a hive of tourism, with many visitors departing from here for the famous Jungfrau, high up in the Swiss Alps.

The train from Interlaken takes you to Lauterbrunnen, where smart solitude-seekers alight for the cable car ride up the steep slope to Grütschalp for the 5km rail journey to Mürren. A circular route from Lauterbrunnen to Mürren could also include the Schilthorn cable car.

Mürren is a pedestrian-only town of linear development that extends for 1km along a main street lined with small hotels, restaurants and shops.

Check into the Alpenruh Hotel to admire, the shimmering sight of the three snow-capped peaks of Mönch, Eiger, and Jungfrau from the sun terrace at sunset.

Stick around for dinner, which could include the Mürrner Platter (cheeses and dry-cured meats) or Züri-Gschnetzeltes (sliced veal with mushroom sauce).

James Bond fans will enjoy riding the cable car from the village to the Schilthorn. The summit and surrounding area were featured in the 1969 movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, starring George Lazenby as 007.

STANSERHORN

At 1,898m, the summit of Mount Stanserhorn is a dominant feature of the alpine landscape just south of Lucerne and the lake of the same name.

Visitors to the summit can ride the century-old funicular railway and the CabriO cable car from Stans (from April to mid-November), while the foolhardy can walk.

The CabriO cable car is unique in having an open deck above the cabin, making it perfect for photography. At the summit, enjoy the revolving restaurant and an outside deck, with the latter, popular with sun worshippers.

There are several walks among the alpine meadows, and the view is magical, especially if planes are flying in and out of the small airport way below beside the lake in Stans.

Stein Am Rhein is one of Switzerland’s most charming riverside villages.Stein Am Rhein is one of Switzerland’s most charming riverside villages.

STEIN-AM-RHEIN

The small historic town of Stein am Rhein is located just west of Lake Constance (Bodensee) along the geopolitical maze that forms the border with Germany to the north. If ever there were a town for simply wandering around and taking in its historic sights, this is it.

The historic square, or Altstadt, can get crowded during a summer’s day, but most visitors are day-trippers, so the smart move is to book into a hotel like the Adler and admire the numerous old timber and stone buildings at dusk when the tourists have retreated elsewhere. Many facades are painted with ornate frescoes, while its churches and water fountains add to the charm of this well-preserved town.

Rise early to take in the sunrise over the Rhine River as it flows down towards Schaffhausen and its spectacular descent over the Rheinfels river rapids. The town is on the rail line from Schaffhausen to St Gallen, with the station just a short walk from the town centre.

VEVEY

The fame of the small lakeside town of Vevey (pronounced vee-vee) extends way beyond the town limits, as it is the headquarters of Nestlé, one of the world’s biggest multinational companies. Charlie Chaplin lived nearby in Corsier sur-Vevey, and his former home is now Chaplin’s World, a tribute to the silent screen actor.

Anita Brookner’s Booker Prize-winning novel, Hotel du Lac, is set in Vevey. Rick Wakeman, keyboardist with the band Yes used the pipe organ in Vevey’s St Martin’s Church to record several tunes. Nearby, the Lavaux Unesco World Heritage Site is home to ancient stone terraces and vineyards.

Check into a lake-view room at the Hotel des Trois Couronnes to enjoy the scenery over the lake towards France on the other side of Lac Leman, or Lake Geneva. Explore the markets staged every Tuesday and Sunday. Food lovers will enjoy visiting Alimentarium, a museum dedicated to the history of the things we eat.

There is a Charlie Chaplin statue along the promenade at the front of the museum. The towns of Gruyères (cheese) and Montreux (jazz festival in June and July) are easily accessible by train.

VISPERTERMINEN

Visperterminen is perched on the high and steep land about the rail town of Visp, situated on the banks of the Rhone River. Swiss PostBus services the 10km winding route that passes steep terraces planted with grapevines. These are some of Europe’s highest vines, with most of the Savagnin grapes contributing to the local white wine called Heida.

Visit wineries such as St Jodern Kellerei to enjoy the fruits of the vines. At 2,200m above sea level, the views of the Swiss Alps, including the Matterhorn, are why postcards were created. Admire the views from hotels such as the Rothorn and dine on Swiss delights like melted Raclette cheese at Staldbach Restaurant.

Brush up on your German, as most of the 1,350 residents are German speakers. The village appeals for its historic wooden houses, a pace of life that appears more in reverse gear than forward, and its access to a cable car for winter ski fields and summer trails on the Rothorn.


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